The theme of the recent Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) conference was Leadership in public health: Challenges for local and planetary communities. The PHAA ran a National Public Health Student Think Tank Competition.
Here’s an essay by Simone McCarthy from that competition.
Simone McCarthy writes:
Knowledge translation is an interactive process involving exchanges between the researchers who create new knowledge, and those who can effectively use it. But health research often fails to translate research findings into practice and policy. It is vital that researchers use knowledge translation to ensure that evidence-based knowledge informs decision-making – see articles by Armstrong, Campbell and Graham. Through knowledge translation, the benefits of research are accelerated, the health care system and health services are strengthened, and there is greater potential for positive outcomes for our populations.
Central to all knowledge translation strategies is the need to consider the key stakeholders who benefit most and can utilise knowledge. Knowledge translation must therefore become an integral part of research, where researchers value an integrated approach with policy makers and key stakeholders. This requires effective communication between those producing the knowledge and those implementing evidence-based practice and policy.
Knowledge translation frameworks emphasise the critical need for stakeholder engagement at all stages of research to co-produce evidence that shapes and ultimately informs policy and practice. This enables researchers and key stakeholders to exchange knowledge and ideas and ensures that research is conducted that is timely and relevant to the community. Involving key decision makers in the research process, means that findings are relevant and can lead to evidence based policy change.
Avoid co-production with tobacco, alcohol and gambling sectors
However, it is important to recognise that co-producing research may not always be appropriate. For example, researchers should not collaborate, and co-produce research with industries, such as tobacco, alcohol and gambling. Previous research in other fields such as tobacco control indicates that their involvement has been used to create doubt and divert attention from product harm, and can create favourable policy environments for these industries to maximise their profits. Instead, future research should employ strategies to develop independent evidence that enhances collaboration with stakeholder without conflicts, to bridge the gap between research and action.
Tailoring key messages
Effective knowledge translation for public health researchers involves tailoring and synthesising key messages for different users, such as the public, practitioners and policy makers, in language that can be easily understood. Further, methods of dissemination should be modified to better reach those who would most benefit from the research. This means moving beyond traditional routes of dissemination, such as peer reviewed journal publications, to using multiple communication channels, such as active communication with the media and workshops and seminars with key stakeholders.
There are, however, considerable barriers to implementing knowledge translation into research practices. For example, time and resources are needed to involve a range of stakeholders into research, and there is often little incentive for researchers to dedicate their time. For example, while the greatest impacts to society from research are studies that contribute to changes in practice and policy, these do not necessarily contribute to academic metrics. With universities fixated on grant funding, publications and citation outputs, communicating research findings with media, communities and organisations that impact policy or practise is often not recognised in academic promotion. Therefore, we must challenge universities to include metrics that acknowledges these contributions to policy and practice to further encourage researchers to engage in knowledge translation.
Leaders in public health should advocate for knowledge translation as part of the research process. Methods of knowledge translation should be built into the research plan from the outset, including involvement of stakeholder groups throughout the research project. Funding bodies also play a critical role in encouraging knowledge translation and should ensure that this is a priority of the research they fund. This will be vital in developing a comprehensive strategy to ensure that research contributes to positive outcomes in public health.
There is role for public health leaders to implement strategies that address this gap within their own work. Collectively, efforts need to be made to put scientific knowledge into action, and ensure widespread implementation of evidence-based programs, practices and policies. This must start with us, and it must start right now.
Simone McCarthy is a first year PhD student at Deakin University and works in the Gambling Harm Prevention Unit. Her PhD thesis looks at the impact that gambling has on the lives of women across Victoria. In the future, Simone aspires to work in public health research or practice in a role where she can enhance her skills and knowledge and make a positive impact in the field of public health. Twitter: @SimoneNicoleM