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The Black Hole

Knowledge Translation and Collaboration with Community

BY BETH | FEB 18 2010

“Knowledge translation” is one of those buzz words you seem to hear a lot these days.  To put it briefly, it basically means getting research results to be used in “the real world.” Traditionally, academics have disseminated their research results through publishing in academic journals and presenting at academic conferences, but of course the people who would actually “translate” research results into practice (e.g., in health care, this might be health care providers or administrators) don’t tend to be up on academic journals and conferences.  “Knowledge translation” requires that one  get their research results out to the people who can actually use them (let’s call them “decision makers” for the sake of simplicity) , in a way that is accessible to, and understandable by, those decision makers.  Further, effective “knowledge translation” really should involve decision makers in the entire research process, from the inception of the research question, through the development of methods to the application of results. This, however, is a pretty tall order for a number of reasons.  Those who work in health care, for example, often don’t have training in research methods.  Nor do they have a lot of time (and we all know that research takes time!).  On the flip side, academics don’t tend to have a good understanding of the day-to-day, on the ground realities of providing health care and sometimes their ideas just aren’t feasible given the constraints of time, finances, and human resources ((As an aside, I think that this is a place where PhDs who decide academia isn’t for them can put their expertise to good use. I feel like I can play the role of “interpreter” who translates the culture of practice to academics and vice versa)).

A lot of research grant applications require the commitment of “community partners” or “decision maker applicants” – with the idea being that their involvement will help to ensure research results will be “translated” to practice.  But I have to wonder how often are community partners truly engaged in collaboration with researchers and how often are they just asked to sign a letter saying that they are on board with the research merely to meet granting agency requirements for “letters of support”? I think it’s worth exploring ways in which we can make collaborative research truly collaborative.

I’m not claiming to have any answers to this – but I’d definitely be interesting in hearing about your thoughts on it!

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