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25 July 2017
DRUSSA Handbook Series Essay 2 Traditions of Knowledge Utilisation and the most influential models Print
Defining the Field
Friday, 13 March 2015 08:14

Research evidence can inform policy and practice in a variety of ways and through a number of different channels. An essay  by Dr Sara Grobbelaar and Dr Nelius Boshoff of CREST at the University of Stellenbosch discusses some of the models and  theories in this vast field, and this blog provides a outline of the areas discussed.

This is part of a series of blogs on chapters of a literature review conducted by CREST.  Links to the other chapters can be found at the end of this blog.

 

The development of the Knowledge Utilisation field

The essay brings together selected insights concerning the development of ‘knowledge utilisation’ as a broad field of study. It starts off with a historical account by Backer (1991) who portrays the development of the field of knowledge utilisation as a series of ‘waves’. According to Backer, the field has developed from different scientific enclaves, as detailed below.

Backer’s four waves of knowledge utilisation literature


The introductory section of the essay puts into context the presence of different scientific traditions and provides a historical overview of the development of knowledge utilisation both as a field of study and a political priority. The authors then provide a highly selective overview of the theories of knowledge utilisation through which practitioners may gain insight into the various pathways along which knowledge may be put into use. Four models that have been developed from the  Knowledge Utilisation (KU) literature are discussed as well as discipline-specific models, using  Backer’s four waves of KU as a basis for the discussion.

 

Wave 1: Diffusion of Innovations

Everett Rogers (2003), the leading scholar in the diffusion of innovations paradigm, uses “diffusion” to refer to the spread of innovations. An innovation is “an idea, practice or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption” (Rogers, 2003:12) and “innovation diffusion” the “process by which an (1) innovation (2) is communicated through certain channels (3) over time (4) among the members of a social system” (Rogers, 2003:11). Each element of Roger’s extensive work is considered in more detail in the full essay.

"Transfer of technology can be from universities/research institutions to industry, or from one domain into another, with the purpose of turning knowledge into products or processes which are informed by research evidence"

Wave 2: Technology Transfer and Knowledge Utilization in the Social Sciences

In the field of technology transfer a distinction is made between technology transfer and technology diffusion. Diffusion in some instances may refer to the passive transfer of knowledge, whereas transfer is goal oriented and successful transfer involves the “movement of knowledge, skill, organisation, values and capital from the point of generation to the site of adaptation and application”. Transfer of technology can be from universities/research institutions to industry, or from one domain into another, with the purpose of turning knowledge into products or processes which are informed by research evidence. The work of Bozeman  (2000) focuses on the determinants of effective domestic technology transfer from universities to government laboratories and describes technology transfer with reference to five elements, namely the transfer agent, transfer medium, transfer object, transfer recipient and demand environment, and has been an important addition to this field and is discussed in detail.

Over time, different models emerged from reflections on various studies of knowledge utilisation in the social sciences. One of the more comprehensive generic typologies reviewed is by Landry, Amara and Lamari (2001), where they distinguish between the science-push model, demand-pull model, organisational interest model, dissemination model and interaction model. The essat also reviews the ‘two communities’ theory which focussed on the gap between the worlds of policy makers and of researchers and ways in which this gap may be bridged.

 

Wave 3: Evidence based medicine

There has been a specific focus in the health sciences on how research can inform not only policy but also practice. The Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) movement emerged partly as a response to physicians’ reliance on a variety of knowledge sources and approaches for the treatment of common, similar conditions that are believed to have implications for the cost-effectiveness of treatment. The essay reviews core elements of EBM, and key application tools such as practice guidelines and frameworks for the implementation of such guidelines.

Knowledge Translation is a “dynamic and iterative process that includes the synthesis, dissemination, exchange and ethically sound application of knowledge to improve health, provide more effective health services and products, and strengthen the health care system”

Wave 4: Knowledge Translation

Also part of the evidence based policy-making tradition is a systems intervention model to inform approaches to knowledge utilisation – referred to as Knowledge Translation (KT). The pioneers in this area are Canadian health policy analysts. The Canadian Institute of Health Research defines Knowledge Translation as a “dynamic and iterative process that includes the synthesis, dissemination, exchange and ethically sound application of knowledge to improve health, provide more effective health services and products, and strengthen the health care system”. The KT approach acknowledges that the policy making process is interactive, non-linear and involves a number of different stakeholders. A selected range of models in KT such as the Ottawa model of research use and the Knowledge-to-action model are discussed in this essay.

 

Conclusion

The literature on Knowledge Utilisation is vast, reflecting the complexity of the environments in which the approaches are deemed to be appropriate. There is a range of terminologies and models in use. Each of these models provides insight into how knowledge and research can be taken up into policy and practice.

 

The full essay can be read here. The other essays in the series are:

 

DRUSSA Handbook Series Essay 1 Shifts in science policy and the evolution of the university and its role

DRUSSA Handbook Series Essay 3 Knowledge to Policy (discussed in a series of four blogs)

DRUSSA Handbook Series Essay 4 Stakeholder Engagement

DRUSSA Handbook Series Essay 5 Science Communication


Dr Sara Grobbelaar is a Senior Researcher CREST, Stellenbosch University

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