Knowledge transfer in the social field: introduction and state of the art of a new research field

Dagenais, Christian, and Émilie Robert. Le transfert des connaissances dans le domaine social. Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2012.

On June 21, 2011, more than fifty actors from the Quebec knowledge transfer (KT) community met in Montreal. Bringing together three categories of stakeholders – university researchers, organizations working in the field of KT, and service institutions with a strong commitment to KT – this event aimed to establish the foundations of a new research partnership, a gathering now called the RENARD Team. Participants took stock of the state of knowledge in KT, and then discussed the main challenges of this new field of activity. Le transfert des connaissances dans le domaine social [KT in the social field] reports the essence of the discussions and conclusions drawn from this event, defining an enriching portrait of KT and its main actors in Quebec ten years ago.

The first part of the book depicts the state of the art of KT research, based on the studies of the university researchers present. This section covers knowledge and perspectives in KT specific to the fields of health (chapter 2), public health interventions (chapter 3), social sciences and humanities (chapter 4) and even proposes some of its epistemological issues (chapter 5). We note that despite the growing popularity of KT and the increasing mobilization of actors in all these fields of activity, very little evidence exists on the use and effects of the various KT strategies. We also deplore the fact that existing research is almost exclusively interested in the instrumental use of knowledge, rather than its conceptual use (new interpretations) or persuasive use (legitimizing decisions).

The second part of the book gives space to the partner organizations of the KT practice environments and to their own perspectives. The Centre de santé et de services sociaux – Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Sherbrooke (CSSS-IUGS), the Centre de réadaptation en déficience intellectuelle et en troubles envahissants du développement (CRDITED) de Montréal, the Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de la Montérégie the Centre de liaison sur l’intervention et la prévention psychosociales (CLIPP, now renamed Humanov-is), the Centre de transfert pour la réussite éducative du Québec (CTREQ) and the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) present in turn their definitions, models, and specific needs related to KT.

What is the relevance of this book ten years later? While some aspects of the book have aged, for example the state of knowledge in KT has evolved since then, several elements remain relevant. First, it is interesting to note the different perspectives of researchers and practitioners in the various KT fields. In this respect, Le transfert des connaissances dans le domaine social [KT in the social field] remains an excellent introduction to many of the most important actors in KT in Quebec and their particular interests.

Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the account of the discussions that took place between researchers and practitioners, inspired by the five avenues of reflection proposed by Lavis et al. in their article, How Can Research Organizations More Effectively Transfer Research Knowledge to Decision Makers?, published in 2003. The paper presents key issues that are still relevant today, such as: Is it better to transfer knowledge from primary studies or from syntheses? Who is the best person or organization to convey this knowledge? What to do when the user community identifies a need for which there is little or mixed evidence? Again, this is a good introduction to the challenges of KT, both in Quebec and elsewhere, for potential neophytes.