Knowledge translation: The rise of implementation

Barwick, M., Dubrowski, R., & Petricca, K. (2020). Knowledge translation: The rise of implementation. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.



In 2007, the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR) commissioned the report, Knowledge Translation: Introduction to Models, Strategies, and Measures (Sudsawad, 2007) to provide an overview of the field of knowledge translation (KT). The report highlighted KT definitions and characteristics, as well as various models and frameworks prevalent at the time. The past decade has seen significant advancements in KT theory and practice that have led to a new generation of approaches and strategies for sharing evidence and for facilitating and evaluating behavior, policy, and organizational change, including a larger focus on implementation. The resulting magnitude, variety, and complexity of new KT evidence present challenges to many researchers and knowledge users (KUs) in making sense of and choosing approaches that are ideally suited for their needs. The Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research, as NCDDR is now known, commissioned the present narrative review as an update of the KT literature. We reflect on advancements in KT practice generally, KT’s relationship with implementation science (IS), and its practice in the specific area of disability research.


This is a report that describes the KT and IS landscape, its past present and future. It also provides precise definitions for many terms we use (ie throw around) without necessarily understanding their subtle distinctions and unique usage (more on that later).

This is a 65 page report so I can’t review it all in a 500 word journal club post so what I offer here are some of my take aways and some additions to create connections to KMb practitioners/scholarship who might not be in the health space so might not see the applicability of this report to them. So, not in the way of critique but to make connections beyond health and beyond KT/IS:

  • The authors acknowledge SSHRC for introduction of the term knowledge mobilization, but that is the rare mention outside of health. Other examples of Canadian funders explicitly driving impact work are the Networks of Centres of Excellence funding research and training to explicitly create socioeconomic impacts for Canadians. That program is now sunsetting and the funds have been repurposed to the New Frontiers Research Fund which are intended to tackle a well-defined problem or challenge.
  • In addition to NIH and all the associated National Institutes of…the US National Science Foundation (STEM funding plus some social sciences) assesses applications not only for their contributions to scholarship but for their potential for “broader impacts”
  • While not a KT or IS program there is no mention of the national impact assessment schemes of which the UK Research Excellence Framework is the prototype. In those countries with an impact assessment scheme both KT and IS will drive success on impact assessments
  • The stakeholder engagement section is relevant to (and can benefit from reflection on) community-based research and Indigenous research which learned these lessons decades ago, although are only now becoming authentically taken up by academic researchers.

Above I mentioned the many detailed definitions of words we use. I am on record as not being bothered by the differences between KT, KMb, IS etc because in my world of practice the distinctions are sometimes not distinct enough to motivate my attention. That is why it is important that practitioners read the literature and/or have relationships with KT/IS researchers because there are distinctions and while they may not affect what you call your practice you should at least be aware of them.

For example, do you know the difference between a theory, a model and a framework? Read pages 17-19. How about diffusion/dissemination vs commercialization vs knowledge brokering vs knowledge management vs knowledge mobilization vs translational research vs implementation and implementation science (which, by the way, are all listed as subsets of KT) – pages 4-6. How about T1-T2-T3 and T4 research (page 8).

Here’s a fun fact I didn’t know. Knowledge mobilization is based on the French term la mobilization, which means making ready for service or action. I know the definition “making knowledge ready for action” but didn’t know it came from a French word.

Two more sections that I very much appreciated in this report:

  • The history of KT is very interesting. It won’t affect your practice, but it does give a nice overview of how we got here
  • The section on academic promotion is a personal interest of mine, thanks for the shout out to Research Impact Canada.


Questions for brokers

  1. If you’re not researching or practicing in a health context does this report resonate? Does your knowledge mobilization “fall under the KT umbrella” (page 4)?
  2. Is the co-produced pathway to impact a theory, model or framework (see table 2 starting on page 18)?
  3. KT/KMb/KTE: does it matter in practice? Is it just branding (ie KT for health, KMb for SSH in Canada) or is it material?



Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create online 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.