Authors: Sibghat Usmani, PhD, MSW; & Akm Alamgir, PhD, MPhil, MBBS
Background and context
Funding trends in Canadian research is leading academic researchers more towards ‘Action Research’, where the outcome of research is communicated to the relevant end-users and the generated knowledge is utilized appropriately on time. The objective is the larger benefit of the community through empowering the informed community to participate in decision-making processes for their own well-being. Therefore, technical information requires to be demystified into action languages, so that knowledge consumers understand messages clearly and can utilize knowledge at their respective practices. Knowledge Translation (KT), Knowledge Transfer (Kt), and Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) are the three common terms that researchers use synonymously to share research results with broader stakeholder groups. However, there are non-manifested differences between the concepts of KT, Kt, and KMb, in terms of applicability and the institutional affiliation. KT (and Kt) refers to sharing of research knowledge in the field of medicine and science, while KMb refers to the field of social science research. Particular schools also behold one of these terms consistently, because they evolved strategically by schools for improved efficiency of their knowledge delivery systems (knowledge brokerage). Eventually, a question arises around the level of interchangeability of these terms. In order to answer this question, we studied peer-reviewed articles, grey literature, and the websites of five Canadian universities (Ryerson University, University of Toronto, York University, University of British Columbia, and Winnipeg University), and discussed here with contexts.
Knowledge Translation (KT)
In 1910, the concept of Knowledge Translation (KT) was introduced in the health sector to overcome the limitation of applying scientific findings in clinical care. The emerging idea was that information needed to be accessed on-time for treatment, especially under critical circumstances, which means, the right information at the right time provided to the right people. Since then, various researches in the healthcare sector have stressed the importance of transforming knowledge into practice guidelines. Because of inaccessibility, the application of knowledge to practice was delayed (Azimi, Fattahi, & Asadi-Lari, 2015). Other barriers for KT were inefficient continuing education, complex medical procedures and treatments, lack of interest for applying evidence to manage cases, and inadequate communication between policy makers and researchers. Ho et al. (2003) reported a gap of 20 years between the knowledge produced and results incorporated in clinical practice. However, the agriculture sector grabbed this concept from 1914, when land-grant universities started dispersing knowledge to farmers and ranchers on seed development, land management, and animal husbandry.
University of Toronto is a major contributor towards achieving the KT goals. U of T consistently uses the term Knowledge Translation (KT) (not knowledge Mobilization) in research publications and forums. The researchers, of the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME) of U of T and the Canadian Research Network for Care in the Community, focus on advanced research in the field of community care and sharing knowledge. IHPME considers that KT “allows attention to be given to all possible participants in healthcare practices, including patients, consumers, and policy makers” (Davis, 2003). IHPME also intends to bring information for clinical practice for better patient management, which indicates a commitment of the university towards action-oriented healthcare research.
The Centre for Health Services and Policy Research (CHSPR) unit of The University of British Columbia uses the term KT for “creating knowledge that is relevant to emerging and enduring health services and policy issues, and engaging stakeholders in the translation of research for effective and innovative changes in health policy” (CHSPR Website). They critically assess research findings, synthesize results to make meaning, and either support the teams with best practices or provide evidence-informed perspective for policy planners.
International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is one of the largest research funding organizations in Canada. It funds research globally to bring “means for applying and adapting scientific, technical, and other knowledge to the economic and social advancement of those regions” (IDRC website). It promotes KT to “exchange, synthesis and ethically-sound application of research findings within a complex set of interactions among researchers and knowledge users” as an essential part of their research process.
Figure 1 shows multi-sectoral engagement in a cyclic KT process, where researchers are continuously engaged in generating and transferring knowledge to healthcare service providers as practice notes, which is used by the latter group to improve healthcare experience of the service consumers. The researchers also translate knowledge into policy statements for policy planners to design healthy public policy. As such, a collaborative relationship between researchers, service providers, service consumers, and policy planners facilitates a comprehensive and complete KT process.
[Adapted from: Azimi, A., Fattahi, R., & Asadi-Lari, M. (2015). Knowledge translation status and barriers. Journal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA.]
Knowledge Transfer (Kt)
Knowledge Transfer (Kt) and Knowledge Translation (KT) are neither exactly synonymous nor mutually exclusive processes. They are integrated to each other, while Kt is one of the steps of a KT process (Figure 1). Kt has limited scope “to encompass a very broad range of activities to support mutually beneficial collaborations between universities, businesses and the public sector” (University of Cambridge website); while KT is an ongoing comprehensive process. Landry et al.,(2001) defined Kt as “A linear process through which research is first conceptualized and conducted, and the results are then handed over to the end-users. The unidirectional nature of knowledge transfer has often proved to be an ineffective way to ensure adoption and implementation of research results”. On the other hand, KT is an iterative process of putting research knowledge into practice and then collecting feedback for fitness, gaps or improvement. Finding such a complexity in context, Ontario Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Rural Affairs clubbed them to a composite term- Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT).
Knowledge Mobilization (KMb)
In 2001-2002, the leadership of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) felt that knowledge produced in the field of social sciences required more accessibility to promote them into action items. Marc Renaud was the Director and Pamela Wiggin was the Vice-President of SSHRC at that time. They introduced the term KMb from a French concept of ‘mobilization’ that refers to the availability of knowledge to all stakeholders for better service (Downes, 2008). SSHRC defined KMb as “an umbrella term encompassing a wide range of activities relating to the production and use of research results, including knowledge synthesis, dissemination, transfer, exchange, and co-creation or co-production by researchers and knowledge users. Effective knowledge mobilization includes plans to publicize data, where appropriate” (SSHRC, 2017). KMb is a catalyst of the knowledge brokerage system for transforming findings from a researcher’s notepad to a user's practice. The goal is to use an understandable language and accessible format for presenting technical information, which “…helps make academic research accessible to non-academic audiences and supports collaborations between academic and non-academic partners such as community-based organizations”(Phipps et al., 2016).
Based on the focus of bringing in social science perspectives, Ryerson University, York University, Winnipeg University, and the Sustainability Team of the University of British Columbia prefer the term Knowledge Mobilization. Ryerson University website mentions, “Knowledge mobilization occurs when research knowledge is applied to help facilitate real-world impact on policy and society. It is the process of adapting knowledge to increase research uptake and inform decisions, while also connecting researchers and their work to organizations and communities outside the university”. Winnipeg University considers KMb as an essential deliverable which “… can take many forms, but the essential objective is to allow research knowledge to flow both within the academic world and between academic researchers and the wider community. By moving research knowledge into society, knowledge mobilization increases its intellectual, economic, social and cultural impact” (Cooper, et al, 2018).
In 2006, York University created a KMb Unit as a part of the Innovation York initiative in the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation. David Phipps was the Director of Research & Innovation Services. The university recognizes KMb as a “bridge to the all-important gap from new knowledge, borne of research, to real-world application, and informs policy by demonstrating a measurable impact on society.” The goals of their KMb activities are undertaking quality research, maximizing the impact of research work, and using findings to bring changes in the targeted population through refurbishing the social fabrics and dynamics. The Director of Research & Innovation Services mentioned “we care about world-leading research. We’re also interested in making a difference to our local and global economies, environments and societies”.
KMb, practiced more among the social sciences and humanities researchers, is an interactive dynamic process of sharing technical knowledge to end-users to meet the needs of the target population or to provide better services. The process comprises a set of strategies and a range of nonlinear activities, when knowledge generated by external parties is clubbed with internal knowledge (or a reciprocal process of validating internal knowledge by external resources). Figure 2 summarizes the process and goal of knowledge mobilization.
The Sustainability Team of the UBC uses the word KMb for “developing effective knowledge mobilization tools and strategies in the Natural Sciences and Engineering (NSERC), Health (CIHR) and Social Sciences, Humanities and Health (SSHRC) research disciplines” (UBC, Sustainability website), though their health care research team uses the term KT.
Despite the differences in using these terms, researchers have a common goal of sharing knowledge after conducting an action-research. The key process involves demystification of technical knowledge, interaction with the knowledge users, and application of the generated knowledge for service excellence. Knowledge translation is extensively used in health sector research for timely and accelerated transformation of knowledge to improve service delivery systems. Knowledge transfer is identified as a stage in knowledge translation where the findings are transferred to the service providers in the healthcare sector. Knowledge mobilization, as a term, is popular for research in the social sciences and humanities sector, where a complex triangulation (white box) is practiced to blend external knowledge with organizational internal evidence. Therefore, these three different terms are used in Canadian research arena to meet the same goal of utilizing research findings for the benefit of the people, though some of the processes are not the same. Community based research is more aligned to use the KMb framework. Finally, we suggest researchers and communication professionals use the term and the framework based on the area of research and the affiliated school for that particular research.
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Citation: Usmani, S. & Alamgir, A.K.M. (2020). Knowledge Translation, Knowledge Mobilization, or Knowledge Transfer-Are they synonymous in Canadian context? [Blog]. Access Alliance:Toronto.