EUCCONET (an ESF
Research Networking Programme in Medical Sciences):
Despite its cost, the ethical and methodological issues it raises and time constraints on analysis, the cohort study is of strong interest to decision-makers and researchers in quest of new behaviours. Whereas longitudinal retrospective studies can reconstruct the past histories of individuals, they can only do so in a way that is subject to memory lapse. The prospective approach of cohort studies is more directly adapted to the information needs on current and future trends in population and can capture a variety of information that cannot be recalled. Longitudinal studies of children constitute a unique source of data to analyse human development in its context. They permit the study of the various factors all interacting during the life course up to adulthood: family structure, social and physical environment, schooling, health and nutritional behaviour, etc. They also clarify the impact of the experience lived during infancy on the individual’s physical, psychological, social and professional development and therefore help the progress of research in many different disciplines. While offering very valuable sets of data, cohorttype studies demand a very complex organisation and often raise important discussions on methodology issues as regards sampling, methods of data collection and storage, types of data collected, etc. Mostly, they also require the collaboration of many actors as well as the assent of various committees. All these factors make the cohort study a very ambitious venture. Despite this, many such studies, most of which focus on very specific issues, are conducted throughout Europe and are concentrated in specialist networks. However, there is no network for birth and child cohort studies, which assess the physical and psychological development of children in a multidisciplinary light. This is why teams in Europe gathered to request support from the ESF in order to create the European Child Cohort Network (EUCCONET). The aim of this Research Networking Programme will be to offer an opportunity to several research teams in Europe to share knowledge and experience, and to enter into international collaborations. The ESF funding will also be used to create a web portal linking several cohorts and networks together, and to provide an international inventory of child cohorts as well as a database of available tools and literature.
The running period of the ESF EUCCONET Research Networking Programme is 5 years from May 2008 to May 2013.
Objectives of EUCCONET:
Some specialised thematic networks already exist and the objective of EUCCONET is not to replicate what has successfully been done elsewhere. The focus of this network is on large-scale and generalist cohorts, and its originality will lie in the interdisciplinarity of the themes to be covered: researchers involved in these studies tend to find ways to reconcile through one survey social, health and environmental aspects of child development. Within this context the objectives of EUCCONET are to:
The objectives of the network will be to increase awareness and knowledge, by providing a forum for discussion and an easy access to world-class expertise in the field. It will create and consolidate a scientific community working in a very specific field and producing data. It will also participate in the convergence of cohort studies in Europe and on the comparability of data at the European level on a policy-relevant issue: child development.
Through its main partners, the programme benefits from the experience and skills acquired by leading European, American, Canadian and Australian scientists in this field. A wide range of expertise will be mobilised for the programme, ranging from demography, sociology, epidemiology, psychology or medicine, as well as methodology skills in conducting surveys. The partners involved in the network are leaders of major national or regional child cohort studies which are at different stages of advancement. This makes it very beneficial for those studies which are just starting as they will benefit from the expertise of more experienced cohorts. The desires and needs expressed by these new teams will lead the way to organising science meetings that we know to be of great interest to many scientists. These meetings will be an opportunity for all to present their different experiences and practices in specific fields, opening an unprecedented forum for exchange. Apart from setting targets and standards in the methodology of cohort studies, these meetings will help new teams to avoid making mistakes, thus giving more chance of success to their study. In order to do this, interest groups will be created to study specific themes. One important point is that these interest groups are open to cohort leaders and team members so that everyone can benefit from the opportunities given by the network to learn and share.
For example, a specific working group will be created to discuss data management, i.e. all the computer systems used to store, secure and anonymise the data, whereas data managers mostly do not get to meet their international counterparts. Expertise and the synergies with existing specialised cohorts and networks will also be sought in order to develop sound discussions on specific methodology issues. Several themes have already been defined to be studied during the first two years of the programme: securing consent from parents and children; specific instruments for measuring child development; designing specific materials for child interviews; different modes of data collection; the role of fathers in child cohorts; the maintenance of large cohorts; record linkage; methods for data analysis; acceptability, feasibility, and ethics of collecting biological samplings from children.