Planning for Knowledge Translation: A Researcher’s Guide

Ward, V., Smith, S., Foy, R. House, A. and Hamer, S. (2010). Planning for knowledge translation: A researcher’s guide. Evidence & Policy. 6(4), 527-541. 


Researchers are being strongly encouraged to incorporate knowledge translation strategies into their research applications, but there is relatively little clear guidance for them about precisely what this means or how they can achieve it. A previous paper published in this journal addressed those assessing research applications, but there is still a need for guidance aimed at researchers themselves. This paper sets out a proposed guide, which could help to fill this gap. The guide is based on a coherent and empirically based conceptualisation of the knowledge translation process. It encourages researchers to embed knowledge translation early in their research planning process rather than adding it on later. Because the framework sets out a number of considerations rather than ‘rules’, it affords researchers the flexibility, autonomy and creativity to produce a personally useful, coherent and workable knowledge translation strategy.

This is not a recent paper and it references another paper by Goering (2010) both of which point out the need to give researchers help planning KT strategies. I chose to reflect on this paper to see what has changed in the 4 years since this paper was published.

The paper observes that in the UK there are public policy drivers creating expectations that university research should create public benefit but “that both academics and policy makers still had a considerable way to go and that the engagement between academia and policy needed to be based on better mutual understanding.” This expectation has been made even more acute with the Research Excellence Framework 2014 where universities are required to identify the extra academic impacts of research in order to maximize their block funding from the government. We don’t have these same public policy drivers in Canada but many funders including health charities, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Networks of Centres of Excellence all require knowledge translation or mobilization strategies. Even Canada Research Chairs and Canada Foundation for Innovation require applicants to describe the social and economic Benefits to Canada of their research and how those benefits will accrue to Canadians. Absent a REF equivalent (which is a retrospective assessment of research impact) Canadian researchers are still required to plan prospectively for research impact in their grant applications.

Much of the planning supports reviewed by the authors point to guides from funding councils that amount to little more than check lists and cookie cutter approaches as opposed to providing guidance about substantively integrating KT into the research planning process. Such “guidance does not seem to be informed by an adequate conceptualisation of the knowledge translation process such as that espoused in the knowledge translation literature“.

The authors’ guide to KT planning is predicated on five key elements of KT that they distilled from the literature:

Problem: The problem or issue to be addressed by the research/knowledge

Context: The circumstances surrounding the user and the researcher

Knowledge: properties of the pre-existing knowledge/evidence about the problem or the generation of new knowledge/evidence

Interventions: the specific activities designed to translate knowledge/research into action (these could be dissemination, linkage/exchange, and/or capacity building activities)

Use: the ways in which the knowledge/research is or might be used

Here’s by big problem with these “essential” elements of KT – there is no room for integrated KT. They are all predicated on end of grant KT. Even the linkage and exchange activities (workshops, networks, placements, intermediaries, advisory committees) engage decision makers but not as co-researchers. I may be reading this too narrowly but I don’t see co-production in this guide and we know from the literature (thank you Sandra Nutley) that co-produced research has the greatest chance of being taken up into policy and practice processes.

The guide could also benefit from examples to illustrate how it was used in practice – assuming it was used and not just presented as another theoretical framework. We DO NOT need more frameworks. We need to start using and testing some of the many frameworks that exist.

There is some thought about implementing such guidance. Both the authors and Goring agree that guidance (in terms of the use of guides, not in terms of KT panning agents) should be implemented to “link research proposals to the needs of end users”. However, the authors note it “is unclear at present precisely how this embedded approach to knowledge translation could be achieved, although Goering et al (2010) suggest the development of specific training modules for researchers.” The authors don’t elaborate any further on this important point – see below – yet they do observe the limitations of such guidance (again, the use of guidelines) “especially given the multifaceted and complex nature of knowledge translation but we also recognise the necessity of researcher understanding this process“. We know from the PARIHS Framework that making evidence (in this case, these guides) available without facilitating them in context will not create uptake and implementation of evidence by end users (in this case, researchers planning KT).

Only at the very end do the authors begin to imagine another option stating, “future guidance should nonetheless take this criticism on board and make explicit links between knowledge translation evidence and advice.” Advice…provided by whom and when?

Questions for brokers:

  1. What has changed since 2010? For a hint, see the KT Planning Template available from Melanie Barwick. This planning template includes options for integrated KT and engagement of end users and partners throughout the research cycle. Another example is the Guide to KT Planning at CIHR. What other guides have you seen? Please list them in the comment section (sign in first or request “Join Now” on the lower left menue bar) below so we can get an inventory.
  2. The authors reflect that guides are going to be hard to implement and only provide a one word mention of providing “advice”. Increasingly York’s KMb unit is called on to support KT plans for grant applications and support KT during research projects. How are you actively supporting KT planning for researchers (or if you are a researcher how are you being supported for KT planning)? Who provides this advice? To whom and when?

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. Thanks to Evidence & Policy being free for the month of May 2014 I was able to download this article. Read the article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.

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