Not Just a Story, But How You Tell a Story

by Rick Austin February 14, 2014 04:11 PM

The most recent National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) online newsletter is out, and they have a nice article about dealing with the media that’s just as relevant to researchers as it is to communication/public information types.


It’s written by Norm Hartman, one of the founders of NPHIC. While his emphasis is on how public information officers can deal more effectively with the media during a specific public health crisis, he makes a particular point that I found applicable to anyone trying to translate public health research. He says: “We seem to forget that the word ‘you’ is an incredibly powerful tool of communication. We acknowledge the reader or viewer... There is a second part of that equation that is equally powerful. Instead of talking about what we do or how we do it, we should be saying why we do it. Then the communication becomes much more powerful.”


Researchers tend to focus on how they obtained their data and how they analyzed it, which is perfect for academia. If your results are significant to the general public, however, your experimental design and the depth and breadth of your analysis mean little.


When you tell the story of your research, try turning the focus onto the person who will be affected by the research – the policy-maker, the parent, the school administrator, the journalist, the “you.” Telling the story of how the relevant “you” will be impacted makes your research more compelling, and more effective.

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A U.S. Problem, or a Developing World Problem?

by Rick Austin February 4, 2014 04:17 PM

I recently got to sit down with Dr. Bill Kohl, and we had a fascinating conversation about his work on the public health implications of physical inactivity and the culture of sedentary living that is growing in both Western culture and the developing world. The conversation can be heard on our latest podcast, “Physical Inactivity is Not a U.S. Problem, It's a Developing World Problem.”


Dr. Kohl is an epidemiologist with the Dell Center for Healthy Living at the University of Texas, and he was recently appointed as Chair of the Science Board for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. He is also the founding president of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health, which will hold its fifth international conference in Rio de Janeiro during April 2014.


During our conversation, he pointed out that, with schools under increasing pressure to prepare for standardized testing, thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, physical education has often been the first casualty of this increased classroom emphasis. Ironically, he said, test scores may be worsening because of the removal of physical activities.


Moving to a more global view, he said: “From a public health standpoint, we are learning that physical inactivity is every bit as important as say, smoking, in populations in terms of the number of deaths that might be attributable, yet we’re not addressing it like we’re addressing smoking, or addressing other acute and urgent health problems.”


If you’re a registered member of, you can download this new podcast by signing in, then clicking on the “KT Tools” menu, and then “Podcasts.”


Let us know in the comments what you think of Dr. Kohl’s views on physical activity and public health.

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"Nowhere Have There Been a People Without Narrative"

by Rick Austin December 17, 2013 04:20 PM

In the latest issue of CDC’s Health Communication Science Digest, there is this little gem (subscription required) from Michelle Miller-Day and Michael Hecht, writing in the journal Health Communication.


With the typically dry journal article title, “Narrative Means to Preventative Ends: A Narrative Engagement Framework for Designing Prevention Interventions,” the authors make an argument for the use of narrative in health communication.


I’ve blogged about this topic previously, and Miller-Day and Hecht add some impressive documentation to the discussion about the importance of narrative to successful knowledge translation.


The authors argue that narrative is pervasive, quoting Barthes (1975): “Nowhere have there been a people without narrative.” Telling stories about our lives and experiences is how we organize and frame our daily reality. Given this, why would we not try to organize and frame our research results in a fashion that allows more people to understand and assimilate them?


Note that I said our research results, not our research. Of course, the empirical method is needed to derive data that at least attempts to avoid human bias and error. Once we’ve obtained usable data, though, we are obligated to put it into a form that is practical.


Miller-Day and Hecht make their argument on behalf of health prevention campaigns in the field, particularly their own work in the “keepin’ it REAL” anti-drug campaign. However, their argument applies equally to public health researchers who would like to see their work have lasting impact.

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Some Cool Tools From the KT Measurement Conference

by Rick Austin December 3, 2013 03:37 PM

Aaand… Following right up on the KT planning webinar with Melanie Barwick, KTDRR recently produced an ambitious, information-packed three-day online seminar on measuring and evaluating KT.

Whether an online conference with voiceover and PowerPoint slides spread over three days was the best way to tackle a subject this densely packed is a topic for another conversation. Perseverance was rewarded with access to a broad spectrum of worldwide expertise, and some cool tools which demonstrated that it is possible to evaluate the impact of your knowledge translation efforts.


Some of the cool tools were:


CIHR’s KT Planning Report – A comprehensive workbook prepared in 2012 under the supervision of Ian Graham, PhD.


RE-AIM – A framework for evaluating health interventions with more than 14 years of documentation.


Payback Framework – A data collection and cross-case analysis tool originally formulated by Stephen Hanney, PhD at Brunel University.


Go and browse the archived materials, and let me know in the comments what you found particularly useful.

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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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