Journal of Primary Prevention, 6(4), Summer, 1986
Primary Prevention Program Clearinghouse An Idea Whose Time Has Yet to Come? University of Vermont Once upon a time, at the early Vermont conferences on the primary prevention of psychopathology, people used to tell us that one of the most valuable features of an annual meeting of prevention proponents was the opportunity to exchange information--to hear what others had tried, achieved or failed to achieve, and why some programs could be done and worked and others couldn't or didn't. What a pity, they said, that such exchanges were limited to a few days a year, rather than being frequent and systematic. That way, the consensus went, people involved in day to day prevention efforts could learn from the experience of others, avoid making the same mistakes all over again, and benefit from the cumulative wisdom of past attempts to intervene preventively. Exchange of information could, in a phrase, avoid the problem of people continually having to reinvent the wheel (which is the reason, incidentally, why the Clearinghouse logo is designed to look like a wheel). The myth that arose from these conversations (though at the time we did not know that it was a myth, of course) was that in desk drawers and filing cabinets across the country were unpublished accounts of prevention p r o g r a m s - - g a t h e r i n g dust, from sea to shining sea, were manuscripts full of ideas and advice about what to do and warnings of what pitfalls lay ahead and how to avoid them. The reason that most of this material was not readily available, the myth continued, was because practical preventionists had not the time or inclination to wrap their work in the tedious formal conventions that is required for publication in learned journals. It was from these observations and surmises that the idea of the Prim a r y Prevention Program Clearinghouse was born. We would solicit published and unpublished descriptions of prevention programs, hoping to empty the drawers and filing cabinets of their hidden treasures; we would publish abstracts of each program in the Journal of Primary Prevention, and make complete manuscripts available to 256
© 1986 Human Sciences Press
hundreds of interested readers who would pay the costs of postage and photocopying. A letter of inquiry to more t h a n thousand people on our mailing list confirmed t h a t those who r e s p o n d e d - - a n d we should have been more alarmed at the very low response rate t h a n we w e r e - would value, and use, such a service. So the Clearinghouse was launched, and we awaited the flood of newly liberated program descriptions. In the first year a steady steam a r r i v e d - - b o t h published and unpublished w o r k - - a n d we assumed this would grow to a mighty river in time. To this end, we did not veto anything. We put potential usefulness to mental health professionals ahead of definitional purity, in the process bringing down on our heads Emory Cowen's rebuke: he pointed out in these pages (1982, Vol. 2, No. 3) t h a t few of the published abstracts met precise definitional standards for primary prevention programs. And despite our attempts to "let a thousand flowers bloom" by accepting a n y t h i n g t h a t an author chose to label as primary prevention, the volume of material we received dropped to a trickle. We tried to supplement materials in various ways, including consulting major abstracting services and assigning students projects involving the development of bibliographies. But we were (and are) a cottage industry in a world of conglomerates; we have the resources to be a clearinghouse but not to be an active collector of materials. We can appeal for materials, and send out what we receive, but we cannot seek out programs in indexes and abstract services. It seems to us t h a t systematic sifting of published material and active and continuous solicitation of unpublished work would yield a large amount of valuable information which would be well worth the attention of preventionists and of much use to them in their work. Indeed, Steve Goldston, in his invited address to the American Psychological Association (August, 1985) as recipient of the Distinguished Professional Contribution to Public Service Award, placed a national prevention clearinghouse first on his list of unmet needs, pointing out t h a t other federal agencies have provided central resources and ready access to information for years. But our experience indicates t h a t the time for such a system is yet to c o m e - - a t least if the clearinghouse, like ours, operates only as a cottage industry. We feel t h a t the time for a clearinghouse will come when the money comes to run one properly. So we have decided t h a t until such a time arrives, our efforts to make prevention programs and important writing about prevention more widely known can achieve better results if we alter our approach.
Journal of Primary Prevention
What we intend to do is to direct attention to available work in a less piecemeal fashion. Instead of the smorgasbord of miscellaneous abstracts we have provided in the past, we intend to focus more on integrated or thematic sets of readings. Some examples of topics t h a t have been suggested give the general idea: international approaches to prevention; an essential bookshelf of writings on prevention; programs described by Lela Rowland Award nominees. Each of these, and other topics, lends itself to some introductory discussion to flesh out a list of references, so we are proposing, in effect to link the spotlight and clearinghouse features on occasion. Or in other words, we plan to use the one (more readable) regular feature to "spotlight" related sets of materials in the other. As always, readers' comments and suggestions are welcome.