Identifying competencies for integrated knowledge translation: a Delphi study

Identifying competencies for integrated knowledge translation: a Delphi study

Yeung, E., Scodras, S., Salbach, N.M., Kothari, A. and Graham, I.D. Identifying competencies for integrated knowledge translation: a Delphi study. 2021. BMC Health Services Research. 21: Article number: 1181.


Background: Considerable progress has been made to advance the field of knowledge translation to address the knowledge-to-action gap in health care; however, there remains a growing concern that misalignments persist between research being conducted and the issues faced by knowledge users, such as clinicians and health policy makers, who make decisions in the health care context. Integrated knowledge translation (IKT) is a collaborative research model that has shown promise in addressing these concerns. It takes advantage of the unique and shared competencies amongst researchers and knowledge users to ensure relevance of the research process and its outcomes. To date, core competencies have already been identified to facilitate training in knowledge translation more generally, but they have yet to be prioritized for IKT more specifically. The primary aim of this study was to recruit a group of researchers and knowledge users to identify and prioritize core competencies for researchers and knowledge users to engage with IKT.

Methods: We recruited health care knowledge users (KUs) and researchers with experience and knowledge of IKT for a quantitative, cross-sectional study. We employed a modified Delphi approach consisting of three e-survey rounds to establish consensus on competencies important to IKT for KUs and researchers based on mean rating of importance and agreement between participants.

Results: Nineteen (73%) of the initial 26 participants were researchers (response rate = 41% in the first round; retention in subsequent rounds > 80%). Participants identified a total of 46 competencies important for IKT (18 competencies for KUs, 28 competencies for researchers) under 3 broad domains. Technical research skills were deemed extremely important for researchers, while both groups require teamwork and knowledge translation skills.

Conclusions: This study provides important insight into distinct and overlapping IKT competencies for KUs and researchers. Future work could focus on how these can be further negotiated and contextualized for a wide range of IKT contexts, projects and teams. Greater attention could also be paid to establishing competencies of the entire team to support the research co-production process.

This paper is from the lab of Ian Graham who is doing a very deep dive into iKT based on his years of practice and scholarship in this area. There is a growing literature on competencies for knowledge mobilization/translation. This article adds to the literature by identifying competencies for integrated knowledge translation (iKT) relevant to both researchers and knowledge users (KU). It is important to survey these two ends of the iKT process together to find out what competencies are needed for effective collaboration – the core of iKT processes.

iKT “involves researchers and knowledge users (clinicians, managers, policy makers, etc.) “engaging in a mutually beneficial research project or program of research” wherein knowledge users identify a problem and have the authority to implement the research recommendations”. These distinct roles are important when the authors discuss power – more on that later. Patients were not included in this study despite their importance to the health research enterprise.

The survey methods asked researcher and KU respondents to rank the importance of multiple competencies in three domains:

  1. Evidence (including research technical skills) domain
  2. Teamwork Domain
  3. KT Activities Domain

The core of the paper is Table 3, which provides the most important competencies in each of the three domains for KUs and researchers. It is 6 pages long. Enjoy.

Also core to the paper is table 4, which provides the least important competencies in each of the three domains for KUs and researchers. It is only 2.5 pages long.

I won’t repeat them here, but some greater compare and contrast of the competencies would have been nice. There is some in the text, but I was left wanting to know which competencies – both highly rated and poorly rated – are shared and which are unique without having to work through all 8.5 pages of tables 3 and 4.

Then the authors provide some reflection on what isn’t there drawing from the literature and their own experience. The two notably absent or not highly ranked are competencies of leadership and negotiation. Regarding negotiation the authors reflect on power, “The knowledge coproduction process is particularly vulnerable to the impact of power relationships amongst researchers and KUs, especially for issues of sustainability, and the integration of diverse perspectives and ideas”. Negotiation on roles, clarity, ownership and responsibility seem to beg for unique competencies in iKT. While some of the teamwork competencies address working together, competencies for negotiation were not explicitly asked for in the survey. Curiously, leadership was excluded from the core competencies by KUs survey respondents despite the importance of leadership in the literature. The authors speculate that KUs see this as a traditional role for researchers despite the critical role of KUs in identifying the problem definitions for researchers.

There is an important but brief mention of organizational competencies including “collective competence”. “Building individual competence may be necessary but insufficient to address the multitude of contextual factors facing each unique IKT scenario”. The authors recommend more research on collective competencies to including (in my opinion) organizational competencies.

This article makes recommendations about competency development and KT training. It is important to map the needed skills onto the growing number of KT/KMb training programs emerging in Canada. These training programs need to be evidence based as much as they train people to use evidence.

Questions for brokers:

  1. Patients weren’t included as survey respondents. Given their importance in iKT processes is this an oversight (either intentional or unintentional)?
  2. Negotiation competencies were implicit in some of the competencies. Is implicit good enough? Should negotiation competencies have been explicitly included?
  3. Organizational competencies may be needed. Why isn’t individual competency good enough to support and sustain iKT processes?

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.