Virtual Community of Researchers and Prevention Experts: Approximating Drug Research and Practice Fields.

Author:Henriques, Susana

Dear Editor:

This paper presents the key findings of a virtual community of addiction experts set up to share evidence-based programmes of prevention on novel psychoactive substance (NPS) use in Portugal. Using a theoretical framework that combines contributions from a virtual community of practice and learning in a virtual environment, with prevention science, this paper traces how members interact in order to improve their prevention intervention domains and approaches, and consider the political and practical implications.

Evidence-based preventive interventions in diverse contexts (family-, school-, work-, community-, environmental- and media-based) have reported considerable progress in the past four decades (Leadbeater, et al., 2018; Ostaszewski et al., 2018). It is now possible to identify prevention programs that 'work' and 'how' to conduct drug prevention (Leadbeater, et al., 2018; UNODC, 2015; EMCDDA, 2011). Programs have become more effective. Leadbeater et al. (2018, p. 853) notes that "prevention science researchers and practitioners are increasingly engaged in a wide range of activities and roles to promote evidence-based prevention practices in the community."

The concept 'community of practice' is relatively new. According to Wenger-Trayner, et al. (2014) communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour over time. Their nature is informal and they all have the following three elements (Wenger-Trayner, et al. 2014):

Domain: As membership implies a commitment and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from others.

Community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. Although members of a community of practice do not necessarily work together on a daily basis, these interactions are essential though they often work alone.

Practice: members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems. This takes time and sustained interaction and results in a shared practice.

Members of communities of practice may not share a specific location. They can collaborate online. In such a setting they form a ' virtual community of practice". Virtual communities of practice use technology and virtual environments to develop their activities that can be as diverse as problem solving, sharing information and experience, reusing assets, coordination and strategy, building an argument, growing confidence, discussing options and developments, mapping knowledge and identifying gaps (Wenger-Trayner, et al. 2014).

Within contemporary societies, professionals involved in preventative interventions face increasing demands and challenges based on knowledge, networking and technology. The lack of specialized personnel working in drug prevention programmes has been observed by recent developments as well as a shift in healthcare toward involving interdisciplinary practices. In Portugal, where this study was conducted, Portuguese experts working in drug prevention programmes also come from several scientific fields (such as psychology, sociology, social work, education, community nursing) but yet have little specific training in prevention science (Henriques, Silva & Hsu, 2018). As a consequence, there is a distinct need for opportunity for these professionals to share spaces for knowledge, experiences, doubts, achievements, and good practices with each other.

In the scope of a transnational and interdisciplinary EU funded research project, targeting new psychoactive substances (NPS)...

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