Getting real about Knowledge Translation

I tout myself as a Knowledge Translation Geek, as that is the career path that I’ve carved out for myself within academia, and the topic I studied in my academic journey. I choose to focus a lot on knowledge translation (KT) basically because I care for my world, and I truly with all my heart believe that academia has the potential to be a more critical player in the way the world works – outside the ivory tower.

One realization I have is that I talk about Knowledge Translation all the time, and wrongfully assume that everyone, including academics, knows what I mean.

Knowledge Translation as a term is most widely used in the world of health care and health care research, where applied research is utilized and conducted most frequently. The most broadly used definition in the Canadian context comes from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR):

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

This process takes place within a complex system of interactions between researchers and knowledge users which may vary in intensity, complexity and level of engagement depending on the nature of the research and the findings as well as the needs of the particular knowledge user (Graham, 2010).


I am an educated woman, I claim to be a proponent of knowledge translation, yet when I go to look up definitions of KT used to describe the concept, I don’t even know what it actually means. The irony is palpable.

The general concept of knowledge translation is a bit of a dispute, and may mean different things to other people. The term is closely related to its cousins and predecessors – knowledge mobilization, knowledge transfer, knowledge dissemination – but to me has come to embody a number of things regardless of what it is called.

As an academic, my tendency when I write anything is to have a list of sources and well-researched peer-review journal articles behind anything I may state. That’s the way I was trained. But for this post, I’m going to abandon that and speak a bit more “bare bones” about knowledge translation. In future posts, I’ll discuss more strategies and methods for KT, but for now, I just want to get real.

What does knowledge translation do for academics?

Knowledge Translation gives your work a life. KT brings your work outside of yourself, your department, your faculty, your institution, and your direct region and allows your work to take on a life of it’s own. I won’t go all Baconian on you and talk about power, but truthfully, when knowledge gets into more hands, it has the potential to do more than just what you, yourself, are able to do with it. It’s that simple.

Knowledge Translation gives you a break from talking and writing academically. I am aware that this is probably very un-academic of me to say, but I speak the truth when I say that I know we are all tired of talking in “academic-speak” all the time as academics. We are trained to adopt the jargon of our discipline and the style of scholarship that makes the general population basically say “WTF are you saying?” KT allows you to express complicated concepts in simple ways. It provides EVERYONE a relief from having to find the message behind what you exploring through research by communicating the message in ways that it’s received by all kinds of audiences, not just the academic ones.

Knowledge Translation lets you be creative. It gives you a break from writing and speaking academically, but it also allows you to explore different ways that you can take what you know, and put it out there. KT engages all the senses and helps convey knowledge through art, technology, experiences, and events that bring people together just to name a few.

Knowledge Translation helps you explore “other ways of knowing”. I’ve seen this term come up in literature and a lot within cultural discourses in academia. It basically just reminds us that the way that academics have been trained to traditionally create and disseminate knowledge is not the only way to know things. When you bring your research and work to communities and to the public, you see that different kinds of people receive their information differently. Some communities rely on narrative, spoken word, and tradition, while others prefer receive and engage with information more formally through statistics and quantitative data. Some communities are passive receivers of information, while others are more engaged in the ways information is distributed and shared. It’s important to understand these nuances.

My challenge to you as an academic reading this is to consider what you want for your academic work. Do you want to devote your life to academic work runs the risk of being irrelevant, unnecessary, and producing material that gathers dust and may be read by a total of 8 people and cited once, or do you want to produce really good stuff that communities and decision-makers need and the general public would find of interest.

What does knowledge translation mean to you?

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