This article was originally published on Speech-Language & Audiology Canada’s blog, Communiqué, on June 16th, 2016. It has been republished here with permission.
Part 2 of the blog series Finding the PhD in Me
By Bonita Squires, M.Sc., S-LP(C)
I am still in my first year of doctoral studies, which at Dalhousie University means that I am undertaking graduate-level coursework. In addition, I am attending as many relevant talks and workshops as my eager eyes and ears can pick up on, presenting as many talks as I can handle and spinning my thoughts into manuscripts for the academic think-tank of peer-reviewed publications (as you already know if you read my last post on writing). Meanwhile, I am also beginning to focus my thoughts around a vaguely-defined intervention study I plan to implement. While thinking about knowledge creation, a little voice in my head keeps feeding me seeds of self-doubt. Is the knowledge I would like to contribute needed? Who will ever use this knowledge? Thanks to that little voice, many of the talks and workshops that I have pursued addressed these concerns directly, through the study of what is known as ‘knowledge translation’.
Patience may be a virtue… but 17 years?!
Knowledge translation is known by many names, such as ‘knowledge dissemination’, ‘evidence-based practice’ (and its counterpart ‘practice-based evidence’), ‘knowledge transfer and exchange’ and ‘implementation science’. It is a complex process that involves developing, implementing, communicating and applying research with stakeholders (in my case, teachers, parents, administrators and students) in a multi-directional, dynamic and iterative party of collaboration.
One discouraging fact that has motivated researchers to improve the current state of academic knowledge creation is that it takes on average 17 years to translate research to practice (Morris, Wooding & Grant, 2011). In any field this is too long but in the education of children who are d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH), this is completely unacceptable! The hearing technology and zeitgeist around sign language are morphing at such a rapid rate that I can’t keep up with them. And more importantly, there are children who are DHH who need the appropriate supports today, not long after they graduate from high school. I admit that being new to the field of academia, it is difficult to be patient. One thing I must remind myself is that if I follow the right steps in incorporating knowledge translation at the start of my research, then the gap from research to practice may not be quite so broad.
In the eyes of a stakeholder
Last fall, I attended a talk by the director of a community organization that works with First Nations clients. The most impactful moment of her talk was when she addressed the following slide: “Why We Don’t Call You Back”. She explained that she receives countless requests to be involved in research studies due to her organization’s unique access to First Nations clients. However, over the years, she has seen far too many researchers waltz in, use up her time and resources, collect data on her clients and then leave, never to be heard from again. She said she often wonders if she would even agree or disagree with the researchers’ interpretations of their findings. Consequently, she is no longer interested in working with faceless researchers who follow their own agenda and do not consider the needs of her organization.
Thankfully, she also took the time to describe the best researcher that she has ever worked with. This researcher got to know her first, became involved in the workings of the organization and collaborated closely with her and her colleagues. Admirably, the researcher incorporated the cost of administrative duties for the organization into research grant applications and required that research assistants spend time volunteering with the organization for months before collecting even one little data point. After the data collection was completed, the researcher discussed the findings with the organization and maintained ongoing communication. This is an excellent example of knowledge translation in action from initiation to completion, although whether knowledge translation is ever ‘completed’ is debatable.
Could I do that?
Well, first of all, I have the great fortune of already being affiliated with the organization that I would like to work with. I am not a faceless researcher. The next step, then, is to develop my research question with the needs of the organization in mind. I am already aware that they are motivated to work with me to further evidence-based practice and for that I am grateful. The difficulty lies in determining an appropriate research question and designing the study. In an ideal world, I would spare no expense in conducting focus groups, analyzing survey results and soliciting feedback from all stakeholders at every step of the process. Unfortunately, the reality is that research funding is limited and I need to be wise about how I spend my time.
I have found a mentor who has experience implementing interventions with school staff and I plan to reach out to obtain feedback from stakeholders in my research as often as possible. Truth be told, my dream is to become a clinical researcher — a clinician who also conducts research. If that’s not the ideal vehicle for knowledge translation, then I don’t know what is. I’m still trying to figure out where such jobs exist… speaking of which, keep an eye out for my next post discussing why a first year PhD student needs to think about networking.
For further (and more scholarly) reading on incorporating knowledge translation into research, take a look at the following article, “Practice-based research: Another pathway for closing the research-practice gap” by P.J. Crooke and L.B. Olswang (2015). Also, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are invested in the value of knowledge translation. To see what they say and how they have integrated support for knowledge translation into their funding applications, click on the following link: http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/29418.html.
Crooke, P. J., & Olswang, L. B. (2015). Practice-based research: Another pathway for closing the research-practice gap. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 58(6), S1871–S1882. doi:10.1044/2015_JSLHR-L-15-0243
Morris, Z. S., Wooding, S., & Grant, J. (2011). The answer is 17 years, what is the question: Understanding time lags in translational research. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 104(12), 510–520. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180
Feature image caption: Bonita does an assessment with a child at the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority. Photo credit: Daniel Abriel.