ALR 2015 Conference: Becoming a Global Community

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March 11, 2015
By Jim Sallis
ALR 2015 Conference: Becoming a Global Community

In the 12th ALR Conference we added new features and improved upon on our successful components. Program Chair, Daniel Rodriguez from University of North Carolina, challenged us all with the theme of the conference, The Science of Policy Implementation. He citied several examples of active living policies being adopted by states, cities, schools, transportation departments, and companies. In some cases the policies were not implemented and in other cases implemented in ways that might worsen health and environmental disparities. This was an important kick off to help bring together the collective knowledge and skills of researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to identify better strategies for getting policies implemented and build a science of policy implementation that can lead to long term improvements in active living.

A big change in the 2015 Conferences was an emphasis on international exchange. Attendees came from the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Asia, and we had our first attendee from Brunei. Gil Peñalosa, Founder of 8-80 Cities, was an ideal keynote. Gil works with leaders in cities around the world to "get things done" to improve active living. He inspired us with stories and photos of beautifully designed and thoughtfully managed parks, transportation systems, and communities that make active living more accessible to everyone. The keynote and featured international panels were made possible by a special grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with special thanks to Tracy Orleans.

Mike Pratt, from Emory University, led a panel on how researchers are working with policy-makers in the United Kingdom and Australia to use science to improve active living policies and their implementation. A second panel featured international studies of built environments, physical activity, and obesity. The ISCOLE and IPEN studies are yielding results showing there are principles of active community design that apply across diverse countries. Nalini Anand, from NIH's Fogarty International Center, discussed NIH's interest in capacity building for health research, and a Fogarty initiative to improve obesity research and reduce obesity in Latin America.

The success of all conferences depends on the contributions of attendees, so I give my thanks for the hard work of the workshop presenters, oral presenters, and poster presenters. The competitive selection of abstracts led to high quality presentations, thanks in part to the careful reviews of the Program Committee. We at ALR are grateful to our attendees who trusted us with several days to enrich your work. We are especially appreciative to Tina Kauh, our RWJF Program Officer, colleagues from CDC and NIH, and our technology sponsors for making ALR 2015 a special event.

This was the second year of having Research and Policy/Practice tracks for abstract submission. The goal of this is to enhance the learning across boundaries, and I believe it was mostly successful. However, a comment in the closing Open Mic session made clear that we need to do more to ensure that all attendees can appreciate all the presentations. It is particularly challenging for practitioners to derive lessons from technical research talks. There is probably more practitioners could do in identifying their research needs to help investigators formulate more policy- and practice-relevant studies. Bridging divides and breaking down silos will take more effort from everyone to maximize the value of bringing such diverse professionals together. But we continue to believe the benefits are worth the effort. I welcome your suggestions about how to improve the exchange of ideas among practitioners, policy makers, advocates, and researchers.

Congratulations to Debra Salvo and Shannon Monnat for winning 1st and 2nd place, respectively, in the poster contest. Sherry Ryan was the winner of the CDC award for active living and injury research, and we thank David Sleet for providing this award. I was pleased to give a special "ALR Translating Research to Policy" Award to Deb Hubsmith for her pioneering work with the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. She essentially invented Safe Routes to Schools and used her mastery of the advocacy process to achieve legislation to fund programs, first in California and later nationwide. Deb is an inspiration to all who know her. This award was particularly poignant because she is battling leukemia, and we hope this Award gives her strength to get better.

Active applause, activity breaks in plenary sessions, standing tables, extended exercise sessions, and delicious healthy food are all hallmarks of ALR Conferences. Every year more meetings adopt some of these practices. The multi-cultural theme continued at Monday evening's dance classes. Energetic instructors taught us fun dances from Indian Bollywood, Latin American Cumbia, and American Hip Hop traditions. Using pedometers donated by ACCUSPLIT, we documented the average attendee did about 7500 steps during the dance classes. It was harder to measure the smiles, but they were big. Our remembrance of ALR's great friend Toni Yancey continued 2 years after her death with the ALR Instant Recess video on the last day.

I noticed an unusually large number of people on the attendee list from Oklahoma. I recognized and thanked this delegation in the opening session. At least some of them were recommended to attend the ALR Conference by Mayor Mick Cornett, who was our Keynote Speaker in 2013. That was a gratifying vote of confidence from the Mayor. Folks from Oklahoma, please tell us what you thought of the meeting.

After 3 years at beautiful Paradise Point in San Diego's Mission Bay Park, we are moving across country for ALR 2016 to the Hilton in Clearwater Beach, FL on January 31 – February 3, 2016. Please mark your calendars, spread the word, and plan to join us. The 2016 Conference is a new partnership with Elsevier, which many of you will know as the world's leading academic publisher. They also have a conference management operation. We want to thank Chris Pringle from Elsevier who attended ALR 2014 Conference and offered the possibility of partnering with Elsevier.

I hope some of your memories of ALR 2015 include the gentle weather, great food, new friends, and stimulating presentations. But the real goal of ALR Conferences are to improve your work, broaden your networks, and help you be more effective in your research, practice, policy-making, and advocacy. I want to end by thanking the fantastic ALR staff for their year-round work creating the Conference, the Program Committee, and Daniel Rodriguez, the 2015 Program Chair.

We hope to hear from you through this blog and on social media.


Thank you, Jim and ALR Staff! It was a thoughtful, expertly-planned, and vibrabt event!

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