Knowledge translation (KT) is the science and practice of dissemination and implementation of evidence. We describe how research funders operationalize and evaluate KT initiatives, identify challenges and opportunities, and suggest strategic considerations for KT support. We conducted an environmental scan, which included a systematic search of published and grey literature and a focus group with Canadian funders. A total of 130 published articles and 2415 grey literature sources were screened; 212 unique data sources were included. Published literature commonly described KT initiatives related to “KT practice and science funding.” These initiatives commonly provided funds for infrastructure development (e.g., clinical technologies, database subscriptions) to facilitate translational or applied research to address regional health priorities. Of the articles, 44% outlined an evaluation plan; few provided validated KT metrics. In the grey literature, 364 initiatives were described; the most commonly described initiatives related to “exchange and integrated KT.” Focus group participants hoped to see increased resources to support KT, exchange opportunities with policy/decision-makers, and evaluate KT initiatives. Funders completed various KT initiatives, which tended to engage stakeholders to set research priorities, collaborate with a range of stakeholders, build KT capacity, and mandate KT requirements. We provide six considerations for funders to support KT.
The Government of Canada invests substantially in Canadian research with the goals of strengthening science and innovation and supporting evidence-based decision-making (Government of Canada 2021). Despite such investments, there remain gaps in the use of researcher-created knowledge by decision-makers (e.g., public policy-makers and healthcare leaders/administration) and other stakeholders (e.g., healthcare providers, non-profit and industry organizations) due to factors including competing demands and lack of mechanisms to package and deliver relevant knowledge to knowledge users in a timely manner (Lavis 2006). In the current COVID-19 pandemic context, we recognize more than ever the need to rapidly disseminate newly created knowledge and mobilize the implementation of evidence-based recommendations.
The pandemic also disrupted the research ecosystem, through, for example, growth of preprint registries containing non-peer-reviewed research (Bauchner et al. 2020; Palayew et al. 2020; Caulfield et al. 2021), spread of misinformation affecting trust in decision-makers (Saitz and Schwitzer 2020; Caulfield et al. 2021), and increased health inequities with the greatest impact to communities already marginalized in health research (Khazanchi et al. 2020). These challenges, along with current societal contexts, provide opportunity to restructure the ecosystem to meet the needs of stakeholders, including accelerated evidence dissemination and implementation.
This project was conducted in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The study team was approached by the CIHR to conduct this environmental scan to support the development of the organization’s 2021–2031 strategic plan. As such, for the purpose of this project we define knowledge translation (KT) as the science and practice of dissemination and implementation of evidence into practice and policy (Straus et al. 2009; Straus et al. 2013). This definition reflects the CIHR’s comprehensive KT definition, the importance of evaluating KT efforts (Straus et al. 2009), and work of other researchers that broadly categorizes KT into dissemination and implementation activities (Mitchell et al. 2010; Tabak et al. 2012).
Research funders can play a significant role in the future of KT by supporting the funding and translation of evidence into practice and policy. For instance, the CIHR, Canada’s primary agency for health research funding, has embedded KT into its mandate to promote translation of new knowledge into improved health and health systems for Canadians (Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2016c). The CIHR embeds KT principles into its research institutes (e.g., Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research, Institute for Health Services and Policy Research) and mandates grant applicants to outline a KT plan for dissemination and (or) implementation of findings. The CIHR has developed several educational modules and frameworks (Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2020) to guide researchers to incorporate KT principles into their research and has dedicated funding streams that prioritize KT initiatives and integrated KT research (Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2013, 2016b). Similar initiatives have been led in other countries. For instance, the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) support KT research by providing dedicated funding to dissemination and implementation research, building capacity among researchers in using KT frameworks, forming KT-oriented institutes (e.g., National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)), and embedding KT principles/implementation teams into NIH institutes (e.g., National Cancer Institute) (National Institutes of Health n.d.).
To determine the scope of work implemented by such agencies and to assess the impact of these programs, we aimed to conduct an environmental scan to assess the types of KT initiatives currently planned or initiated by high-income countries’ research funders, describe how funders evaluate initiatives, identify common challenges and opportunities for funder-led KT initiatives, and provide strategic considerations based on trends observed in the findings for KT science and practice advancement by health research funders. This environmental scan builds upon previous work exploring funding agency support for KT (Tetroe et al. 2008; McLean et al. 2018). It offers insight on current trends of funding agencies to support and evaluate KT, challenges, specific KT initiatives undertaken, future visions for KT, and actionable suggestions for funders.