Community-Based Participatory Research and Integrated Knowledge Translation: Advancing the Co-Creation of Knowledge

Jull, J., Giles, A. & Graham, I. D. (2017). Community-based participatory research and integrated knowledge translation: Advancing the co-creation of knowledge. Implementation Science, 12, 150.


Background: Better use of research evidence (one form of “knowledge”) in health systems requires partnerships between researchers and those who contend with the real-world needs and constraints of health systems. Community-based participatory research (CBPR) and integrated knowledge translation (IKT) are research approaches that emphasize the importance of creating partnerships between researchers and the people for whom the research is ultimately meant to be of use (“knowledge users”). There exist poor understandings of the ways in which these approaches converge and diverge. Better understanding of the similarities and differences between CBPR and IKT will enable researchers to use these approaches appropriately and to leverage best practices and knowledge from each. The co-creation of knowledge conveys promise of significant social impacts, and further understandings of how to engage and involve knowledge users in research are needed.

Main text: We examine the histories and traditions of CBPR and IKT, as well as their points of convergence and divergence. We critically evaluate the ways in which both have the potential to contribute to the development and integration of knowledge in health systems. As distinct research traditions, the underlying drivers and rationale for CBPR and IKT have similarities and differences across the areas of motivation, social location, and ethics; nevertheless, the practices of CBPR and IKT converge upon a common aim: the co-creation of knowledge that is the result of knowledge user and researcher expertise. We argue that while CBPR and IKT both have the potential to contribute evidence to implementation science and practices for collaborative research, clarity for the purpose of the research—social change or application—is a critical feature in the selection of an appropriate collaborative approach to build knowledge.

Conclusion: CBPR and IKT bring distinct strengths to a common aim: to foster democratic processes in the co-creation of knowledge. As research approaches, they create opportunities to challenge assumptions about for whom, how, and what is defined as knowledge, and to develop and integrate research findings into health systems. When used appropriately, CBPR and IKT both have the potential to contribute to and advance implementation science about the conduct of collaborative health systems research.

This paper compares community based participatory research (CBPR) and integrated knowledge translation (iKT). In short: they are the same because both are concerned with the co creation of knowledge that arises from collaborations between researcher and knowledge user expertise; they are different in that CBPR focuses on social change and iKT focuses on production of applicable knowledge.

This is interesting to me since early on in my knowledge mobilization journey I was discussing York University’s emerging Knowledge Mobilization Unit with a faculty member and she asked, “Well, isn’t that what we have been doing in feminist participatory research since the 1970s?” Which made me go and look up feminist participatory research. Since then I have often mused about the similarities and differences of knowledge mobilization and participatory research (PAR, CBPR, CBR etc).

Both iKT and CBPR focus on partnerships between researchers and end users but the motivations for those collaborations differ. “CBPR is underpinned by principles related to social justice and a desire for social change….IKT practitioners’ focus is to promote research that is collaborative, addresses problems meaningful to the user of the research, and is most likely to develop applicable knowledge”. I think this undersells iKT because it is not just for production of knowledge for application but to enable subsequent application of that knowledge to address a particular challenge. That’s why the knowledge user is collaborating so s/he can co-produce new knowledge and apply that to their challenge or issue. The authors subsequently state, “An IKT approach to research may aim to develop applicable knowledge that will have an impact on social justice, but it is the need for applicable knowledge, not social justice, that is the primary motivator for the research.” Here I think the authors are conflating the roles of researchers from their motivations. While the roles of researchers might be concerned only with knowledge production and its subsequent publication (hopefully in academic and non-academic formats but not always – see my post on knowledge hypocrites) the motivations, at least as constructed in their grant applications, is to practice iKT to co-create new knowledge that will subsequently be applied to address a concern or issue.

I believe the motivations – i.e. change – are the same, although the link between CBPR and social justice outcomes may be more explicit.

Another difference that I do agree with is the different focus on power relationships. In an iKT collaboration the end user collaborators are often based in institutional settings (health care setting, government policy). In a CBPR the end user collaborators are often non-profit organizations and/or individuals with lived experience. While non-profits and individuals have an equally important but different type of expertise there is a power difference in CBPR collaborations that is less overt in iKT collaborations. It is our job as intermediaries to help balance power in all academic/non-academic collaborations.

Questions for brokers:

  1. Do these differences that matter in theory really matter in practice? Are the efforts you undertake as a practitioner different if you are supporting iKT or CBPR collaborations?
  2. What do you do to help balance power between academic and non-academic research collaborators?
  3. CBPR and iKT are different approaches to knowledge mobilization but they are both knowledge mobilization methods. Discuss.


Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence 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 this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.