Knowledge translation as an ongoing process

When I defended my PhD thesis, of course successfully, less or more, I felt more relieved of the burden than elated by the accomplishment. On the one hand, there were all these congratulatory messages from family and friends, on the other hand, I had a sense of emptiness. Though I had a job offer as a professor at a university, I thought even that would not completely fill the gap.

Then came one message. One of my younger brothers wrote at the end of his email, “what about putting your research into practice now.” First, I though he might have written it out of jealousy. I brushed the message away with a click of a mouse and allowed myself to enjoy the newly gained prestige.

The message was out of my inbox but not out of my head. A couple of days later, the sense of emptiness and the message from my brother were somehow linked up in my head. Maybe that’s next, I thought. Translate your research into practice.

But I have written a couple of briefing notes for policymakers, two opinion pieces, and forwarded my thesis to a number of policymakers who were keenly waiting for this very significant work to be published,” I said to myself.

I forced my brain to stop for a second to enjoy the thought, but the next thought was in line.

Are you kidding me? You know knowledge translation is way more than sending out those pieces of information. The intended audience might not have even read them. 

Okay, take it easy. Here I have to remind myself, and let the readers know too, that knowledge translation is NOT merely giving out information, NOT one-way diffusion of knowledge, and NOT an end-of-the-research activity.


Knowledge translation is a dynamic process of exchange, synthesis, and sound application of knowledge within a complex system of interactions (network) of knowledge users and producers. Imagine references from Nonaka’s knowledge management to Jonathan Lomas’s knowledge brokering concepts. And take a look at Nonaka’s knowledge production model. I will write about the implicit and explicit knowledge and the model some other time.

To fully convince myself, I had to keep in mind that knowledge translation should be inherent to all stages of research and knowledge production. One of the quotes I like by Jonathan Lomas is, “Researchers tend to see decision-making as an event – they deliver their edicts to the impenetrable cardinals’ retreat and await the puff of smoke that signals “decision,” while grumbling about irrationality within the conclave.”

Is it what I am doing. Complaining about the poor decisions of policymakers, while not engaging with them in the process of policymaking.

But the decision makers also don’t engage with us, researchers. I have to quote from Lomas about this too. “Decision makers – the patients, the care providers, the managers, and the policy makers – tend  to see research as a product they can purchase from the local knowledge store, but too often it is in the wrong size, needs some assembly, is on back order, and comes from last year’s fashion line.”

Oh yeah. Decision makers are also to be blamed. I thought.

After all the exchange that took place in my head between researchers and decision makers, I had to intervene and humbly ask both to collaborate.

Dear researchers and policymakers, please work together, talk to each other more often, you may even want to have coffee from time to time. Perhaps policymaking and research could happen simultaneously and both benefit from each other. The knowledge to practice gap may also decrease in the meantime.

In the meantime, I may also have found something to partly fill the sense of emptiness left behind by the completion of a PhD thesis.

Thanks to my brother.

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