Seeing the diamond in the rough: “Boaty McBoatface” a KT gem?

by Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

Boaty McBoatfaceThis week, a new $400 million research vessel made national headlines after asking for public input to name it.  The runaway #1 name was “Boaty McBoatface” and was far from the more serious meaningful suggestions the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) had hoped for.  The news reported that the NERC still has the right to decide what to name it – as a KT professional, I am hoping they keep Boaty McBoatface if not for any other reason but to maximize the potential for their KT. [update: as of April 18, 2016 the science minister, Jo Johnson reports te government wants a name that ‘fits the mission’]

I understand the argument not to keep the name: researchers are concerned that their rigorous and important work may not be viewed as credible if the vessel it is carried out with is donned with a name that started out as a joke.  I believe this is a valid concern, however, I would like to offer a different perspective.  As a KT professional, I am aware that KT-conscious researchers, as individuals and, as part of research networks and organizations, are constantly seeking for a way to raise awareness about their work, to create “sticky messages” that audiences will remember.  Indeed, the effectiveness of any KT strategy begins with the ability to raise awareness about the project, the findings, the usefulness and potential application of the work.  While awareness does not guarantee uptake and implementation, if people don’t know about the research, they can’t even consider using it.

Awareness-raising for research projects typically aims to direct attention toward the evidence through dissemination activities such as: conferences, websites, social media.  An integrated knowledge translation approach is based on relationship-building to both inform the research in progress as well as act as a spokesperson to spread the research findings (and hopefully facilitate their uptake and implementation of evidence-informed recommendations into practice and policy).  Researchers, research networks, and organizations promoting evidence-informed decision-making sometimes seek spokespersons who are more broadly recognizable, to be ‘champions’ such as well-known celebrities or athletes.  The reality is, it is very difficult to achieve the desired level of awareness or ‘reach’ of research findings that could maximize uptake and implementation. Capitalizing on the popularity of “Boaty McBoatface” can be an effective means to direct attention to the researchers’ social media channels, websites, for achieving broader awareness of the research evidence.

ECDC antibiotic awareness hedgehogOrganizations have recognized the power of social media and try to create content that will be shared, and go ‘viral’, with the end result being uptake and implementation of their messages.  There is a fine line between ‘gimmicky-ness’ that could reduce credibility and cause people to ignore CDC Zombie Apocalypseit, and something that can go viral while causing effective uptake of evidence-based messages. The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) created a hedgehog mascot to help convey messages about public health.  The United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC) launched a “Zombie Apocalypse” twitter campaign that ended up being so successful it crashed their website from visitors who wanted the information on emergency preparedness.

The NERC’s “name our ship” website crashed this past weekend due to the amount of traffic.  I can only think of this kind of public attention as something positive (for their KT), in fact, it is a rare and unexpected gift to the ocean researchers at its helm.

 

Who’s got the power? A critical consideration of citizen participation in research

by: Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

It is common for KT activities to be limited to dissemination of KT products such as research summaries, infographics or research reports/articles. Sometimes these products are created without consulting the stakeholders who represent the intended target audience, and what is typically measured and reported on is the numbers of these products distributed.  Dissemination is necessary, but usually not sufficient, to create impacts from research.

The two main approaches to Knowledge Translation are end-of-grant (dissemination) and integrated Knowledge Translation (stakeholder engagement/consultation). The evidence on successful KT has demonstrated that iKT approaches are more successful at creating impact. When I think about iKT I am reminded of the topic of my PhD dissertation which focused on a process analysis of a stakeholder consultation approach for informing government decision-making.  One of the frameworks I cited in my literature review was Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation in community decision-making within the context of the ‘broader power structures in society’.  Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation ranges from one extreme to the other, at one end citizens have all the power and at the other end they have no power at all.  Citizen power is sub-divided into “citizen control, delegated power, and partnership” (citizens have all/greater power) while tokenism is represented as “placation, consultation, informing” and non-participation in community decision-making is referred to as “therapy and manipulation” (non-participation, no power).

Figure 1. Arnstein's ladder of citizen participation

Figure 1. Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation

An iKT approach is important for maximizing the uptake and implementation of research, toward impact. Recently, I found myself wondering how Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation could map onto a research decision-making context.  For example, when a researcher takes an iKT approach to their work, they inform their research questions, methodology, KT products (type, key messages, delivery method, etc), workshops and other activities (toward moving their research findings into uptake and implementation) by using information about their stakeholders’ needs as a result of careful observation (of stakeholders as well as the current state of society, industry, government etc.) and listening to stakeholders.  However, as the subject matter and research process expert, the Principal Investigator/researcher (has to) use discretion in terms of how, where, and why stakeholder input contributes to the overall design and execution of their research (assuming stakeholders are non-researchers).  In this way, it is unrealistic to expect that citizens/stakeholders should be given complete control.  Even if stakeholders are researchers themselves, the Principal Investigator (PI) of the project has obligations (for example) to the funder of their research to reasonably deliver what was promised in their initial grant proposal.  In this way, the PI can be viewed as having more power than their stakeholders in terms of the research process.

However, in order for planned KT activities to result in successful uptake, implementation and impact of research, stakeholders need to feel that: they have been heard and their input is valued; their (information and other) needs are being met by the research project; the KT product(s) created will be useful/helpful to them and/or their clients.  In this way, stakeholders have potentially tremendous influence over the PI’s ability to achieve change through their research output(s). Persuading successful partnership engages stakeholders so that research can, should (and will, if possible given their organization’s capabilities) be used in practice and policy.  Often, they must surmount potential barriers such as stakeholders’ experiential (and other) knowledge, values and job descriptions as well as political and financial restrictions.

According to Arnstein’s ladder taking an integrated approach to KT helps to shift the power from researchers toward stakeholders, and into the “partnership” stage during which both stakeholders and researchers (PIs) redistribute power.  Stakeholders become more open to using research in practice and PIs become more able (through understanding stakeholder needs) to make the necessary adjustments to their research and KT approaches to enable uptake and implementation by these stakeholders.

It is reasonable then to say that effective, integrated KT takes place at the “partnership” level of Arnstein’s ladder.

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”.

InnovationPhotoColours

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).

InnovationRace

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?

Who is minding the “research to impact” shop?

by David Phipps, KT Lead, NeuroDevNet

In a recent knowledge mobilization journal club David Phipps (Executive Director, Research & Innovation Services at York University and KT Lead, NeuroDevNet) questioned, “Whose job is it to ensure research moves from creation to impact? The simple answer is no one. No one is minding the shop. Individuals are acting individually and not in a coordinated fashion.” No one except NCEs like NeuroDevNet.

LightBulb_DiscoveryThe role of a Network of Centres of Excellence is to “meet Canada’s needs to focus a critical mass of research resources on social and economic challenges, commercialize and apply more of its homegrown research breakthroughs, increase private-sector R&D, and train highly qualified people”. At NeuroDevNet we do this by focusing our research, training and knowledge translation efforts on three goals:

  1.  Earlier diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders
  2. Application of validated interventions for children with developmental disorders sooner
  3. Better supports for children with developmental disorders and their families

Research helps create new knowledge and new understanding in diagnostics, interventions and supports. It is the job of knowledge translation to help connect those researchers and that research to partners and receptors who can turn that research into new products, policies and services that then have an impact on the lives of children living with neurodevelopmental disorders and their children.

KTA framework for blogThere are many (MANY) frameworks and models for knowledge translation. A very popular framework is the knowledge to action (KTA) cycle adopted by CIHR as their framework for KT. This model has a knowledge creation/synthesis component and an implementation into action component. I recently reviewed a paper that asked if and how researchers are using the KTA Cycle.

The answer: not many and not completely.

Many researchers reference KTA but few actually implement it and none report using it in its entirety. In fact, it was never meant to be used from start to finish by a single investigator.

Really? As I asked in that journal club post, “Whose job is it to ensure research moves from creation to impact? The simple answer is no one. No one is minding the shop. Individuals are acting individually and not in a coordinated fashion.”

If no one is minding the shop no wonder it can take a reported average of 17 years for health research to move into clinical practice.

NCEs like NeuroDevNet are accelerating both discovery and application of research by operating in a coordinated fashion. In addition to coordinating research and training NeuroDevNet also provides professional KT services across the network and embeds KT as a partner in projects that have a high potential to create impacts on policies, products and services. In this manner NeuroDevNet KT supports the application of research and facilitates its transition towards impact.

NeuroDevNet is minding the neurodevelopmental shop. And the KT Core is maximizing the impact of research on the lives of children living with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Research partners, research users and research impact

By: David Phipps, KT Lead, NeuroDevNet

“If you want your research to have an influence on early childhood literacy practice you’d better not be partnering with the fire department”

David Phipps leads discussion during workshop for research administrators in the UK

David Phipps leads discussion during workshop for research administrators in the UK

On April 15 I led a workshop for the UK Association of Research Managers and Administrators. This workshop was for research administrators (university staff managing research applications among other things) who were implementing the Research Excellence Framework. The REF 2014 was a research assessment exercise that assessed both research excellence and the impacts of research. For REF impact was defined as:

“an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”

– (see page 26, REF Assessment Framework and Guidance on Submissions)

The REF officers and other research administrators interested in research impact gathered for a one day ARMA workshop to look beyond REF 2014. This included looking towards REF 2020 as well as beyond the narrowly construed REF frameworks including university research expertise (faculty and graduate students) that is engaged beyond the academy.

I used Melanie Barwick’s KT Planning Guide (click the link and enter your e-mail address to get access to the tool) as a tool to help the UK impact officers look beyond REF reporting on past impacts and start to create the conditions to enable future impacts. This planning guide asks researchers to consider 13 elements of a KT framework. Working through those 13 elements provides the raw material to then craft the KT strategy.

Melanie Barwick's KT Planning Tool

Melanie Barwick’s KT Planning Tool

The KT planning guide (elements 1-3) asks the researcher to consider the types and roles of partners in the research. Partners are the individuals/organizations who are along for the ride. They are co-producers of research. They help disseminate research results. They co-supervise students. They provide cash and in-kind (space, data, populations, equipment) resources to the research project.

The KT planning guide also asks the researcher to consider types of research users (element 5). These are individuals/organizations that take up the research evidence and use that evidence to inform decisions about public policy, professional practice and social services. The NCE Secretariat calls them “receptors” or “knowledge users (KUs)”. Both partners and receptors/users are critically important to the research to impact process. The co-produced pathway to impact outlines the pathway from research to impact on the lives of children with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families. Partners collaborate throughout but receptors only become involved after dissemination.

Phipps' Co-Produced Pathway to Impact, the evaluation framework adopted by NeuroDevNet NCE

Phipps’ Co-Produced Pathway to Impact, the evaluation framework adopted by NeuroDevNet NCE

Research partners will likely be research users but research users are not always research partners.

In the ARMA impact workshop one Impact Officer was convinced that research partners and research users were the same. After I explained the difference she remained unconvinced. That’s when I said, “If you want your research to have an influence on early childhood literacy practice you’d better not be partnering with the fire department”. Research users need to be coherent with research partners because one informs and/or has access to the other.

For NeuroDevNet’s social ABC’s intervention led by Dr. Jessica Brian from Holland Bloorview as part of the Autism Discovery Program, the research partner is Humber College which has two full-time community-based childcare settings. Humber College’s practitioners-in-training will help develop and evaluate the intervention. The knowledge users will be early childhood centres and day care centres across Canada who will put the research evidence into practice by using it to support early childhood learning. The KT Core will work with Dr. Brian and her partners help identify these receptors/KUs and broker collaborations so that Social ABC will be implemented and evaluated beyond the research project setting.

If you want the KT Core to help you find partners and receptors/users to help translate your research into early diagnosis, validated interventions and supports throughout the life span please contact the KT Core.

What is “Day on the Hill”?

by Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

Day on the Hill is an annual event where NeuroDevNet researchers, collaborators and partners visit with MPs and Senators on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The conversations that we had during these visits provided insights that can be used to inform NeuroDevNet’s current and future work.

This past October 7, 2014 I had the pleasure of travelling to Ottawa, ON to participate in NeuroDevNet’s “Day on the Hill” event. It was not the first, in fact, this was NeuroDevNet’s 4th…but it was my first time attending. I had heard people talk about it but I really didn’t know what to expect, and I was eager to find out. This Day on the Hill also followed the inaugural meeting of NeuroDevNet’s Community for Brain Development.  These two consecutive events meant that we had representation from like-minded individuals from organizations across Canada united by our concern with children’s brain development.

AnthonySantelices_brightened

Anthony Santelices, project officer, was the mastermind behind the planning and coordination of the day. Prior to the event, we were provided with an information package about what our ‘ask’ was.

 

 

Team #5 (left to right): Doug Maynard, Stephanie Jull, Amy Salmon, Anneliese Poetz

Team #5 (left to right): Doug Maynard, Stephanie Jull, Amy Salmon, Anneliese Poetz

In the information package it also told us what team we were on – we were split into teams of 4-5 people. All of our meetings had been pre-arranged, and we were provided with the names of the MPs and Senators we were meeting with that day, the time(s) and location(s). I was on “Team #5” and I was lucky to have such great team mates as: Stephanie Jull (Canucks Autism Network), Amy Salmon (CanFASD) and Doug Maynard (CAPHC). We had only just met the day before, but we had such great synergy among us that some of the MPs thought that we’d known each other for a long time!  Our team ‘quarterback’ was Doug Maynard, and he helped us navigate around the Hill to find our meeting locations with grace.

 

Team #5 meeting with Senator Jane Cordy
Team #5 meeting with Senator Jane Cordy

While we came with a unified message, it was equally important to listen. Each MP had someone who they cared about who was affected by a neurodevelopmental disorder. Everyone we met with was down-to-earth and really cared about making things better for Canadians with NDDs.

I made notes on their concerns such as: cost-effectiveness of interventions, support for transition of youth with NDDs into adulthood, and the importance of input from (and support for) families of children with NDDs.

These were important insights for KT for several reasons:

  • It validated the importance of placing a focus on health economic evaluation of NeuroDevNet’s diagnosis and intervention innovations for uptake into decision-making.
  • The Community for Brain Development meeting also identified “transitions” as an important consideration for children with NDDs. Transition periods include: kindergarten to grade 1, grade 8 to high school, and high school into adulthood.
  • NeuroDevNet recognizes the importance of engaging with families to inform research, policies and programs.

NeuroDevNet has successfully engaged with policymakers and practitioners over NeuroDevNet’s first 5 years and is committed to continuing these activities for similar KT events such as stakeholder consultations and conferences.

If you are a NeuroDevNet researcher or trainee and are planning a conference, stakeholder consultation, or other KT event or if you would like to explore ways you can involve your stakeholders in your research, contact the KT Core to see how we can help.

Reflections on my time as NeuroDevNet’s KT Coordinator

IMG_4781by Elle Seymour, KT Coordinator, NeuroDevNet

I will always think back on my time with NeuroDevNet with fondness and a great amount of respect for the people I have worked with and the things I have learned. When the KT Core moved to York, I was fortunate enough to become their new Coordinator. When I started this job I knew there would be a steep learning curve as I had never practiced KT before. This was made much easier by my manager, Anneliese Poetz, who also became a great mentor to me. Anneliese is extremely knowledgeable about KT and when you combine Anneliese and David (Phipps) you certainly have a tour de force on your hands. I worked closely with both Anneliese and David and cannot overstate how much I have learned from them. Apart from KT knowledge, Anneliese is a skilled videographer and has a knack for the visual arts and a love of puns. David’s passion for KT comes across whenever you talk to him and this passion makes him not only an expert on the subject but someone who motivates you to excel in your position.

I have always believed that you learn more from your challenges than your failures and there were certainly a few growing pains this year. At the time, these may have felt like failures, however, the wealth of information we gained has most certainly made it all worth it. One of the major challenges we faced this year was the Research Snapshot project. From technical to production aspects there seemed to always be a new problem. All of these problems turned into great lessons and I can move forward with the knowledge that every difficulty we experienced we overcame. Practice does in fact make perfect and I am happy and proud to have been part of the KT Core during this process and helping to finalize the first Research Snapshots for NeuroDevNet.

There were certainly a few surprises along the way and one of these was the fact that KT principles are easily transferrable. Previously I had thought that I would need to learn science-specific KT tools and techniques but this was not the case and I learned that much of KT is transferrable across a range of disciplines. Another surprise I encountered was how much I would grow to respect and love KT, in my opinion it is vastly underappreciated. Luckily, there are practitioners such as Anneliese and David who see the bigger picture and are willing to use KT to keep working towards a more impactful future.

I will miss this position as it has taught me so much and I feel as if there was a good mix of practical and theoretical as we were able to brainstorm how to solve problems and then apply the various solutions we had chosen. This meant that I did not feel alienated from the products the KT Core created and instead was involved in every step of the process. I feel as if the field of KT allows more room for creativity than many other disciplines which is refreshing to see in the current job market. What’s next in store for me? I am hoping to continue working in KT in London (UK) as I still feel as if I have a lot to learn and contribute. I am also considering the possibility of pursuing a PhD. What comes next is uncertain, however, I am absolutely convinced that whatever career path I pursue this position has left a lasting and positive impact on me. It has given me a new perspective on community engagement and research and I believe it will strongly influence and shape my future work.