Imagine you are in a strange city where you don’t speak the language, but you have to make sense of directions to find your way home. A similar dilemma is faced by stakeholders, from newly diagnosed cancer patients to policy makers weighing budget priorities, who have to understand complex scientific information that can impact important decisions.
At the January 24th and 25th Scientist Knowledge Translation Training Workshop at the Cove, Professor Melanie Barwick, senior scientist at the Toronto Sick Children’s Hospital, showed participants – none of whom could read Japanese – a map of the Tokyo subway system. “What do you need to know to get home?” Barwick asked. “You need to orient your audience and tell them where they are starting from and where they are going.”
The workshop, attended by health care, mental health, education, and social sciences researchers from around the nation, is also relevant for scientist-entrepreneurs who need to communicate the benefits and issues of new, sometimes disruptive innovations and want to get new ideas adopted into practice. Barwick instructed attendees from around the country how to conduct media outreach and discussed the elements of an effective knowledge translation plan along with evaluating implementation.
Traditional vs. Open Innovation
Currently, research effectiveness is not measured by the number of papers produced, but by the impact of ideas and how well they are adopted in policy, Barwick noted. Scientists need to demonstrate to funders the benefits, impact, and relevance of their research. In science, knowledge translation happens in multiple ways; developing human treatments and interventions, testing treatment efficacy and effectiveness, disseminating and implementing research.
However, the traditional innovation path takes an average of 17 years for laboratory research to be translated and implemented in society, meanwhile only an estimated 14% of this information is actually incorporated into clinical practice. “Knowledge translation is about opening your mind to new ways of working.” said Barwickciting a problem involving the structure of HIV enzymes that baffled scientists for 15 years. Crowd-sourced as a protein folding game called “Foldit,”(http://fold.it/portal/info/science ) gamers solved it within three weeks.
Staying afloat while conducting innovative research
“How do you think outside the box and how do you survive?” Barwick asked. Balancing innovation with grantsmanship is challenging given that grants are not necessarily given for fresh, exciting research but for mainstream ideas, and negative results are rarely published. Incorporating knowledge translation helps demonstrate the impact and relevance of the science to engage a wider range of stakeholders. Barwick reviewed some media communication principles
Communicating with media:
- Understand the publication or outlet where you will be interviewing, and its audience.
- When talking with journalists, lead with the most interesting research finding.
- Be prepared to cover the basics concisely; who, what, where, when, why and how. Messages become actions when they are simple and actionable.
- Stick to a simple outline whenever possible as you cannot assume that the reporter has any background in your work.
- Couch your messages in terms of ideas, not data, when possible. Choose the idea you most want to convey and preface it with, “the most important thing is….” Employ word pictures, analogies, and anecdotes
- Practice role-playing. Try to provide context for how messages fit into the body of related research.
- Stress the human angle to show the implications of data.
- Stay positive, but avoid speculation and don’t bend the truth. If the story is negative, don’t give unnecessary information. Don’t let anybody put words in your mouth—correct any misstatements promptly. Nothing is off the record—everything you say can be used. If you don’t know the answer, just admit it.
- Contact reporters afterwards, thanking them for the interview and offer follow-up. If there are errors, correct them politely.
Knowledge transfer strategies
- Think about who needs to hear your message, how well you know your audience, and if the audience is prepared to make decisions based on the evidence.
- What does your audience’s existing knowledge network look like? What are the lessons that decision-makers can take away from the research? If possible, follow up on your main messages with implications, benefits, and policy recommendations.
- When engaging decision makers, the most effective interactions are roundtables where two-way discussions take place.
- A knowledge dissemination plan involves the following elements:
- A project overview, goals, target audiences, key messages explaining what your research results mean and how they relate to the existing body of research, their implications, and what actions should consequently be taken.
- Make your messages clear, simple, and action oriented.
- Think about influencers or organizations you could bring on board.
- Plan timing, channels, responsibilities, and take into account how to reach different target audiences. Develop a budget. Evaluation is most effective when it is incorporated at the beginning of the process.
Successfully implementing clinical research
Barwick noted that about 75% of clinical research implementation initiatives fail. Without effective implementations—adoption and interventions— research dollars are wasted. Effectiveness is measured by fidelity—how well treatment delivery maps to the original plan. Barwick recommended the National Implementation Research Network (NERN) http://nirn.fpg.unc.edu as a resource.
What is the best way of developing competence in new ways of working? Barwick cited studies that revealed that the best results come from ongoing coaching to reinforce training.