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Knowledge Translation History

The concept of translating research knowledge into action, “knowledge translation,” can be traced to the field of agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century.  Face-to-face communication was used to disseminate agricultural research for the benefit of farmers and ranchers.

Over the course of the 20th century, various disciplines, including engineering, management, and education developed their own knowledge translation (KT) models. In the past 20 years, nursing, medicine and public health have followed suit, applying KT to health care. By the 1990's, the U.S. government was adding KT requirements to its research grants as a means of increasing accountability in funded research.  In 2000, the Canadian government formalized KT and evaluation of results in grant-making with the chartering of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).

Much of the existing literature on KT is spread widely across different disciplines and often lacks explicit direction on how to conduct successful translations. The most widely used definition of KT comes from the CIHR: “Knowledge Translation (KT) is defined as a dynamic and iterative process that includes synthesis, dissemination, exchange, and ethically-sound application of knowledge to improve the health of Canadians, provide more effective health services and products and strengthen the health care system.” It also advocates the global model of the research cycle, the “CIHR Model of Knowledge Translation,” which it uses to describe the interaction between knowledge creation and use.

Different professional and practice groups have placed different emphases on knowledge translation. For example, the Ottawa Model of Research Utilization (OMRU), originally published in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, focuses on continuous evaluation at every stage of KT.

Another active participant in the development and use of KT is the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR). It defines KT as: “…the collaborative and systematic review, assessment, identification, aggregation, and practical application of high-quality disability and rehabilitation research by key stakeholders (e.g., consumers, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers) for the purpose of improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.”

Obviously, the very definition of KTis fluid and open to continuing debate. The Research Into Action model for KT focuses on bridging the gap between knowledge producers and knowledge users with very specific protocols for evidence gathering, audience analysis, communication tool development, and uptake evaluation.