Knowledge translation insights from management

Knowledge translation (KT) in healthcare is often criticised for being too linear. However, a lot of clinical research and healthcare literature is conceived and expressed in a linear fashion. Therefore, it is often challenging to recognise that the translation of research knowledge into clinical practice requires a different way of thinking; that is more familiar to many other social science scholars, including management academics. I recently read a seminal article that shares some very useful insights…

We recognise that knowledge does not transfer passively from research to practice. Underlying this, is a recognition that knowledge is a complex concept, and that the research and clinical practice communities are extremely different. In  evidence-based health care, we emphasise the importance of prioritising high quality research knowledge, but are also criticised for neglecting other forms, such as theoretical, empirical and experiential knowledge. We argue that individual clinicians are motivated by best practice to initiate the search for scientific research to answer clinical questions. However we know that this is difficult and the barriers are well described in terms of time, ability and environmental resources. In arguing for active engagement across research and clinical environments, we have not fully recognised the different social and organisational systems involved, particularly when there are many different strategies used to reshape knowledge and information for use.

The management literature offers fresh insights into how both individuals and groups of people learn. Knowledge does not flow evenly within and between systems. In part, this has been recognised by leakage from the evidence pipeline. However, boundaries between organisations and professional groups impair the flow of knowledge, which itself can be more or less useful across different contexts. When clinicians consider an individual research study, the process of critical appraisal emphasises the need to evaluate results for applicability to their own patient and clinical context.  It is also important to recognise the social nature of learning – in that healthcare professionals learn within discrete communities, where meaning is ascribed, often in relation to practice. While we assume the objectivity of scientific knowledge, we cannot assume that all forms of knowledge are  objective and have the same meaning in different contexts. I have written previously in this blog about ways that knowledge can be used for power and political purposes.

Organisational learning is another important concept that was familiarised by Peter Senge in his 1990 book The Fifth Discipline. The emphasis is on effective transfer of knowledge, in all its forms within organisations, and between different departmental and professional groups. While this has been broadly applied to healthcare, it is made more difficult by increasing professional specialisation and the separation of clinical and management roles. Further, there has been an emphasis on sharing explicit and scientific knowledge, at the expense of tacit and experiential knowledge. There has been recent recognition of the importance of experiential knowledge, in areas such as implementation science, and there is now an increasing evidence base for effective methods of implementation.

I suggest that a challenge for healthcare research is to better understand the dynamic nature of learning for individuals and within organisations, so that knowledge can be transformed for shared meaning and maximal use. It makes practical sense to engage with management and social sciences literature, to build the evidence base for effective methods of enacting, negotiating and legitimising different types of knowledge between research and clinical environments, so that patients and families can experience the benefits of healthcare research…


I conduct and supervise research that promotes the translation of quality research evidence for use in clinical practice.

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Posted in evidence-based health care, implementation, information, knowledge, knowledge translation, learning, management
2 comments on “Knowledge translation insights from management
  1. […] What is KT? Using research in clinical practice Translating knowledge for practice…myth or reality What knowledge is being translated? The power of knowledge Does research knowledge change clinical practice? Knowledge brokers – a solution for knowledge translation? Knowledge translation insights from management […]

  2. […] media Knowledge translation insights from management What information is […]

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