Turning research into action through knowledge translation

The value of health research comes from its ability to improve health outcomes. Knowledge translation (KT) helps to create that change – to use research and findings to make a difference to those involved in the study. A KT approach to research makes a difference by influencing policymakers, by working with health services and communities, and by recognising trends. Through research and KT we can help to close the gap.

The Lowitja Institute is Australia’s national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research. We are working for the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples through research, knowledge translation, and by supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health researchers.

The Institute aims to ensure the outcomes from research projects that we fund have direct benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Knowledge translation is key to this goal. We currently fund over 40 research projects. To encourage and support a systematic approach, KT is embedded throughout the research design and our projects can access additional funds to implement a KT plan. The plan ensures that projects translate research based on their key findings and their intended audiences.

All our KT activities stem from our research principles that state that we will act for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership, engage research end-users, strengthen the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research workforce, and measure impact.

While there is an important body of work around KT, multiple frameworks, and different terminology, our current approach to KT involves several strategies that effectively connect research evidence to changes in policy and practice. These practices have been developed over our 20-year history and also draw on external models such as:

  • The Dynamic Knowledge Transfer Capacity model, which identifies four types of capacity needed within a knowledge translation system: generative, disseminative, absorptive, and ongoing adaptive and responsive capacity. It highlights, particularly, the need to engage after the research has been produced and disseminated.[1]
  • The framework developed by Masching, Allard and Prentice in 2007 also informs our practice, providing research projects with questions around which to build their KT implementation. These questions relate to benefit, relationship to other projects and trends in policy practice, users of evidence, impact, dissemination and absorptive capacities, and feedback from community participants.[2]

In practice, KT varies from project to project and evolves throughout the research and evaluation processes. Activities can include workshops and forums, report publication, social and traditional media engagement, and development of resources for use in policymaking and health services. They are limited only by the project team’s imagination (and budget), the findings, and by the needs and drivers of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities we serve.

We explored the application of KT recently at the 6th Annual NHMRC Symposium on Research Translation, co-hosted by the Lowitja Institute and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).[3] The symposium, was themed The Butterfly Effect: Translating Knowledge into Action for Positive Change and explored knowledge translation practice in Indigenous health research. The event was the first partnership of this kind between the Institute and the NHMRC and was founded on a commitment by both institutions to deliver a measurable, positive impact on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples.

The project, building on relationships with local Elders and community agencies, worked to develop culturally responsive research design, program selection, training, delivery and evaluation.

The Symposium was an opportunity to showcase national and international Indigenous community-driven research translation projects. For example, the Jandu Yani U (For All Families) project followed from successful community-initiated restrictions on the sale of full-strength alcohol within the Fitzroy Valley, and focussed attention on the disproportionately high prevalence of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The project, building on relationships with local Elders and community agencies, worked to develop culturally responsive research design, program selection, training, delivery and evaluation. This saw the training of local residents as ‘Parent Coaches’ for the delivery of the parenting program to local families, building the capacity of the local community, which then led to further TAFE training for a number of participants.

Also presented at the Symposium was a project aiming to close the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians in South East Queensland. The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health collaborated with the Australian eHealth Research Centre and the Queensland University of Technology to develop a chronic disease self-management program, Work It Out. Adopting a holistic view of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, the program utilises an interdisciplinary allied health team in an effort to increase participants’ quality of life, confidence, fitness, and understanding of how to live a healthy and active life. The program also has a research component monitoring both qualitative and quantitative health indicators, with significant improvements recorded since its inception in 2011.

Through supporting and sustaining community-driven research, institutions are able to promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination and demonstrate respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and knowledge systems. This is critical component to KT, as was highlighted at the Symposium by Dr Carrie Bourassa from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research: “If you don’t have community engagement, if you don’t have Indigenous people in the driver’s seat, you don’t have Indigenous knowledge translation.”[4]

By consistently practicing ethical, rigorous and responsive knowledge generation and translation, the Lowitja Institute contributes real and lasting benefits to close the gap.

[1] A systems-based dynamic knowledge transfer capacity model, R. Parent, M. Roy & D. St-Jacques 2007, Journal of Knowledge Management, vol. 11(6): 81–93

[2] Knowledge Translation and Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Research: Methods at the Margins, R. Masching, Y. Allard & T. Prentice, Canadian Journal of Aboriginal Community-based HIV/AIDS Research, vol. 1, Summer 2006, p. 31–44

[3] https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/media/events/2017/6th-annual-nhmrc-symposium-research-translation-co-hosted-lowitja-institute

[4] ‘Creating Pathways to Culturally Safe Care for Indigenous People’ Dr Carrie Bourassa, presented at the 6th Annual NHMRC Symposium on Research Translation, November 2017, https://webcast.gigtv.com.au/Mediasite/Catalog/catalogs/SRT2017

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash