Posted by Peter van der Graaf, NIHR Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellow, Teesside University
Are you keen to have impact with your research but get lost in all the knowledge exchange frameworks and models that are out there? In this blog, Peter calls upon 10 years’ experience working in translational public health for Fuse to identify four practical steps to develop collaborative research and achieve meaningful change in policy and practice.
We know all about the challenges of using research to inform policy and practice, especially in public health where the evidence base for interventions or programmes is patchy or contested. In response to these challenges, countless models and frameworks have been developed that try to define the knowledge exchange process (how research evidence can be used, in combination with other types of knowledge, to change policy and practice). Practitioners and researchers venturing into the field of knowledge exchange can be bewildered by the options available which don’t go beyond concepts and fail to describe in practical terms what research translation looks like in reality.
Here I want to share practical guidance from our research on ‘how to do’ knowledge exchange by reflecting on a model that has been developed in Fuse over the last ten years. Our approach to achieving practice and policy change has been to engage with practitioners, policymakers and the public through communications and knowledge brokerage, to co-create relevant research, influence policy and practice debates and promote evidence uptake. Below I have broken this down into four practical steps:
- Step 1. Awareness raising: Making evidence users, funders and support organisations aware of our existence, our research and engagement opportunities, including engaging our partners early in setting the agenda for future research.
- Step 2. Sharing knowledge: Creating opportunities for research users and producers to come together to explore opportunities for mutual learning and knowledge exchange through collaborative events, our responsive research service (AskFuse), and patient and public involvement.
- Step 3. Making evidence fit for purpose: Localising and tailoring evidence to context by offering a knowledge brokering service, embedded research, and increasing awareness of the different pressures faced by people in health policy, practice and academia.
- Step 4. Supporting uptake and implementation of evidence: Developing long-term relationships with policy and practice partners to co-create evidence, build capacity for practice change, and change practice and policy.
It is important to link a range of knowledge exchange activities that engage policymakers and practitioners at different levels, intensities and points in their decision-making and development processes.
For example, before meeting with policy and practice partners, we develop tailored research briefs that summarise study findings in an accessible and visual way, and that emphasise recommendations and implications for policy and practice. Involving Fuse researchers in developing these briefs improves their knowledge exchange skills, while providing them with ‘calling cards’ to initiate relationships with policymakers for further collaborative work. These conversations are often followed by requests to AskFuse on how knowledge users can apply the research evidence in a specific context, invitations to engage in collaborative research, or to support capacity building and implementation.
Knowledge exchange between academia and public health practitioners and policymakers can be complicated and at times bewildering. Breaking the process down into practical steps illustrates that knowledge exchange is empirical and relational.