The Canadian KT Secret Isn’t So Secret

By David Phipps, RIR-York
This blog was first published on October 6, 2011 by Research Into Action – A Knowledge Translation Initiative (RIA)which is housed in the Institute for Health Policy at The University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, Texas.
On August 3, 2011 I wrote on the Research Into Action (RIA) blog about the Canadian knowledge translation (KT) secret and then I presumed to give some advice to Americans seeking to maximize their KT infrastructure, “Create an engaged community sector and elect a government that will listen.”  I remain convinced that Canada does have a KT secret but I also see pockets of KT expertise growing at institutions in the UK and the US.
Let me first say what I think makes for a strong and sustainable KT practice. I have recently re-read Sandra Nutley’s seminal book, “Using Evidence.” Although written four years ago, I take away three key messages for those seeking to establish and sustain KT within a research environment:

  1. KT is a social process
  2. Efforts to enhance KT need to be interactive and focus on the relationships between researchers and decision makers
  3. KT is emerging at the level of the individual, the organization and the system/sectoral level.

The RIA project is consistent with these three messages. The RIA team approaches knowledge translation in three ways: 1) through translation activities undertaking contracted research in collaboration with university researchers and public health agencies; 2) through a web portal and social media strategy, and; 3) disseminating key findings to public health stakeholders through tools such as briefing packages and FAQ sheets. Their online portal boasts over 600 members, has a variety of blog posts (like this one), podcasts, and a discussion board. It is this social media feature that allows RIA to complement its knowledge translation products with interactive engagement of stakeholders, and supports the social and interactive elements of RIA’s practice. RIA is a project housed within the Institute for Health Policy at The University of Texas School of Public Health, and it has a mandate to develop new methods of assisting researchers throughout the University of Texas Health Science Center in translating their technical findings into usable advice and practical recommendations. This positions RIA as an institutional KT support service as opposed to the more common model where KT is practiced in the context of an individual research or practice project.
There are two more institutional KT-associated support structures of which I am aware. The University of Brighton Community University Partnership Program (CUPP) is built on a community of practice model. CUPP embeds knowledge exchange within all of its activities. CUPP does not produce knowledge products to transfer the results of university research, but creates opportunities for researchers and community partners to develop relationships that will meet the needs of both community and university partners. Also in the United Kingdom but at the opposite end of the island is the Centre for Research in Families and Relationships (CRFR). CRFR is based at the University of Edinburgh and has partners across other Scottish universities.  From their website, “the mission of CRFR from its inception has been to make research accessible to a range of audiences and to work in partnership with policy-makers and practitioners to ensure that research is relevant and useful to policy and practice communities in Scotland, the UK and beyond”.
Comparing my own home base at York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, the RIA project at The University of Texas, Cupp at U. Brighton, and CRFR at U. Edinburgh, we see four KT-like services in four countries each with their own unique take on the three key messages above.

Organization Institution Discipline Social Nature
CUPP U. Brighton Non-specific Exchange events
RIA University of Texas Health Science Center Public Health Applied research, Social media
KMb Unit York University Non-specific Exchange events, social media
CRFR U. Edinburgh plus other universities Family and Relationships Exchange events

And only one of these is Canadian.
All four of these organizations have evolved independently but I have had the pleasure of interacting with each of them. My goal is to start a conversation where we can begin to share across disciplines as well as across the miles.