From iKT to strategic partnerships

17 April 2019

Research knowledge is most likely to be used when it is informed by those who will use it. To support this, our team of knowledge translation (KT) specialists work to advance both the science and practice of KT, and help BC health researchers develop the skills they need to increase the impact of their research.

Part of this effort is the development of KT Pathways, a new digital assessment and learning tool for anyone that creates or uses research evidence. As MSFHR and partners prepare to launch KT Pathways, Gayle Scarrow, director, KT, and Genevieve Creighton, manager, KT, introduce the exciting new tool and reflect on the development journey.

Forward Thinking is MSFHR’s blog focusing on what it takes to be a responsive and responsible research funder.

MSFHR’s KT Pathways: A journey from iKT to strategic partnerships

Knowledge translation (KT) is an important element of all MSFHR programs. We believe as a responsible and responsive health research funder it’s not enough to simply require KT activities to be embedded in research applications — we want to help people to do this work, and help advance the science of KT.

When we saw the results of the MSFHR-commissioned Health Services Researcher Pathway (HSRP), a resource to help define how nurses develop and progress throughout their careers in terms of research and use, we thought, ‘That’s what we need for KT!’

That was the start of our journey to KT Pathways, a tool designed to help anyone who gathers or uses research evidence assess their current KT strengths and areas for development, and provides tailored training materials and supports based on the results.

Led by MSFHR and developed with health-care, health system and academic partners across BC, the goal is to build KT skills and increase the use of research evidence in practice, policy and further research.

Learn more at

The development of KT Pathways has been a bit like walking the Camino de Santiago. You may have heard of it; each year hundreds of thousands of people walk the vast network of ancient pilgrim routes that criss-cross Europe — some alone, some in groups and some who move from alone to groups as their needs and opportunities change. Who you walk with, when, for what reasons, and for how long can have a big impact on your journey and final destination.

Our KT Pathways journey took us along two ‘routes’: the route of integrated KT and the route of strategic partnerships. We couldn’t have successfully reached our destination without travelling on both of them.

Our first traveling companions

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research define integrated KT (iKT) as, ‘A research process in which knowledge users are engaged as equal partners alongside researchers. When [this happens], the resulting research will likely be more relevant and useful to knowledge users.’

Embracing an iKT ‘route’ for our journey (we wanted to practice what we preached!), our small but mighty research team included some old friends and some new ones — researchers with KT experience, a professional health sciences librarian, a knowledge broker/health-care professional, KT specialists and a project manager. An advisory group of representatives of our three target audiences (knowledge producers, users, and brokers*) also provided feedback throughout the project.

We had two goals:

  1. Identify the core KT competencies for knowledge producers, brokers and users.
  2. Identify how to teach those competencies and build KT capacity in BC.

Following a scoping review (protocol and study results are published) we created an extensive list of KT competencies and training supports, and a manual self-assessment tool that people could use for professional development. You can delve into the data in the University of Victoria’s online Research and Learning Repository.

Key to the project’s success was taking the iKT ‘route’ with people who could share the voices, and capture the competencies and training supports required by the full spectrum of potential users.

When the end isn’t the end

With a completed scoping review and a learning map for knowledge producers, brokers and users we thought we were coming to the end of our journey. But we soon realized it wasn’t time to take off the walking shoes yet.

While the manual self-assessment tool contained a rich and complete list of the competencies, we realized only a few intrepid souls would ever embark on the task of using the 92-page document. In true KT style, we needed to share our learnings in a way that was easily accessible to potential users. Creating an easy-to-use digital tool became our new goal!

Strategic partnerships versus iKT

So we began the journey again, this time with a new group of old and new friends. At this point no research was being conducted so we didn’t call our approach iKT. This part of the journey would involve strategic partnerships.

Aside from the fact that one involves research and the other does not, strategic partnerships have a lot in common with iKT. Both are collaborative at their core; there is shared decision-making; shared vision; common priorities and outcomes. Individual roles are based on the expertise and strengths each brings to the partnership as well as the resources they can provide.

But who do you engage as strategic partners? We knew we needed people who would use the tool and be invested in making sure it was user friendly and accessible. We also knew we needed representatives that covered the diverse contexts researchers, knowledge brokers and knowledge users work in. We recruited BC-based universities, health authorities, a research institute, a provincial research support organization and the BC Ministry of Health — 21 representatives from 14 partner organizations!

MSFHR led the working group of researchers, policy makers, KT specialists, knowledge brokers and practitioners. Each member was charged with representing the interests of their organization — from leaders to practitioners.

Working together in such a large and diverse group was enriching and challenging. Over six months we hammered out a definition of KT and why we need it. We talked (and talked) about the language we would use to ensure that it was inclusive and meaningful. Sixty-five ‘content testers’ edited and re-edited the self-assessment questions for plain language and accessibility. User testers met with our web developer to finesse the user experience. We hashed out resources that users would be sent once they completed their self-assessment and collaboratively made operational decisions and decisions about how to recognize partners for differing levels of financial and in-kind contributions. Finally, we discussed communication plans and how to ensure KT Pathways gets into the hands of those who could benefit.

The power of collaboration

We had hundreds of interesting and provocative discussions, but one really stood out in terms of making KT Pathways relevant and accessible.

KT Pathways is designed with a ‘pathway’ each for knowledge brokers, producers and users, reflecting the different KT skills and competencies needed for each role. These terms had been an integral part of the work since 2014, but they were also a stumbling block for users, particularly those newer to KT. Over and over we heard that it’s tough to squeeze yourself into just one role or identity. You can easily be BOTH a producer and a broker, or sometimes all three.

After much discussion, we realized we needed to think differently about the roles of knowledge producers, users and brokers, focusing instead on the key tasks within each group — knowledge production, application and sharing.

We settled on naming the three pathways ‘Producing Knowledge’, ‘Applying Knowledge’ and ‘Brokering Knowledge’. This is a pretty radical departure from the more academic terms used previously, but a testament to the benefit of many minds working together and the power of collaboration to find solutions that resonate across multiple contexts and roles.

KT Pathways: The next beginning

Our KT Pathways journey has been long but so worthwhile. We started it using an iKT approach with a multidisciplinary research team and finished it with strategic partnerships composed of key organizational partners and dedicated, enthusiastic individuals with a passion for KT. Each approach serves a different purpose and are used in different contexts.

Just like our approach, our partners also differed along the way, dependent on time and task — and that’s okay. Each partner, whether at the organizational, working group or individual content tester level, played a key role in developing KT Pathways.

We’ve been blessed to work with amazing people who are as passionate to make a difference to the production and use of research evidence as we are! And now, as we prepare to launch KT Pathways, we have no doubt our strategic partnerships will significantly increase the uptake and use of the tool across BC, and help increase the use of research evidence in practice, policy-making and further research.

Got a story about working in partnership? We’d love to hear your travelling tales and what went well (or not so well!) along the way.

KT Pathways partners

Led by Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research

  • BC Ministry of Health
  • First Nations Health Authority
  • Fraser Health
  • Interior Health
  • Island Health
  • Northern Health
  • Providence Health Care
  • Provincial Health Services Authority
  • Simon Fraser University
  • University of BC
  • University of Northern BC
  • University of Victoria
  • Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute

*Knowledge producers are primarily researchers; knowledge users might be policy makers, health practitioners or journalists; and knowledge brokers bridge the gap between the two, helping others use evidence in their practice/policy-making. They may or may not have KT as part of their title or job description.