What About the Elephants in the Room?

by Rick Austin May 1, 2014 04:22 PM

ResearchImpact honcho and long-time friend of Research Into Action, David Phipps, recently published a journal club discussion of this fairly widely-known article by Grimshaw, et al., “Knowledge translation of research findings,” about KT and its effectiveness.


The ResearchImpact journal club is intended to foster discussion, so David raises more questions than he answers, but then, that’s the point.


His very first question has to do with the Grimshaw article’s assertion that the most valuable unit of knowledge is the “up-to-date” systematic review. David points out that systematic reviews, by their nature, take time, cost lots of money, and are not popular projects for original researchers. He asks, who will pay for them, who will do them, and do we really know that they are influential in decision- and policy-making?


The Grimshaw article’s emphasis on systematic reviews reveals, in my mind, a narrow view of what is effective, and why. The implicit attitude is that if we can just get good evidence into people’s hands, they can’t help but make useful, evidence-informed decisions. Particularly in the political policy arena, evidence is never sufficient; politicians view policy through the lens of what’s good for them. Self-interest trumps science every time.


Since he’s writing a journal club review for ResearchImpact, of course David is going to point out that the Grimshaw article barely mentions the role of knowledge brokers in knowledge translation. That’s indeed a curious omission when you consider that three of the five authors of the paper are Canadian, and are intimately familiar with the goals of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).


Perhaps it was beyond the reach of either the Grimshaw article or David’s discussion, but two major considerations that receive no play here are the issues of scope and sustainability. A consideration of the scope of a KT effort is implied in the Grimshaw article’s fifth key question, “With what effect should research knowledge be transferred?” Unfortunately, this is disposed of in a single, brief paragraph. Scope considerations are also indirectly raised in Melanie Barwick’s KT Planning Template, as it asks questions about partner roles, goals, strategies, and impact. What’s needed is an explicit discussion of what the researcher or knowledge broker expects to achieve: how wide, how deep, how many people?


The other elephant in the room is sustainability. Human nature being what it is, no one-shot knowledge translation campaign is going to achieve much. If you dispute that, consider tobacco. The Surgeon General’s office, the CDC, the FDA, the National Cancer Institute, the American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and innumerable local health departments have been flogging the dangers of tobacco for more than 40 years, and yet we still have more than 50 million Americans using tobacco in one form or  another.


Discussing these big issues up front carries no guarantee that they will be resolved; time, money and energy are all finite resources. But at least they can be part of a realistic debate. What other issues should we be including in a realistic discussion of knowledge translation goals?

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Whatever You Call It, It's Not Happening Here

by Rick Austin May 10, 2012 12:51 PM

I haven’t quite figured out what to make of the Canadians haggling over what to call knowledge translation. They didn’t coin the term, but they popularized it back in 2000, and have since been arguing over whether to call it knowledge translation, knowledge translation and exchange, knowledge mobilization, or, in the latest iteration, take all the terms, throw them in in a big basket, and call it K* (K-star).


Well I say let ‘em haggle all they want; at least they’re talking about the process and creating some consensus about the best methods. That’s more than you can say about the major players in knowledge translation, health communication, and social marketing in the United States.


Most recently, the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health convened a "K*" meeting in Hamilton, Ontario. Knowledge broker types from around the world sat down and talked about what they had in common in their practices.


David Phipps, from ResearchImpact in Toronto, blogged recently about his panel discussion at the K* conference, and the consensus the panelists and audience developed about what’s involved. They came up with the following:


·         Build trust between partners

·         Develop a capacity for (knowledge translation) in all partners

·         Use a mix of methodologies

·         Use Web 2.0 tools

·         Involve traditional media

·         Peer supports

·         Knowledge is not static and is co-constructed

·         Understand the political, social, and economic situations of the partners

·         Build a culture of (knowledge translation) for all participants.


A lot of these points are premised on the Canadian philosophy of knowledge translation, which embraces full exchange and interaction between researchers and stakeholders. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? When was the last time you went to a joint knowledge translation conference between the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control?


What this demonstrates is how far behind the curve the United States is from the rest of the world. The Hamilton K* meeting had participants from Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, and Australia. I have a call in to David Phipps right now to find out if there were any participants from the United States. When you compare the United States to the rest of the world on knowledge translation, health communication, and social marketing, we are not exceptional. What do you think?


Update, 5/14.2012: I heard back from David, and it looks like there were no participants from the United States at this inaugural conference.

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A New Guest Blog from David Phipps of ResearchImpact

by Rick Austin November 17, 2011 01:24 PM

David Phipps is Director of the Office Research Services at York University in Toronto, Ontario. Today’s guest blog will be cross-posting on David’s website, ResearchImpact.


Learning from international knowledge intermediaries


On October 6, 2011 I wrote about knowledge intermediary organizations in Canada, US and UK:  York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit (KMb Unit, Canada), The Research Into Action project of the Institute for Health Policy at The University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, Texas (US), Community University Partnership Program at the University of Brighton (UK) and Centre for Research in Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh (UK). These four are examples of universities investing in a capacity to link academic research to non-academic organizations so that research can inform professional practice and public policy. Each employs a number of professional staff engaged in a variety of knowledge brokering/knowledge intermediary functions. After some very quick and dirty analysis (don’t kick at the table in the blog too hard) we see that although each has some similarities there are some differences.  The four organizations fall into two groups as follows:


Cupp and KMb Unit: university wide; primarily hard money from the university; high degree of social, exchange based, interactive strategies for knowledge brokering; focus on engagement with the community sector.


RIA and CRFR: located within research units but reaching out within the university; primarily project (soft money) based; engage in contract research on behalf of partners; some social and exchange based strategies (CRFR>RIA) but knowledge transfer/translation more prevalent; focus on engagement with policy makers and professional practitioners.


This gives us a basis for comparison.


I have had the pleasure of meeting and interacting, and sometimes working, with all of them.  Unfortunately they don’t know each other but hopefully I can act like KMb crazy glue.


If I had the pleasure of sitting down with the lead staff from each of these units, Rick Austin (RIA), Dave Wolff (Cupp) and Sarah Morton (CRFR) this is what I would ask them:


·         Tell me your story from bright idea to implementation.

·         How do you measure success?

·         How do you use social media: as a communication or engagement strategy?

·         What has been your biggest surprise (good or bad)?

·         What has been your biggest disappointment or ongoing challenge?

·         What is your 5 year vision?

·         If you could change one thing what would that be?


These are nice qualitative questions. Quantitative analysis would include our usual metrics:


·         Number of information sessions with faculty

·         Number of information sessions with non-academic audiences

·         Number of faculty and students involved

·         Number of projects brokered

·         Number of knowledge exchange events

·         Funding received for projects

·         Social media metrics (followers, klout/twittergrader, page views, downloads)


And if we really wanted to get serious doing a compare/contrast among our units we would survey our user communities: faculty, students, government partners, community partners and probe around costs/benefits, barriers/facilitators and reputational gains for the university.


Although some are relatively new to knowledge brokering I would also include the other five ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche universities in this analysis: University of Victoria, University of Saskatchewan, University of Guelph, Université du Québec á Montréal, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the four New Brunswick universities who are investing in the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network, a province wide knowledge mobilization initiative. All of them have invested in an institutional capacity for knowledge mobilization but each has unique aspects to their implementation.


The goal of this analysis would not be to say who has the best broker model because they all work well in their own environments. What we lack now is an understanding of why these different models work well and what can others learn from our experience so they can inform their own decisions about their own investments in knowledge mobilization.


I am, in fact, sitting down with Sarah Morton on November 30 and Dave Wolff on December 2. I sense we will have something to talk about.

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Relationships and Knowledge Translation... BFFs?

by Rick Austin November 14, 2011 02:00 PM

Another recent thought-provoking post by Cameron Norman at Censemaking got me umm, thinking, about the importance of relationships in knowledge translation.


Cameron is the second Canadian KT person I’ve heard speak emphatically about relationships in the past few days. In our most recent podcast, David Phipps at York University makes it clear that the most important thing he does in his knowledge mobilization work for ResearchImpact is foster personal relationships.


This emphasis on relationships is pretty widespread in Canadian KT. I’ve struck up a number of professional relationships effortlessly in Canada, including Cameron, David Phipps, Peter West, and Melanie Barwick. Can this be attributed to the mindset fostered by the work of CIHR? Is it part of the Canadian psyche? Is it a cultural norm? If it’s a learned behavior, we could use a little more of it here in the United States.

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What's the Incentive for Knowledge Translation?

by Rick Austin November 2, 2011 01:43 PM

In our newest podcast, David Phipps and Pimjai Sudsawad continue their discussion from the recent CDC Health Communication conference in Atlanta, brainstorming ways to strengthen and expand knowledge translation in the United States.


Pimjai asked, “What are the incentives?” David and Pimjai agreed that we need to innovate on several fronts:


  • Create a culture of knowledge translation using the carrot and stick
  • Build new, closer relationships between researchers and end-users/stakeholders
  • Add value to research through research synthesis.

David pointed out that the 1980 Bayh-Dole act created a new class of professionals at universities and research institutions, experts in technology transfer and patent law. Similarly, he said, “Effective knowledge translation needs a suite of services and professional staff that can choose the appropriate vehicle to get the right information to the right people in the right format at the right time.”


There’s much food for thought in this podcast. If you’re a registered member of KTExchange.org, you can download the podcast by clicking on “KT Tools” in the main menu, then “Podcasts.”


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