Some of the planet’s greatest minds have put decades, perhaps centuries, of collective effort into solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. Despite some excellent progress, new approaches are still needed to tackle global challenges, such as helping billions of people access energy that does not harm their health, or finding ways for coastal communities to feed their families without depleting their natural resources.
In a strategic collaboration, researchers at UQ across the behavioural sciences, engineering, business, and marine environmental management are taking a holistic approach to solving these problems. They are investigating whether a solution that has already helped millions of families around the world, the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, can be adapted and integrated within other bodies of work looking at issues such as energy poverty and coral reef destruction. As a global pioneer of behavioural family intervention, Triple P is one of UQ’s best examples of translational research. It is based on a simple concept: that fostering stable foundations through positive behavioural change within the family can nurture populations of happy, healthy, and well-adjusted people.
Established by Professor Matt Sanders as part of his PhD in 1980, Triple P has reached more than four million families across 25 countries. Triple P has been supported since its early days by UniQuest Limited – the University’s main commercialisation company – and more than 50,000 practitioners have now been trained to deliver the Program in 23 languages. Additionally, 591 academics from more than 150 institutions around the world have contributed to Triple P publications.
Triple P is a model of intervention that is becoming recognised by policy makers, philanthropists, and educators as not only an important idea, but also a significant strategic priority for societies worldwide.
“UQ is undeniably a world leader in conducting impactful research, including the development of evidence-based systems of intervention to promote behaviour change in children, their families, and the communities in which they live. Now the challenge lies in taking that knowledge and applying it to some of the world’s most pressing problems,” Professor Sanders says.
“Working through the family, we are seeking to overcome the obstacles currently preventing the successful deployment of reliable, affordable, and sustainable solutions for the developing world. Imagine what the implications could be if a population-based parenting and family intervention could help tackle our biggest problems, such as poverty, global food security, livelihoods, and community wellbeing,” says Professor Sanders.
As part of this new direction in research, the Triple P team is collaborating with the Global Change Institute (GCI) and the UQ Energy Initiative to apply behaviour change mechanisms to some pressing regional problems.
The first collaboration, an environmental management initiative, applies behavioural principles from the Triple P program to the Capturing Coral Reef and Related Ecosystem Services (CCRES) project, managed by the GCI, and funded by the World Bank. CCRES aims to reveal the natural wealth of coastlines of the East Asia-Pacific region, enhance livelihoods and food security, improve community health and wellbeing, and sustain coastal ecosystems in the region.
The second collaboration brings together behavioural parenting researchers with engineers from the UQ Energy Initiative to examine how clean cook stoves can be deployed within India to prevent diseases caused by household air pollution.
Both collaborations are led by John Pickering, Head of Innovation and Engagement, from Professor Sanders’ group.
“What’s great about these collaborations is that they’re built on the belief that the solution to these complex problems can only emerge from a multidisciplinary effort. The idea of bringing together parenting experts, behavioural scientists, chemical and civil engineers, marine biologists, agricultural scientists, economists, and innovation technology experts might be unfamiliar, but it also might be the very key to unlocking the solution,” Mr Pickering says.
The CCRES project in the Philippines and Indonesia seeks to unlock the natural wealth of coastlines in the region, in order to enhance livelihoods and food security, improve community health and wellbeing and sustain coastal ecosystems in the region.
CCRES Chief Scientist Professor Peter Mumby says, “Coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds provide critical services to coastal communities; however, these natural resources are under threat from human pollution, unsustainable development, overfishing and climate change.”
But often, simply educating people about the benefits of cooperation and the science behind sustainability has failed to prompt changes in the way in which these communities interact with their environment.
CCRES Senior Advisor Melanie King, who has recently undertaken research in the Philippines as part of the project’s activities, says, “You can’t solve a problem in respect to coral reefs, for example, unless you look at how and why coastal communities use oceans the way they do.”
After a recent trip to Selayar, a remote island in Indonesia, Pickering says it is clear the community desires change.
The single strongest message that came through when we spoke with these communities is that people want the best for their children and don't want to see them go through the same hardships they had.
“The single strongest message that came through when we spoke with these communities is that people want the best for their children and don't want to see them go through the same hardships they had,” Mr Pickering said. “They want their children to have better education, better health, better quality of life and they’re motivated to work with us to shape the solution.”
In India, the collaboration with the UQ Energy Initiative is looking to change the way families interact with their environment within the family home by convincing families to use clean cook stoves instead of other heat sources, which damage their health and the environment. If successful, the knowledge gained has the potential for much wider application.
The International Energy Agency estimates that 2.7 billion people lack access to clean cooking and heating technologies, a number which includes an estimated 1.3 billion people without access to electricity. Huge numbers of the world’s population currently burn wood, animal dung, and crop residue in their homes to cook with and heat their homes.
Researchers suggest this process of gathering and burning biomass causes environmental degradation, harms human health, and results in serious social deprivation – especially for women and children. More than 3.5 million deaths per year are attributed to household air pollution, most of which are linked to burning solid fuels to meet basic energy needs.
UQ Energy Initiative Director Professor Chris Greig says, “For the past two years we have recognised the transdisciplinary nature of this challenge. Our collaboration with Triple P researchers will enhance our efforts to improve air quality by exploring the use of clean energy technologies.”
He says a behaviour change program that targets a family’s motivation for using cleaner stoves could change the community’s norms for cooking technologies.
According to Mr Pickering, both these projects are an example of how government and industry support can translate research into solutions with the potential to create a prosperous and sustainable future for the developing world.
As part of this new direction of research for Triple P, Professor Sanders’ research group will be housed in the Triple P Innovation Precinct (TPIP). This new space will propel innovation by providing new and established partnerships with a place to grow in a specialised environment.
“We are working closely with experts in innovation, such as Professor Mark Dodgson from the UQ Business School, to better understand the systems and structures needed to foster a culture of innovation,” Mr Pickering says.
“As a University it is essential we provide engaging public space that enables our work to unfold in the context of participation from the community. We especially look forward to welcoming partners from industry and philanthropy to visit us on campus and to engage with us as we examine how behaviour change through families can help solve major global problems.”
To view additional images of the team's time abroad, click here.
For more information about Triple P's projects, call +61 7 3206 8305 or visit the Parenting and Family Support Centre website at psfc.uq.edu.au
For more information on CCRES, visit the CCRES website at ccres.net
To learn about research conducted by the GCI, visit the Institute's website at gci.uq.edu.au
To find out more about UQ Energy, visit the UQ Energy website at uq.edu.au/energy