Mobilising Knowledge to Improve UK Health Care: Learning From Other Countries and Other Sectors

Davies, H. T. O., Powell, A. E. & Nutley, S. M. (2015). Mobilising knowledge to improve UK health care: Learning from other countries and other sectors – a multimethod mapping study. Health Services and Delivery Research, 3(27).


Background: The past two decades have seen rich conceptual development and a wide variety of practical initiatives around research use or ‘knowledge mobilisation’, but so far there has been little systematic effort to map, conceptualise and learn from these initiatives, or to investigate the degree to which they are underpinned by contemporary thinking as set out in the literature. This gap is particularly apparent when looking at knowledge mobilisation at the ‘macro’ level, that is the strategies and activities of major research funders, major research producers and key research ‘intermediaries’.

Aims and objectives: The study had three key objectives with associated research questions: to map the knowledge mobilisation landscape in health care (in the UK and internationally) and in social care and education within the UK; to understand the models, theories and frameworks that underpin the approaches to knowledge mobilisation; and to learn from the success or otherwise of the strategies and approaches in use.

Methods: The study was multimethod and multiphased, with considerable interactivity between the different strands. Data were collected through a review of 71 published reviews on knowledge mobilisation; website review of the knowledge mobilisation activities of 186 agencies; in-depth interviews (n = 52) with key individuals in agencies; a web survey (response rate 57%; n = 106); and two stakeholder workshops (at months 6 and 16).

Findings: We identified a wide range of models, theories and frameworks used to describe knowledge mobilisation and created a conceptual map that highlights six domains of thinking and debate in the literature. The interview and survey data showed three broad, overlapping roles undertaken by agencies: developing and sharing research-based products; emphasising brokering; and focusing on implementation. The knowledge mobilisation approaches in use had been shaped by many factors but there was only limited use of the models, theories and frameworks from the literature. Participants saw formal evaluation of knowledge mobilisation activities as important but highly challenging. Rich formative experience was described but formal evaluation was relatively rare. Few agencies involved service users or members of the public in knowledge mobilisation activities. Working inductively from the study data we derived eight key archetypes or ‘bundles of knowledge mobilisation activities’ that could be used by agencies to explore their knowledge mobilisation activities, future strategies and stakeholder perspectives.

Conclusions: Knowledge mobilisation could be enhanced by providing support to enable cross-sector and interagency learning, reflection on the conceptual basis of approaches and increased evaluation of knowledge mobilisation activities. Further research is needed to evaluate approaches to assessing research use and impact, on systems approaches to knowledge mobilisation, on sustaining and scaling-up approaches, and on applying a wider range of literatures to knowledge mobilisation. Further research would also be useful on the knowledge mobilisation archetypes and how they can work in complementary ways.

This article, while not peer reviewed, nonetheless serves as the raw material for publications such as this article by the authors. There is much detail in this report but I will focus on two items: 1) six domains from the literature; and, 2) eight archetypes of knowledge mobilization organizations/activities.

The authors identify Six Domains of Interest:

  1. purpose(s) and goals (implicit or explicit)
  2. knowledge (of all kinds)
  3. connections and configurations (between people; between organisations)
  4. people, roles and positions
  5. actions and resources available and
  6. context of operation (different in kind from the other five domains, but influential and interactive with each of them).

These six map onto many of the elements of the knowledge mobilization planning guide of the Centre of Excellence for Child & Youth Mental Health (Ottawa, Canada) which uses the format of: who (#4), what (#2), where (#6), when, how (#3, #5), why (#1).

These six are brought back later in the report when the eight archetypes are discussed. “Archetypes may be thought of as idealised types or configurations of agencies (i.e. not necessarily actual or real). They provide accounts of an idealised agency that can be used as interpretive heuristics, allowing us to assemble and interpret observations.

The eight archetypes (some similar enough to be clustered in pairs) are:

  1. archetype A: producing knowledge (product push)
  2. archetypes B and C: brokering and intermediation (own research; wider research)
  3. archetype D: advocating evidence (proselytisers for an evidence-informed world)
  4. archetypes E and F: researching practice (research into practice; research in practice)
  5. archetype G: fostering networks (building on existing networks; developing new ones)
  6. archetype H: advancing knowledge mobilisation (building knowledge about knowledge
  7. and knowing).

The authors indicate that these are not intended to describe real life knowledge mobilization practice. “Real organisations rarely display all of the features of ideal types like our archetypes: instead, they are much more likely to show different features to varying degrees.” Nonetheless, these eight archetypes are useful as they describe knowledge mobilization organizations not the more common research on knowledge mobilization practice. For other work on knowledge mobilization organizations, see this article by Amanda Cooper.

Starting on page 113, the report analyzes these eight archetypes using the six domains of interest identified from the literature to illustrate how each of the archetypes has a unique domain profile.

Questions for brokers:

  1. Look at your organization. Which archetype(s) does it resemble?
  2. Next, assess your organization’s archetype(s) against the six domains of interest. Is there alignment with the domain analysis in the table starting on page 113? What does this tell you about your organization?
  3. How is your organization (or how are you) using evidence from the literature to inform your practice? Can you cite the research evidence on which you are basing your practice?

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche is producing this journal club series as a way to make the evidence and research on knowledge mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read the article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.

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