We are delighted to present this special edition of the Children’s Research Digest which reports on new research that has been generated by the Prevention and Early Intervention Research Initiative (PEI-RI) at the Children’s Research Network. This archiving project was funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies (AP) during 2015-18 and the publication of this special edition of the Digest marks the conclusion of the PEI-RI project at the Network. The PEI-RI had two central aims; firstly, to archive data from the evaluation of Prevention and Early Intervention services that were funded under AP’s Prevention and Early Intervention Initiative (PEII; 2004-16) and secondly, to support new analyses of this data through a series of research grants. During 2017-18 the Network awarded grants to sixteen projects, and the papers presented here capture just some of the insights generated by a sample of these projects. The papers include both articles and research summaries, with several of the pieces reporting work in progress towards a variety of peer reviewed dissemination activities. In this way, the papers capture the dynamic nature of the research that has been funded by this pioneering grant scheme.

Exactly one year ago, Jane Gray and Maja Haals Brosnan introduced the 2017 special edition of the Digest which focused on the process of archiving the PEII data in the two public data archives in Ireland; the Irish Social Science Data Archive and the Irish Qualitative Data Archive. Gray and Haals Brosnan (2017) highlighted recent and relevant developments that promote open access to data, including the FAIR data guidelines, the promotion of open access data in the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020 and the development of the Health Research Board (HRB) Open Research Policy. This theme was echoed in a subsequent chapter that was co-authored by our two guest editors, Jane Gray and Suzanne Guerin, on archiving data within the applied research context (Murphy, O’Carroll, Guerin and Gray, 2018). The book was produced by the Research Evaluation Policy and Practice (REPP) project group and captured the accounts, and more importantly the lessons learned, of researchers and practitioners who were actively involved in prevention and early intervention programmes that received funding from AP and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs during the period of the PEII investment. This chapter notes the many benefits of archiving, including the availability of data for further validation of findings, the reduction of costs and of burden on participants, and the promotion of data reuse in the future. It is interesting to note that, less than a year later, researchers in Ireland are considering the implications of both the General Data Protection Regulation (2016) and the Health Research Regulations (2018) for the archiving and reuse of data. While there may be initial challenges in adapting to the requirements of these recent changes, ultimately researchers will incorporate them into their practices. One reason that the archiving and the reuse of research data should, and indeed will continue to be promoted and practiced by researchers, within the boundaries of new legislation, is that re-use and secondary analysis is essentially ethical. The contribution of participants and the knowledge generated from those contributions is maximised through reconsideration of the data far beyond the limited time frame of the original research project. The value of being able to return to existing data and extend its utility is clear from the papers presented in this issue. For example, Comiskey, Banka, Hyland and Hyland extend the learning from the Healthy Schools Project in Dublin to wider international contexts, while Rodriguez builds on the lessons learned from the Big Brothers Big Sisters evaluation to highlight the positive impact of meaningful participation by young people in secondary data analysis and dissemination. 

Several projects that are reported in this issue involved the analysis of research data that were accessed via the archives, including, for example, the quantitative data from the Preparing for Life dataset (see for example, Buggy, O'Neill, Kearney and Matvienko-Sikar; Simms et al.) which was archived as part of the PEI-RI in 2017. Other projects that are reported here analysed data that have limited accessibility due to ethical constraints in the design of the project, but are suitable for further investigation and secondary analysis (see for example, Brady and Silke; Doyle, Hegarty and Owens). The evaluations from which these data are drawn were developed, in some cases, over long periods of time and it is not surprising that questions about the ethics of data archiving simultaneously emerged, as the value of the PEI data became apparent. Since its commencement in 2016, the PEI-RI project has contributed to a conversation amongst the Irish research community on ethical requirements for open science within the social and health sciences, especially around participant consent. The experience from the PEI project has taught us that we must consider from the outset of each new research project the steps that can be taken to ensure data can be retained, and where possible, made available for further analysis. With the developments in data protection and research governance noted above, it is even more important that researchers are prepared and positioned to consider the ethical arguments for archiving and, as highlighted by this special edition, the significant benefits of secondary analysis of archived datasets.

Another point to note regarding the papers included in this special edition is the breadth of experience and expertise represented in and supported by the PEI-RI research grants. The funding had an explicit focus on capacity building and sought to support early career researchers to work collaboratively with senior mentors. The aim was to increase the capacity for high quality evaluation research, and indeed secondary analysis in prevention and early intervention research, by supporting the development of up-and-coming academic researchers. Grants enabled master’s and doctorate students to work directly with data from the PEI evaluations, for example, one grant enabled a student to analyse the PFL data for the award of a master’s degree in Public Health (Buggy et al.). The involvement of early career researchers in almost all of the funded projects demonstrates the educational contribution of the PEI-RI grant scheme, and of secondary analysis more generally. The grants were not limited to early career researchers and three awards were made under the Senior Scholars scheme to support more established academics to reengage with existing datasets and address novel questions (see for example Brady and Silke; Comiskey et al; Hayes and Irwin). A final point to note, before we move on to the papers, relates to the diversity of dissemination activities by the research teams included in this edition. The broad topic of knowledge transfer and exchange stresses the need for engagement in a diverse range of activities that promote the sharing of research and maximise the potential for learning to impact on practice (Hayes and Duiganan, 2018). The preparation of this special edition reflects one form of dissemination however, it is important to note that these papers are one of a range of dissemination activities by these authors. The research reported here has been presented internationally at academic and practitioner conferences, across a range of disciplinary areas and has resulted in a wide array of outputs beyond traditional published reports, including online videos (Rodriguez), methodological workshops (Hanna and O’Hare, not included in this edition), and guidance leaflets for parents/teachers (Simms et al.). For researchers to promote the effective implementation of research in practice it is essential that we develop the skills required to communicate key messages from our work via a diverse range of activities that engage multiple audiences, through meaningful and effective communication channels.

We would like to thank all of the authors for their contributions to this issue. Special thanks are also due to those who helped with reviewing and proof reading this edition, and to AAD for providing the design and layout.