What does Program Science have to do with Knowledge Translation?

by Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

Program scienceis the systematic application of scientific knowledge to improve the design, implementation and evaluation of programs”.

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The NCE Program in Canada strives to facilitate the achievement of socio-economic impact for Canada through cutting-edge research and innovation.  One social benefit of this Federally-funded research includes implementing innovations into programs that serve Canadians.  NeuroDevNet NCE strives to achieve impact for Canadians affected by neurodevelopmental disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorders.  One avenue is to achieve implementation of evidence-informed innovations into programs.  For example, after refining the exergame prototype, an innovation funded by NeuroDevNet and GRAND NCEs, this technology can expand the physical therapy options for youth with CP.  Integrating the exergame bike into physical therapy programs would be what we refer to as ‘implementation’ (see Figure below).

Phipps' Co-Produced Pathway to Impact can be used within a Program Science approach toward impact of evidence-based interventions.

Phipps’ Co-Produced Pathway to Impact can be used within a Program Science approach toward impact of evidence-based interventions.

NeuroDevNet NCE has adopted Phipps’ Co-Produced Pathway to Impact framework which focuses on stakeholder engagement throughout all stages of the research process, and pushes the boundaries of traditional end-of-grant KT beyond dissemination toward uptake, implementation of new evidence into practice and policy, and evaluation of subsequent impact(s).  Consider that programs are governed by managers and the policies they develop, and the program’s services are delivered by practitioners.  Impact is measured by evaluating both quantitatively and qualitatively, how the program has made a difference for those they serve – in our case, NeuroDevNet is concerned with measuring how research that has been implemented into programs and policies has improved the lives of children and families affected by neurodevelopmental disorders.  So, after the exergame bike has been implemented into a program, we would follow up and evaluate.

Program science has become important for HIV program development because it provides information about what programs work, for which individuals.  The field of program science asks questions that relate to aspects of a program including strategic planning, program implementation (mix of interventions, synergy across interventions) and program management (sustaining effective interventions and modifying programs as new knowledge and interventions emerge, quality improvement processes).

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NeuroDevNet supports the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research, Jonathan Weiss.  Jonathan specializes in stakeholder consultation with diverse stakeholders including program planners/managers for informing his research, and researching interventions in order to make an evidence-base available for uptake.  This evidence-base can then be used by practitioners and policymakers to inform their decisions with respect to which interventions they choose to provide within programs and organizations (such as schools), and how these interventions are delivered.

NeuroDevNet’s FASD program is embarking on a new project this year to develop and test program materials for frontline workers in Children’s Aid Societies to improve their practice. This project is being done with the full involvement of frontline practitioners and program managers throughout the research process.  When there is an evidence base for these tools and training to show its effectiveness at the study sites, program science can inform the scaling up of the research findings toward improving practice across Canada.

One aspect of program science is implementation research, which is concerned with the development and implementation of evidence-based interventions…it can also provide information about how interventions can be adapted to new situations or communities…program science typically involves an ongoing process of engagement between researchers, policy makers, program planners, frontline workers and communities through which research is embedded into the design, implementation and continuous improvement of the overall program. Because the focus is on how an entire program impacts a population, program science typically involves consideration of overall health systems” – CATIE

It appears that we (NeuroDevNet, the NCE program, and many Knowledge Translation practitioners) may, in fact, be using a program science approach without knowing it.

How do you think you might already be using a program science approach to your work?

How can the principles of program science that are used for informing HIV programs, be translated into programs for children and families affected by neurodevelpmental disorders?

What can the field of KT learn or adapt from the field of program science? 

Do you think a program science approach can help you (as a researcher, as a KT professional) scale your proven interventions to other health systems, cultures, programs, or geographic regions across Canada and internationally?

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