Networks for Knowledge Translation
By Leah Crockett
Networks — interconnected groups or systems that focus on a shared purpose — are increasingly used to tackle complex challenges in politics, business and healthcare.
Some networks drive change across organizations or geographies, while others simply unite people with common interests. Networks focused on knowledge translation (KT) often look to connect people so they may better share information and address gaps in the knowledge-to-action pipeline.
Some networks focus specifically on KT (e.g. NCE Knowledge Mobilization Networks). Others incorporate elements of KT—including any (or all) of synthesis, exchange, application and dissemination — within their activities. alternatively, some networks focus on quality improvement, which shares similar goals and approaches to KT.
Health improvement efforts are inherently social and rely on collaboration & trust. Uniting with others to tackle a common problem creates a platform for learning. Networks also lend well to innovation, as they can generate energy and excitement around complex problems and unite people with drive for a common goal. The non-hierarchical structure of networks also lend well to creativity.
The key features that make networks effective are collective knowledge (ideas, information, research), relationships (multiple, sustained collaborations), adapted leadership, and a compelling shared purpose. Within networks, members have been known to take on one of four common roles:
- Connectors — those who know where to find expertise and draw it in
- Boundary spanners — those who invest time in connecting and maintaining relationships across disciplines (such as knowledge brokers)
- Information brokers — those who invest time in keeping the core of the network functioning
- Peripheral specialists — those who can be accessed by anyone in the network for expertise.
Why Networks are Useful for KT
Networks have several features that make them ideally situated for KT:
- Amplification: Networks facilitate the spanning of boundaries and pool expertise & resources from multiple disciplines or geographical regions, amplifying and enriching our efforts
- Inter-connectivity: Networks create a ‘small world’ reach, providing shorter pathways between people who might otherwise be separated by geographic, organizational, professional, cultural or other barriers
- Diversifying: Networks provide links to expertise or people with different skill-sets — enriching thinking, ideas and solutions
- Shared Benefit: Networks draw on collective experience and connections to co-create and share outputs that are helpful to other network members
- Rapid Diffusion & Reach: Networks facilitate the development, dissemination and deployment of knowledge (quickly) across diverse groups
- Innovative space: Networks shape new solutions to entrenched problems by providing space to innovate and embed change.
Despite the widespread use of networks, information about their impact is sparse. Often tagged with lofty goals like ‘reducing the impact of stroke in Canada’ or ‘improving emergency care for kids’, it can be challenging to define and measure overall success. A few practical ways that networks can show progress and impact include:
- Outlining short-term, intermediary and long-term goals (and reflect on them annually) using tools like logic models
- Using methods like Social Network Analysis to show the increasing inter-connectivity of a network. Identify brokers and champions of the network and leverage that power
- Capturing case examples and stories from network members on how the network has helped them or changed their practice
- Using web metrics to track sharing of KT tools and reach
- Measuring the number of new collaborations and partnerships.
Do you have experience with networks for KT? How have you measured impact? We’d love to hear from you.
About the Author
Leah Crockett is a doctoral student in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba.