A student’s guide to knowledge translation What it is and why it's important

As an undergraduate student pursuing an honours degree in psychology, I am becoming increasingly familiar with the world of academia. I’ve learned that conducting research and communicating findings to the public and other academics is of great importance.

Peer-reviewed articles, while suitable for the scientific community, are often not geared toward the larger population – they frequently involve scientific jargon and statistics. Even academics have to take specific courses to develop the skills needed to understand the statistics and jargon used.

There is a clear need to make research more accessible for practitioners, families, and any other stakeholders who are interested but lack the scientific background needed to understand the research. This is where knowledge translation (KT), comes in.

Under the direction of Janine Montgomery, a professor in the department of psychology, I interviewed three people who have been involved with KT projects at the University of Manitoba: psychology professor C.T. Yu, nursing professor Bev Temple, and Brenda Stoesz, former KT student researcher and faculty specialist at the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.

Researcher perspective

“We have all this great research happening in the world and often it results in an article in a journal that is not necessarily accessible by the people who really need it,” Temple said.

By using a KT approach, researchers can make their findings accessible and available to these individuals. The way this occurs can differ depending on the knowledge users and the information needed.

According to Yu, the process of KT can be conceptualized as a cycle involving a few general steps. First, researchers need to work with knowledge users to figure out what information they feel is important. Together, researchers and knowledge users form the KT team who then, in a process called synthesis, search the literature to retrieve information regarding the topic of interest and assess each study’s strengths and weaknesses.

Once the information has been synthesized, researchers disseminate it to knowledge users. Researchers have traditionally shared their findings by publishing them in a scientific journal. However, Temple said it has become apparent that we need to share information in an accessible format and understandable language for the people who need it.

Sharing research findings can occur in many different forms depending on which method will be most appropriate for the target audience. These forms can include summaries of the research, deliverables such as books or booklets, posters presented at conferences, and face-to-face workshops.

Yu believes that an important aspect of dissemination is the length of the summaries.

“Most knowledge users are extremely busy people,” said Yu. “Not only may they not have the training to dig up scientific journal articles and read them and understand them, […] they simply do not have the time.”

Therefore, he recommends that KT teams prepare knowledge synthesis in several different lengths such as one-page, five-page, or 10-page versions.

After researchers disseminate their knowledge, the process comes full circle when the researchers survey the knowledge users to see if the information met their needs, and if they have any new questions. If new questions have arisen, the KT cycle begins again.

According to all the researchers I interviewed, KT is an effective means of communicating research findings to those who need them. This shift in focus is key if researchers really hope to impact the practice.

According to Yu, who has experience as both a practitioner and an academic, practitioners have an obligation to stay up to date on the latest techniques and therapies based on sound research. If practitioners do not remain up to date, they risk using methods that are outdated and possibly harmful, and in turn they would be doing a disservice to their clients.

It is evident there is a need for KT, because factors such as limited time and unavailable academic databases can hamper practitioners’ access to information. Yu believes that KT helps to solve this dilemma as it brings scientists and knowledge users together.

While KT is an effective method to provide knowledge users with accessible information, Temple pointed out that it can take a long time to change large organizations and their practices. She believes that it is important for students to be involved with KT so that it is valued from the outset of their university career.

Student perspective

Stoesz is a former student who was involved with the KT project since 2011. Through this involvement, she saw the development of KT-oriented work from start to finish.

Stoesz indicated that initially, this large, multifaceted project seemed daunting. When she decided to get involved, she was initially assigned to be a research assistant with small, manageable tasks in order to give her ample time to absorb what the KT project was about.

She soon realized that as the project was fairly new, it was a steep learning curve for everyone involved.

“I found it really interesting that there were people with a variety of research backgrounds and disciplines working on a single team and that there were so many different perspectives,” said Stoesz. “Even as a student I had a perspective about how to answer questions that the others didn’t.”

Eventually, the opportunity blossomed into something bigger as she progressed from being a research assistant to leading two papers and earning a CIHR fellowship that supported one year of her PhD studies.

Stoesz said she initially had no idea where the opportunity of involvement as a student with a KT project would lead her, but she was both developing new skills and honing her writing and research, teamwork, and communication skills.

Eventually, through a progression of roles, her experiences led to employment after graduate school, reflecting the demand for graduates trained in KT.

As demonstrated by Stoesz’s experience, student involvement in KT allows students to develop crucial skills for their academic career. Student participation in such a project is valued by seasoned researchers as different perspectives can be offered and hopefully result in students appreciating the importance of KT from the outset of their schooling. In turn, this will help to increase the value of KT in the eyes of the large organizations these students may one day be a part of.

Evidently, it is important for students to consider their research not only from a scientific perspective, but also in terms of the potential impact their research could have on knowledge users’ lives. Through doing so, a greater appreciation and integration of KT into student research will likely follow, and in turn allow their research to produce a greater impact on those who need the information most.

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