As recently as two decades ago, scientists were generally only expected to share their research findings by publishing in peer-reviewed journals and presenting at conferences to other scientists. Apart from the occasional media interview, there were few approaches in place to reach non-research audiences who might use scientific knowledge.
In recent years, a new and energized way of sharing and applying research results has emerged: knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE). The Institute for Work & Health (IWH) has been a pioneer in developing KTE strategies, and KTE has become an integrated and well-respected part of IWH’s research process.
Under the leadership of my predecessor, Jane Gibson, KTE at IWH has moved from a focus on disseminating research findings to an emphasis on relationship-building and integrating knowledge exchange into the research process, says Ron Saunders, senior scientist and director of the Institute’s KTE department.
What is KTE?
KTE is a process of exchange between researchers and stakeholders/knowledge-users designed to make relevant research information available and accessible to stakeholders for use in practice, planning and policy-making.
At IWH, the aim of knowledge transfer and exchange is to put research findings into the hands of key decision-makers in a timely, accessible and useful manner. The decision-makers could be workers, employers, OHS professionals, policy-makers, clinicians or other researchers. Additionally, KTE staff ensures that stakeholders are either involved in or informed of research projects that may be relevant to them.
For instance, even before IWH scientists embark on a new research project, they might meet with KTE staff to determine which external parties should be involved in the study and to identify potential products stemming from the research. Once the study is done, the KTE team can help to extract key messages from results, test them with key stakeholders and suggest the best ways to “transfer” the findings more broadly.
It’s vital for Institute staff to develop and sustain relationships with stakeholders. Their feedback and insight ensures that our research is useful and accessible.
The Institute’s public profile
The Institute also focuses on creating useful products and tools for external audiences based on our research, including a quarterly newsletter and research highlights or summaries of studies.
Our newsletter, At Work, is very valued by its readership, says Saunders.
Our website presents important health and safety information, which stems from our research, in a format that is useful for research users. And we are now using Twitter and LinkedIn as additional ways to reach audiences for our work.
Tool development is key
Once the research has matured and messages are developed, KTE staff help to develop and design evidence-based tools. These tools are proving to be popular. For example, in concert with IWH researchers and staff from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, KTE staff helped to create the Seven Principles for Successful Return to Work. This tool has been downloaded thousands of times from the IWH website and has garnered praise for its usefulness.
Helping others understand research
Another goal of the KTE department is to help external audiences understand research. In addition to holding workshops and seminars explaining research processes, KTE staff also produces a newsletter column called, What Researchers Mean By…. This column explains what researchers do and the language they use when reporting their findings. Read this column to see what we mean when we say “statistical significance” or “confounding variables.”