Funding agencies and academic institutions are requiring researchers to participate in knowledge-sharing activities, which can go by a range of different names: knowledge mobilization, knowledge dissemination, knowledge exchange, knowledge translation, and integrated knowledge translation.
For some kinds of research, the best approach is to do your study and then share your results—meaning, that you do end-of-project knowledge mobilization or knowledge translation, plus knowledge dissemination to your peers.
For other kinds of research, though, you’ll need to consult people on the ground before you begin collecting your data. Maybe you need a patient advisory council, a committee of end-users, a stakeholder working group, or one or more community-based co-researchers. If you’re studying a vulnerable population, performing Indigenous research, or developing an intervention or supports for a community, it makes sense to ensure that those people have a voice in the process of developing the research. See, for example this “Manifesto for Ethical Research in the Downtown Eastside” of Vancouver.
I credit my PhD intern Andrea Kampen for compiling these definitions and resources!
Know Your Jargon
Knowledge mobilization (KMb) refers to the process of sharing knowledge with non-academic communities, such as healthcare practitioners and clinicians, service providers, relevant communities and community-based organizations, policy and decision makers, or the broader public. This is a two-way process that draws on existing knowledge and “co-creates new knowledge to help foster change” (Shaxton et al., 2012). SSHRC describes it as a “reciprocal and complementary flow and uptake of research knowledge” (as per SSHRC’s glossary). KMb can inform decision-making, public debate, policies or practice.
As a piece of jargon, “knowledge mobilization” finds its origin in social science and humanities disciplines, but is increasingly being adopted in healthcare and medicine, and we may soon see CIHR adopt the phrase in place of its current preferred term, “knowledge translation.”
Knowledge dissemination involves researchers sharing their new knowledge with other researchers. The outputs most often associated with knowledge dissemination include peer-reviewed publications, scholarly monographs, and national and international conference presentations, papers, and posters.
Knowledge translation (KT) refers to the dynamic and iterative process of making academic findings relevant and understandable for non-academic audiences. You’ll see this term most often in health sciences and medicine, where it refers to translating research into practical information for clinicians, healthcare practitioners, and service providers. KT can take place through continuing education presentations and workshops, publications with professional associations, or some kind of knowledge translation product—a toolkit, a resource, or a website.
Integrated knowledge translation (iKT) is a subtype of knowledge translation, in which practitioners and service providers are included in the research project from its beginning. iKT involves including researchers and knowledge users (e.g. policy-makers, clinicians) in the research design to work together to determine research questions, decide on methodology, collect data, develop tools, interpret findings, and share research results. iKT can increase the chances that these people will integrate the results of a research project into their day-to-day practice.
For instance, service providers might help a research team to design tests for a new intervention that take into account the real-world contexts and circumstances in which it is most likely to be deployed. As Jeffrey Kelly writes in his chapter in How to Write a Successful Research Grant Application (2011), “Just as community programs can often be made better when they are informed by the findings of scientific research, studies can be improved when they are carefully informed by the experiences and observations of service providers, community agencies, and community constituencies” (p. 364).
Knowledge exchange (KX) is similar to iKT, but more commonly used outside of healthcare contexts. Knowledge exchange refers to a partnership between a researcher and collaborator (usually a public, private, or non-profit organization), and describes the process through which the two parties collaborate throughout the research process. While knowledge mobilization and knowledge translation describe a process in which knowledge is transferred from the researcher to the non-academic audience, knowledge exchange recognizes that both scholars and non-scholars possess knowledge that can be mutually beneficial and can move bi-directionally between academics and non-academics. It is an interaction—collaborative and dynamic—and results in mutual learning.
Implementation Science (IS) is the study of factors that affect the uptake of evidence-based interventions into practice. If you want to study KT, iKT, KMb, or KX, then you’re likely doing implementation science research.