Michael’s ‘Aha Moment’!

I am flattered to know someone asked for a blog based on a Tweet I contributed on the ResearchImpact Twitter feed.  First, a few observations and disclaimers.  I am glad blog posts do not mirror dissertations in rigour or length.  Next, I do not claim to be an authority on ‘outcomes’ or ‘impacts’ although my work is heavily invested in both terms/processes.  Lastly, I admit I carried around strong assumptions that the logic model for impact followed a sequential (and not very quick moving) flow from activity to outcome to impact. 
January 11 and 12, I had the pleasure of attending a Scientist Knowledge Translation Training event which was hosted by The Hospital for Sick Children and was led by Drs. Melanie Barwick and Donna Lockett .  Over two days, Melanie and Donna shared practical tools for developing Knowledge Translation (KT) plans, led discussions toward a more clear understanding of KT and provided valuable exercises to improve attendees capacity to understand the ‘user context’ for successful linkage and exchange, which is a foundation for successful KT.  The 25 attendees present were predominantly health practitioners who had KT responsibilities embedded into their job descriptions although there were some health researchers and policy professionals in attendance as well.
However, back to the notion of impact.  Never one to be terribly shy, I asked about the relationship between outcomes and impact, stating my feeling it was not possible to measure impact so closely to any KT transaction because impact was a by-product of outcomes.  What triggered this question was a slide that identified short-term, intermediate and long-term outcomes.  Moreover, while this makes sense, some confusion arose for me with regard to ‘measuring impact’, which in my experience is a challenge in policy and practice-relevant research.  So when one of the facilitators commented that she would be seeking impact measures based on short-term behavioural or practice changes amongst the participants of the session, I was skeptical.  What followed was a brief discussion between us two about the relationship of outcome and impact and that it is possible to identify impact measure very closely after a KT transaction.
The ensuing discussion did not necessarily change my beliefs around impact in relation to outcomes.  Reflecting back, I would say they have expanded my beliefs.  Impact is no longer solely a longitudinal process which one must wait (pick your timeframe – 6 months, one year, five years, and so on) to identify behaviour or practice changes.
I look forward to further discussion on this topic, and the inevitable reading that I will embark upon to challenge and reinforce my expanded belief system on impact.  Given the significance of this topic for publicly funded researchers and practitioners, it is a conversation which we should all be engaged with, and a topic we should give voice to.  Hey, that could be a second ‘aha moment’!