Pre-conference: Foundations of causal inference: Gently introducing public health researchers to counterfactuals, causal diagrams, and target trials

Wednesday 10 November, 09:00 - 12:40 CET

Organised by:

EUPHA Public health epidemiology and Health services research sections in collaboration with EUPHA Research pillar 


This pre-conference workshop will focus on introducing the foundational theories or 'languages' for causal inference, including counterfactual theory, causal diagrams, and target trial emulation. We will introduce the basic concepts and assumptions of causal inference, and we will define key sources of bias that can arise in randomized trials or observational studies, including confounding, selection, and information biases. We will discuss the concept of defining a target trial (i.e., describing the key protocol elements of an ideal randomized trial), and principles for how to emulate that target trial using observational data. These foundations will then be related to study designs and analyses that are commonly used in public health research.

The target audience are public health students, researchers, and practitioners looking for an introduction to formal causal inference. It is expected but not required that many members of the target audience will have prior public health research experience, including a familiarity with basic statistical methods and traditional epidemiologic concepts.


Upon completing this workshop, students will be able to:

  • Recognize and formulate well-defined questions concerning causal effects;
  • Use causal diagrams to represent subject-matter knowledge and assumptions;
  • Recognize key sources of bias that arise in public health research;
  • Understand the core principles for emulating a target trial using observational data.

Short bios

Main speaker, Dr Sonja Swanson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where she leads the Causal Inference Group. She serves as an Editor for Epidemiology and the European Journal of Epidemiology, and a Statistical Editor for JAMA Psychiatry. Her methodologic research focuses on improving the use and transparency of methods for estimating causal effects in epidemiology.

Chair, Dr Linsay Gray is a Senior Investigator Scientist at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit co-leading the Measuring inequalities workstream. She is on the Scottish Government project board of the Scottish Health Survey and is Vice President of the Public Health Epidemiology Section, European Public Health Association. Linsay’s methodological research focuses on the development of methodology for post-hoc addressing of non-participation in population-based studies.


Chair: Linsay Gray, EUPHA section of Public Health Epidemiology, United Kingdom


Introduction to the pre-conference - Linsay Gray, United Kingdom


Motivation and course logistics - Sonja Swanson, the Netherlands


Counterfactuals (1/2) - Sonja Swanson, the Netherlands


Coffee break


Counterfactuals (2/2) - Sonja Swanson, the Netherlands


Causal diagrams - Sonja Swanson, the Netherlands


Coffee break


Target trials - Sonja Swanson, the Netherlands


Wrap-up - Sonja Swanson & Linsay Gray

Registration fee

The registration fee is € 50 (inclusive of VAT). Pre-conferences can  be added to your registration after you have already registered. You can do so by logging into your account and updating your registration. You will receive an adjusted invoice by email. You can also register for the pre-conference only.