Planning for Knowledge Translation? I've Got Some Questions.

by Rick Austin November 18, 2013 03:54 PM

My neighbors at KTDRR have excellent timing! Shortly after I blogged about developing KT curricula, and got a “not so in Canada” comment from Melanie Barwick, they posted a new webinar featuring Melanie’s KT planning course and her pioneering KT Planning Template.


Thanks to folks like Melanie, KTDRR, and PHSSR, among others, we’re finally having increasingly productive conversations about the importance of KT here in the U.S.


Melanie’s planning template is pretty comprehensive, but after going through her recent webinar, I have some questions about its efficacy for public health in the U.S. For instance:

  • What’s the true value of research synthesis in public health knowledge translation? In her template, Melanie asserts that all published research deserves a KT effort. Since so much of public health research has public policy implications, does a standalone research result really cut it?
  • How do we overcome the acute obstacles of budget, time, and energy when there’s virtually no incentive to do KT here in the U.S.? Public health researchers here are still incentivized by the traditional “publish or perish” model, with nothing comparable to the Canadian Institutes for Health Research driving change.
  • Is merely “generating awareness” ever enough? During the webinar, Melanie leads the discussion about goal-setting for KT with “generating awareness” and “sharing knowledge.”  Is this ever enough? Social marketers here in the U.S. will tell you no:



Conversations about the importance of knowledge translation in public health will have to include the broader needs of public health researchers, policy-makers, and the public. Where do we start? What do you think?

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Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl… It’s Science!

by Rick Austin March 16, 2011 04:34 PM

Apparently, Nedra Weinreich has become my unofficial – and certainly unpaid – knowledge translation researcher. She recently tweeted me an excellent blog about telling the story of science, which dovetails nicely with some previous posts I’ve made on this topic.


Paul Panek is a science writer whose most recent book is “The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality.” He’s written a series of blog posts about the narrative thread in scientific research and how research replicates the three-step narrative arc of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Go here to link to all three of his blog entries.


To use Panek’s layman’s example of the narrative arc, all successful narratives consist of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.” Researchers follow the same arc: “What does the scientist know? What does the scientist want to know? What does the scientist learn?” Rinse and repeat forever.


A scientist who attended one of Panek’s lectures e-mailed him afterwards: “Scientists live our work lives as narratives but almost never present our scientific findings in that way.” Precisely, and there’s the problem. Both scientists and laypeople are experiencing life as ongoing narratives, but the constraints of the scientific method teach scientists to present “just the facts.” Facts are not narrative. We understand our world most deeply as a narrative. How the scientist thinks about his or her research – the story – is crucial. As Panek says, if the scientist presents himself/herself as “…someone with whom we can stand, shoulder to shoulder, asking the same human question, over and over…” then we have a chance of achieving understanding.


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“Maybe Stories Are Just Data With a Soul”

by Rick Austin March 7, 2011 02:30 PM

Many thanks to Nedra for pointing to this recent TED Talk.


Brene Brown is a Ph.D social worker and qualitative researcher whose ability to weave her research results into stories reinforces what we’ve tried to talk about several times here on the KT blog. She does it waaay better. Just watch:





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Three Crucial Distinctions to Remember

by Rick Austin February 2, 2011 11:47 AM

I sat in yesterday on a great webchat, hosted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, with Nedra Kline Weinreich. The beginning of the chat featured a commenter misusing a term which gets thrown around carelessly, leading to much confusion about what’s what. So, let me start off by reminding knowledge translators about three crucial distinctions:

Social marketing is… the use of traditional, analytical marketing tools (audience analysis, surveys, focus groups, product positioning) to achieve a change for social good (stop smoking, exercise more, etc.).


Social media is… Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FourSquare, YouTube, Orkut. “Poking.” “Liking.” Sharing photographs, videos, and family stories. Re-connecting with high school classmates you haven’t talked with in 30 years, and re-discovering exactly why it is that you haven’t talked with them in 30 years.


Social media marketing is… the use of social media venues in ways both subtle and obvious to sell soda, candy, automobiles, fashion, etc., OR to bolster the effects of a social marketing campaign (“Click Like” if you think Cigarettes Suck).


Back to the webchat. Nedra made some great points about market analysis that are directly applicable to knowledge translation. Whether you’re a traditional marketer or a social marketer, your first step is to get to know your audience intimately. What do they read, watch, and listen to? What’s important to them? What kinds of stories move them emotionally?


So, when you’re ready to move your research beyond the academic journal and do real knowledge translation, you have to be prepared to answer these questions: Who exactly do I want to reach? What do I want them to do? What kind of story can I tell that will be important to them? What resources are available to me for knowledge translation (not only funding, but also people and talent)?


Social marketing, which is generally viewed by people in academia as “that promotional stuff that people at the CDC do,” has much to teach us about our knowledge translation efforts at the research end. I’ll discuss this more in upcoming blog entries.


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