The prospect of running a three-hour conference workshop can provoke anxiety even for the most seasoned conference-goer. Last month, I was a member of the IRIS+ research team, led by Dr Eszter Szilassy, that attended and presented a workshop at the Second European Conference of Domestic Violence in Porto, Portugal.
The conference brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers from all corners of the globe to discuss, debate and exchange knowledge regarding domestic violence and abuse (DVA).
For context, the IRIS+ project is a training and intervention programme to support clinicians (GPs and nurses) to identify, document and refer female and male victims and perpetrators of DVA, as well as their children, to our dedicated specialist support service.
Before presenting, we had concerns that our workshop might not attract an audience, partly because we thought our topic might be too niche and health-focused at what was a predominantly social sciences and psychological conference. Also, there were lots of other attractive options for conference-goers: 13 other interesting workshops running parallel, not to mention the delights of a sunny afternoon in Porto.
Our fears were soon allayed, as the trickle of attendees increased until we were a ‘standing room’ only workshop. In the end, we received lots of positive feedback with international practitioners, researchers and policy makers wanting to use and adapt the IRIS+ model.
So, what were the ingredients that made this workshop successful?
Mix it up!
The IRIS+ team is truly inter-disciplinary and includes practitioners, trainers, clinicians and researchers. Reflecting this multidisciplinary make up, the workshop was presented by a mixture of academic clinicians (Gene Feder and Lucy Potter), a member of our domestic abuse partner organisation, SafeLives (Briony Williamson) and health and social science researchers (myself, Eszter Szilassy and Emma Williamson). The resulting workshop was dynamic and multi-faceted, with individual components delivered by different members of the team.
Not as dreaded as you might think! The workshop was designed to be interactive and we encouraged the audience to engage with the content as much as possible. One way we did this was to demonstrate actual segments of the training and get the audience to participate as if they were clinicians. For example, we showed the audience some of our training videos and asked them to reflect on the scenarios presented. Another, very simple, thing we did was to get everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning of the workshop and say where they were from and what they hoped to get out of the session.
Make it an exchange
We presented a series of practical and ethical dilemmas to our audience to seek their advice and opinions. In turn, we opened up the final part of the workshop to the audience to explore the role of primary care in relation to domestic violence and abuse in their own countries. This discussion gave a fascinating insight into the international picture. For example, a participant from Hungary commented that any primary health care intervention relating to domestic violence and abuse in his country would have to start by challenging endemic and ingrained societal sexism.
The workshop was a truly enjoyable learning experience. Day-to-day research and practice is fast-paced and there can be little time for critical reflection. Planning and doing the workshop gave the IRIS+ team time and space to review what we had done and learn from skilled national and international colleagues.
We brought back many new ideas from Porto (although sadly not the sunshine) but two things stand out:
- Asking about domestic violence and abuse in primary healthcare is seen as important and necessary both nationally and internationally. However, different contexts present different challenges. The challenges to implementing a primary healthcare intervention around domestic violence and abuse in the UK are different, for example, from those faced in Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Sweden, Ireland and Palestine. We must remain sensitive and alive to these different social and cultural contexts.
- Domestic violence and abuse is a significant public health and human rights issue. However, discussion with international colleagues at the conference highlighted that with projects like IRIS+, the UK is leading the way in addressing domestic violence and abuse in a healthcare context. There’s still a long way to go but we should remind ourselves of how far we have come in addressing domestic violence and abuse and supporting victims and survivors.
‘Reaching everyone in general practice: IRIS+ domestic violence training and support for family doctors’ was presented by the IRIS+ team at the Second European Conference of Domestic Violence, Porto 6th September 2017
For help and support on domestic violence, these services provide free helplines:
- National Domestic Violence 24 hr Helpline for women experiencing abuse: 0808 2000 247
- Men’s Advice Line for men experiencing abuse: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm: 0808 801 0327
- National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- RESPECT Phoneline: Confidential helpline offering advice, information and support to help men stop being violent and abusive to partners. Monday-Friday 9am-5pm: 0808 802 4040
This project is funded by the NIHR (RePROVIDE, RP-PG-0614-20012) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme.
Department of Health disclaimer
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health