Researchers and the Practice of KT: What Do We Know? Part IV

By Trish Roche

This is the fourth and final post of a blog series focused on the findings from our new study exploring the practice of knowledge translation (KT) among health researchers in Manitoba, Canada (where this very blog is based). The study was published in BMC Health Services Research, and it’s open access (i.e. free and available to anyone), so you can read it in full here. In this series, we discuss some of the behind-the-scenes thinking about this project and our key findings. If you missed it, read the first post on why we conducted the study here,the second post on what researchers define KT as here, and researchers’ experiences in KT here.

In 2015, we conducted a qualitative descriptive study exploring the practice of KT among health researchers in Manitoba, Canada. We interviewed 26 independent researchers at all career stages across the four ‘pillars’ of Canadian health research (biomedical, clinical, health systems and services, and population health) from five academic institutions throughout the province. The study was published in 2017, and in the previous post we discussed participants’ experiences with KT and the unique context of basic biomedical research. In this post we discuss another one of our key findings: the barriers and facilitators experienced by researchers when doing KT in their work.

What are the barriers to doing KT?

We heard about a wide variety of barriers to doing KT — not surprising, given that negativity bias is something many of us deal with. We classified the barriers we heard about into three categories: individual barriers, logistical barriers, and systemic/organizational barriers.

Concerns about misrepresentation of findings by mainstream media was a commonly cited barrier which we classified as individual, though it likely speaks to a much larger systemic issue of mistrust of science and related institutions. The fear that a researcher’s work will be skewed by mass media seems to be a legitimate concern, given examples like Andrew Wakefield’s false claims of a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and development of autism — and the resulting anti-vaccination movement [1]. Additional individual barriers included researchers feeling they lacked the skills and abilities to do KT, with some even citing disinterest in practicing KT, and the feeling that KT did not align with their research program.

Logistical barriers included things researchers had no control over whatsoever — flooding, illness, and distance — that prevented them from being able to do KT and participatory work with communities in which their research was based. Other logistical barriers included the large amount of data researchers have access to, and are expected to work with when doing KT — data which is useful for visualizing how public health works, but may be cumbersome when trying to tie it to practice recommendations [2]. Also difficult is the fact that so much of this data and evidence around health and healthcare practice is conflicting, which has been identified previously as a major barrier in KT [3].

Regarding systemic and organizational barriers, the most commonly reported were lack of resources (including research funds) for KT. In general, the health researchers in our study felt that KT was not particularly prioritized — by faculties, institutions, funders, governments, and society in general. This sentiment may be, at least in part, due to the science of knowledge translation being relatively new for many researchers, and the fact that there is still a great deal of variation in theory and practice within the field of KT [4]. Activities that traditionally have held priority in academia, such as tenure, publication, and teaching — were themselves seen as barriers in terms of competing priorities and lack of time available to commit to doing KT.

What are the facilitators for doing KT?

So what did Manitoba health researchers find helped them do KT in their work? A common thread seems to be the development and maintenance of good relationships, built on trust, frankness, and honesty. This includes relationships with stakeholders and knowledge users — the people who researchers ultimately expect to use their findings — as well as colleagues (in terms of collaboration) and those with expertise in KT (either as KT practitioners, communications specialists, or researchers that have done KT and can act as mentors). Personal attributes such as drive, passion, and enthusiasm for KT were also seen as facilitators for doing KT, as were opportunities for hands-on KT experience and KT training and education.

What do health researchers need to do KT in their work?

Looking forward, we also asked health researchers what they feel they need to do KT in their work in the future. The most common responses were around education and training, resources, and KT-specific funding, as well as facilitated networking with other health researchers and KT practitioners. Institutional culture shifts were also seen as key in promoting the practice of KT, including recognition for KT efforts and non-traditional work in tenure and promotion considerations.

Where do we go from here?

Though relatively small and localized, the findings from our study illustrate the continued variations in conceptualization of what knowledge translation is among health researchers, and demonstrate a continued need for prioritization of KT practice — from the level of the individual to the systemic and societal level. Continued research into the science and practice of KT, particularly in evaluating the efficacy of KT strategies, is needed to better understand how we can help stakeholders use research evidence to improve healthcare practice in Canada.

What are some of the barriers you’ve faced when doing KT in your work? What helped you be more effective in your KT efforts? Share with us in the comments below or on Twitter @KnowledgeNudge.

See below for links to other posts in this series:

References

1. Moore A. Bad science in the headlines. Who takes responsibility when science is distorted in mass media? EMBO Reports, 2006;7(12):1193–1196.

2. Neff G. Why Big Data Won’t Cure Us. Big Data, 2013;1(3):117–123.

3. Hilton S, Bedford H, Calnan M, Hunt K. Competency, confidence, and conflicting evidence: key issues affecting health visitors’ use of research evidence in practice. BMC Nursing, 2009;8(4).

4. Straus S, Tetroe J, Graham ID. Defining knowledge translation. CMAJ, 2009;181(3–4):165–168.


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.