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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Help Us Build Communities, Cases and Practices

by Rick Austin July 23, 2013 03:23 PM

We’re building a new feature on KTExchange, and we’d like your help in filling it out.


It’s called “Communities, Cases and Practices,” (C,C&P) and you can find it under the “KT Tools” menu at the top of the page. This feature is driven by Google Maps, and as you can guess from the name, we’re looking for some specific data to fill it out.


We’re looking for communities of knowledge translation practitioners, like KTExchange itself, or like ResearchImpact, the consortium of Canadian universities.


We’re looking for specific case studies about the implementation of knowledge translation, like our own work with the Houston City Council on noise pollution.


Finally, we’re looking for examples of best practices, like Melanie Barwick’s work with Scientist Knowledge Translation Training at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto.


Send your suggestions for these categories to us at Researchintoaction@uth.tmc.edu, and we’ll follow up and add it to the C, C&P page.



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A New Guest Blog From David Phipps of ResearchImpact

by Rick Austin October 6, 2011 01:15 PM

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


The Canadian KT Secret Isn’t So Secret


On August 3, 2011 I wrote on the Research Into Action (RIA) blog about the Canadian knowledge translation (KT) secret and then I presumed to give some advice to Americans seeking to maximize their KT infrastructure, “Create an engaged community sector and elect a government that will listen.”  I remain convinced that Canada does have a KT secret but I also see pockets of KT expertise growing at institutions in the UK and the US. 


Let me first say what I think makes for a strong and sustainable KT practice. I have recently re-read Sandra Nutley’s seminal book, Using Evidence. Although written four years ago, I take away three key messages for those seeking to establish and sustain KT within a research environment:


1.      KT is a social process

2.      Efforts to enhance KT need to be interactive and focus on the relationships between researchers and decision makers

3.      KT is emerging at the level of the individual, the organization and the system/sectoral level.


The RIA project is consistent with these three messages. The RIA team approaches knowledge translation in three ways: 1) through translation activities undertaking contracted research in collaboration with university researchers and public health agencies; 2) through a web portal and social media strategy, and; 3) disseminating key findings to public health stakeholders through tools such as briefing packages and FAQ sheets. Their online portal boasts over 600 members, has a variety of blog posts (like this one), podcasts, and a discussion board. It is this social media feature that allows RIA to complement its knowledge translation products with interactive engagement of stakeholders, and supports the social and interactive elements of RIA’s practice. RIA is a project housed within the Institute for Health Policy at The University of Texas School of Public Health, and it has a mandate to develop new methods of assisting researchers throughout the University of Texas Health Science Center in translating their technical findings into usable advice and practical recommendations. This positions RIA as an institutional KT support service as opposed to the more common model where KT is practiced in the context of an individual research or practice project.


There are two more institutional KT-associated support structures of which I am aware. The University of Brighton Community University Partnership Program (CUPP) is built on a community of practice model. CUPP embeds knowledge exchange within all of its activities. CUPP does not produce knowledge products to transfer the results of university research, but creates opportunities for researchers and community partners to develop relationships that will meet the needs of both community and university partners. Also in the United Kingdom but at the opposite end of the island is the Centre for Research in Families and Relationships (CRFR). CRFR is based at the University of Edinburgh and has partners across other Scottish universities.  From their website, “the mission of CRFR from its inception has been to make research accessible to a range of audiences and to work in partnership with policy-makers and practitioners to ensure that research is relevant and useful to policy and practice communities in Scotland, the UK and beyond”.


Comparing my own home base at York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, the RIA project at The University of Texas, Cupp at U. Brighton, and CRFR at U. Edinburgh, we see four KT-like services in four countries each with their own unique take on the three key messages above.





Social Nature


U. Brighton


Exchange events


University of Texas Health Science Center

Public Health

Applied research, Social media

KMb Unit

York University


Exchange events, social media


U. Edinburgh plus other universities

Family and Relationships

Exchange events


And only one of these is Canadian.


All four of these organizations have evolved independently but I have had the pleasure of interacting with each of them. My goal is to start a conversation where we can begin to share across disciplines as well as across the miles.

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Come See Us in Atlanta!

by Shannon Rasp August 8, 2011 12:47 PM

Research Into Action will present a panel discussion at this week’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (NCHCMM) in Atlanta, Georgia. The panel, “The Knowledge Translation Divide: What’s the Canadian Secret?” will feature David Phipps, Ph.D., from ResearchImpact in Toronto and Pimjai Sudsawad, Sc.D., from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) in Washington, DC.

They will debate the merits of knowledge translation as it is done in Canada, and whether KT practitioners in the USA can learn anything from Canadian practice. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Stephen Linder, the principal investigator for the Research Into Action project.

Senior Communications Specialist Rick Austin will be tweeting regularly from the conference and will be live tweeting during the presentation. Follow him on Twitter (@ktexchange) for the hashtag.

The NCHCMM is hosted annually by the Centers for Disease Control, and is attended by faculty, researchers, students and professionals in public health, health communication, and social marketing. The conference runs Aug. 9-11 and Research Into Action will present its panel at 12:45 on Thursday, Aug. 11. If you are attending the conference, please come join us. You may even get your very own Winston-approved t-shirt!

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Today: A Guest Blog Entry From David Phipps of ResearchImpact

by Rick Austin August 3, 2011 11:16 AM

David Phipps is Director of the Office of Research Services at York University in Toronto, Ontario.

Today’s guest blog will cross-post tomorrow on David’s website, ResearchImpact.


Public Benefits from Public Research

I have been invited by the University of Texas School of Public Health, Research Into Action project, to the Centers for Disease Control
National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media to debate the position that Canada has a knowledge translation secret. I look forward to this discussion with Stephen Linder (The University of Texas School of Public Health), Pimjai Sudsawad (Knowledge Translation Program Coordinator, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research), and Rick Austin (Research Into Action project), because I get to brag about Canada and our KT successes.

We’ll start from the (debatable) position that Canada has a KT secret. There is an evidence gap here. There are also excellent examples of KT from around the world. Nonetheless, there is a widely held perception that our KT secret has resulted from (or resulted in) public investments in national KT institutions like the
Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, Canadian Partnerships Against CancerMental Health Commission of Canada, and Canadian Council on Learning, all with a KT mandate. Canada also has ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), the only national network of university knowledge mobilization units in the world (to our knowledge).

For argument’s sake, let’s accept that Canada has a KT secret – the question becomes why? Canada has a strong history of public institutions. Compared to the US, Canada has less private health care and fewer private options for education from K-12 to higher education. Using General Expenditures in R&D (GERD) as a metric, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that Canada’s public sector invests relatively more in R&D than does Canada’s private sector. On June 28, 2011 Canada’s
Science, Technology and Innovation Council released its report on Canada’s innovation performance in 2010.  The report recognizes that “Canada's overall business expenditures on R&D lag behind international innovation leaders. These numbers are trending down when they should be trending up.”

Since Canadians invest proportionally more public funding in R&D and likewise have fewer private options in health care and education, I propose that Canadians expect a return on their investments in public research so that research benefits policy and practice in health and education as well as in other sectors. That’s the Canadian socially democratic model.

If this is true, so what? How can we translate this to other jurisdictions? How can other countries create an expectation of public return for public investments in research?

The US did this in 1980. The
Bayh Dole Act created a national standard for technology transfer (that other university knowledge transfer) that was predicated on a demand for a return on public investment in university research. Overnight the Bayh Dole Act created the US technology transfer profession that has grown into a leading technology transfer market. Technology transfer is a recognized profession with international associations like the Association of University Technology Managers, standards, accreditation, and established tools and metrics. The knowledge transfer/translation/mobilization industry is in its infancy by comparison, with haphazard experiments in KT service and only an emergent scholarship on the science of connecting research to use. Following international scholars like Sandra Nutley and Carol Weiss, Canada has a growing cadre of scholars, a few emerging graduate programs and established leaders such as Carol Estabrook, Jonathan Lomas, Réjean Landry, John Lavis, Ian Graham, Jeremy Grimshaw, Ben Levin, and Andreas Laupacis, to name just a few, who have developed national and international reputations as KT researchers. Is there similar bench strength for KT science in the US?

Given that Canada invests in KT science and service, what can other jurisdictions do to derive public benefit from public investments in policy and practice relevant research?

The US needs a social Bayh Dole Act. A social Bayh Dole Act would require that universities make investments in mobilizing research with the potential to inform social, health, and education policy/practice. Universities and other publicly funded research institutions would need to make efforts to connect researchers to practitioners and policy makers. This happens at an individual researcher level. It also happens in large scale discipline specific organizations such as the
National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research in the US and the Social Care Institute for Excellence in the UK. The University of Texas School of Public Health has the Research Into Action project. Like Canada’s RIR network, a social Bayh Dole Act would require that universities invest in an institutional capacity for knowledge translation/mobilization units the way they currently do for technology translation.  A social Bayh Dole Act would seek to derive public benefits from public investments in research.

Canada does this by nature. The US can do this by legislation. I look forward to developing these ideas further at the conference in Atlanta with Stephen, Pimjai, and Rick.


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