Alternative Facts about Knowledge Translation

By Trish Roche

Alternative Facts About KT

Senior advisor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, introduced the press to ‘alternative facts’ over the weekend. Twitter (and the media) had a field day. Inspired by the new meme, we felt compelled to gather #AlternativeFacts that we sometimes hear or read about in Knowledge Translation (KT). But don’t worry, we’ll give you the real deal too (for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call those “actual facts”).

Alternative Fact #1: Knowledge Translation Happens After the Research is Done

Actual Fact: Knowledge translation encompasses a lot more than just the ‘push’ of research after the results are in. KT is about starting the research with the end in mind. Though dissemination is a key part of KT — and does usually happen at the end — KT also involves: exchanges with key stakeholders to inform and help guide the research (ideally, before anything is even set in motion), synthesis and contextualization of data, and the application of health research to practice. Our very own Kate Sibley breaks it down in her post, What We Mean When We Say Knowledge Translation.

Alternative Fact #2: Patient Engagement Means Getting Patients in Your Study!

Actual Fact: Patient engagement involves moving beyond the recruitment of patients as research participants who don’t really have an active — or ‘engaged’ — role in a study. It’s also more than patients advising research through focus groups, or researchers who engage with the public to discuss science or research data. Authentic patient engagement means patients and the public have a real say in research — it’s done ‘with’ or ‘by’ them, rather than ‘for’ or ‘about’ them. Read Carolyn Shimmin’s What is Patient Engagement Health Research? [the first of four in her PE series].

Alternative Fact #3: Making Work Accessible Means “Dumbing it Down”

Actual Fact: Many researchers are guilty of using unnecessarily complex words and nominalizations. Making work accessible — commonly referred to as plain language writing — doesn’t mean lowering one’s standards. In fact, the opposite is often true. It means giving people the information and resources they need to come to an understanding of what your research means. It is about empowerment, not spoon-feeding. Organizations like Evidence Network help researchers make their data accessible through the media, while maintaining their key messages.

Alternative Fact #4: All Research is Published and Available

Actual Fact: The reality is a lot of research generates negative results — a drug doesn’t work, an intervention isn’t adopted by stakeholders, the research design is flawed. What’s worse is you’re unlikely to ever hear about those studies, thanks to publication bias. Sexy, drastic, and novel findings are what make headlines, and thus, often determine what gets published and read. It makes you wonder how many lines of inquiry you’ve been involved in that someone else, somewhere else in the world, had already pursued and found to be a dead end. But as Gwen Brockman explains in Publication Bias and Negative Results, things may be changing for the better. Maybe one day we won’t have to list this as a falseh — — er, ‘alternative fact’.

Alternative Fact #5: For the Most Part, Published Research Gets Used

Actual Fact: As academics, we’d like to think the hard work and dedication that goes into producing a journal article leads to wide distribution and a captivated audience. Except it’s not. Not even close. Only about half of all academic papers are actually read by anyone other than the authors themselves. Of all the articles published, 90% are never cited. And even those that are cited may not be fully read. For a breakdown of the studies that produced these numbers, check out this 2014 article in the Smithsonian. Government reports are prone to the same problem, as explained in this admission from the World Bank.

Alternative Fact #6: Social Media Impact is All About Impressions

Actual Fact: Social media metrics can be confusing. Most problematic are Twitter impressions — the number of times a user receives a tweet in their feed or search. Though we were always taught that first impressions were important, this number doesn’t necessarily mean anyone actually engaged with, or even read, your tweet. While tempting to include impressions in your reports to show impressive amounts of impact and reach, the reality is this measure holds little value. For more on Twitter metrics, check out Carly’s Twitter Metrics for Researchers.

Alternative Fact #7: Healthcare Provides Recommended Care Almost All of the Time

Actual Fact: It really doesn’t — at least not in the US, where patients only receive recommended care about 55% of the time. But it’s not because physicians don’t know what they’re doing — rather, they’re having to make quick, complex decisions without all the evidence. I would argue this is the #1 reason we really need KT, just like Kate Sibley tells us in her post, Why We Need KT. For a really in-depth take on the disparity between evidence and practice, check out Scientific American’s Health Care Myth Busters.

Alternative Fact #8: People Will Care about Your Work Because You Feel It’s Important

Actual Fact: You think ‘Of course it’s important! Of course people care! Write it, and they will come!’ But sometimes people shy away from results that conflict with their worldview, threaten their identity, or demand behavioural change — particularly if ideas aren’t tailored to address those concerns. Not to mention you’re competing for their attention in a fast-paced digital environment, so your message needs to pull your audiences in from the get-go. You can increase your odds of drawing their attention and engaging them with your research by better understanding your audiences — their needs, their wants, their concerns. Learn how to be more empathetic in your knowledge translation efforts by reading Patrick Faucher’s post, Effective Content Begins With Empathy.

Alternative Fact #9: There’s No Such Thing as Knowledge Translation for Basic Science

Actual Fact: Having arrived to KT through basic science, I couldn’t leave this alternative fact out. Traditionally, knowledge translation has been about bridging the gap between health research and healthcare practice. But we often forget about the synthesis part (well, at least I do). But if we look at a model of knowledge translation [Editor’s note: or framework!], like the Knowledge-to-Action cycle, there is a perfect spot for basic science that we call “knowledge inquiry” under which basic science most certainly falls. To understand more about the link between preclinical research and knowledge translation — specifically the ‘knowledge synthesis’ phase — check out Cochrane Training’s webinar, Systematic reviews of preclinical animal research: who are the potential knowledge users?

Alternative Fact #10: Making a Successful Blog is Super Easy

Actual Fact: We learned this from experience. It’s not super easy, or even regular easy. Though it might look like we just threw this together [editor’s note: well, we kinda did for this post], there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes. Check out Patrick Faucher’s recount of our very own #KTFail.

We could give you more alternative facts, but the ‘fact’ is (this one’s real), we need fodder for future blog posts.

About the Author

Trish Roche is a knowledge broker with the George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI). Her primary interests lie in advancing the science of knowledge translation, especially in the realm of basic biomedical science. Find her on Twitter @TrishMcNish.