Kstar: Lost in translation?
April 26, 2012 1 Comment
Effective knowledge translation is key to ensuring that evidence escapes the confines of academia and is practically applied to the language of policy. The Kstar conference 2012 provided a platform for a panel of experts to share examples of good practice and delve deeper into understanding why knowledge translation is important and what impact translation wields on the knowledge-policy interface.
The simple fact that knowledge exists, does not guarantee it will be grasped by policy makers and drawn upon within the decision-making processes. Research can often remain trapped at the point of origin marred in the complex language of research appearing of no use or practical value to policy makers.
Thus, to become of value and put into action, knowledge must be translated. Knowledge translation goes far beyond knowledge exchange and dissemination of evidence. It is about making sense of knowledge and distilling it in a format that can be easily grasped by knowledge users.
Knowledge translation: some lessons from the field
Mayada Elsabbagh from McGill University – reflected on the importance of knowledge translation in biomedical research. In her research exploring autism, Mayada explained how the value of knowledge translation is “concealed when we expect scientists to provide medical pills, treatments, recipes, or even gadgets to repair the ‘broken’ brains of young children”. Knowledge can play two roles in dispelling this myth: “we can either lock researchers in labs until we get a clear picture of what works”, she said. Or, “we can foster translation of knowledge beyond the scientific academy and work collaboratively with communities that are engaged with people experiencing autism and reach a common ground”.
Based on the findings and experience from Mayada’s work, the second approach has proved to be of considerably more value. However, encouraging researchers to emerge from laboratories of research is by no means an easy task. To enhance the role of knowledge translators, Mayada suggested three key recommendations for moving forward:
- Stop the cycle of blame: if research does not make it’s way into the field of policy, researchers must not be castigated for not communicating their research;
- Practice what we preach: Kstar needs to become evidence-based and showcase tried and tested approaches that demonstrate the value of knowledge without reducing ourselves to simplistic notions that we can’t demonstrate long-term impact;
- Build a global vision: whilst recognising that every sector has unique experiences, sharing our common ground is crucial to the success of knowledge translation.
Thoughtful and insightful recommendations that the Kstar conference 2012 should be conscience to head.
To compliment discussion, Dr Nyokabi Musila – Research and Knowledge Translation Scientist based at the African Institute for Development Policy – shared her experience of knowledge translation in a project focusing on reproductive health in sub-Saharan Africa. The project sought to document lessons on drivers of increased contraceptive use through a mix of methodologies including interviews with policy makers and stakeholders, policy reviews and quantitative analysis of funding source.
“Packaging findings in a format that ensured their relevance to policy makers was a challenge,” said Nyokabi. “Policy makers want evidence now”, creating a small policy window to work in – a restriction which proved to be difficult for knowledge translators. Hampered by the demands of policy makers – “they want to know what works best in their own setting” – Nyokabi expressed frustration at the difficulties in generating ‘best practice’ of findings that were applicable not only to all the regions under study but could simultaneously express the nuances of different cultures and contexts.
Keen to emphasise the importance of relationships in knowledge translation – “building trust of policymakers is key, and can only happen in person” – researchers focused their efforts and energy on exposing themselves to the politics and culture of each region. “A huge financial and time commitment” admits Nyokabi “but, key to understanding policy decisions and identifying policy windows” – crucial if the translation of knowledge is to influence policy.
In this interview Nyokabi shares some insights on how best to deal with the challenges of being a knowledge translator.
Commentating on discussion – Jacqueline Tetroe, Senior Advisor at the Canadian Institute for Health Research – believes a key factor in the successfully translating knowledge lies in an approach which is collaborative, participatory and action orientated.
But in practice working in collaboration can be hindered by language. As Charles Dhewa from Knowledge Transfer Africa stressed during discussion, does the fact that we do not share a common language hamper our abililty to translate knowledge? An issue echoed by Pierre Ongolo-Zogo who said “When I went to medical school, my grandfather said that whatever you learn you should be able to translate it back to me. Keep it simple and smart”.
Developing a common language was, for others, not essential, hugely complex and perhaps unnecessary. A perspective mirrored by participants joining in the online discussion through Webex. As Sanghun Cho emphasised, instead of developing a new language, we should focus attention on collecting what has already been developed. The Kstar conference 2012 offers a great opportunity to do this. An opportunity we must jump upon, otherwise, knowledge will remain lost in translation.