As a growing multi-disciplinary field, evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) needs to draw out its unique qualities, irrespective of the perspectives from which they may have originated.
As a result, I consider it very intelligent for the request of this Think Piece to present an impression of its main concept – knowledge translation (KT). It defined KT as “intentional interventions involving dialogue between a range of relevant actors to encourage or support the use of research-based evidence to inform behaviours (including decisions, practice or policies)”. It provides an opportunity, therefore, to critically evaluate underlying notions of the practice.
While agreeing that KT interventions need to be intentional, involving a range of relevant actors, and desiring to encourage or support behaviour (I prefer to target performance), I would like to further contextualise this definition as a youth-oriented practitioner operating from the Global South. This Think Piece will touch on different desired outcomes of the practice, which include the performance of these different actors across the evidence ecosystem (not only users of evidence), the narrow conceptualisation of evidence, and the different forms of human interactions beyond dialogue.
Desired outcomes for KT and the wider evidence ecosystem
To start with, therefore, I consider it appropriate to place KT practice within the wider evidence ecosystem (largely made up of producers, users, and intermediaries), which underscores a lot more nuances in the practice than the sub-domain of KT would be able to. Maybe this draws from my approach as an information systems researcher, but as hinted earlier, perspectives from these different disciplines are to contribute to the ultimate growth of the field. I advance the view, therefore, that KT operates as a sub-domain intermediating between the two other main categories of actors.
But a question to address is whether or not KT is synonymous with evidence intermediaries. From works that I have been part of, the intermediary space of EIDM practice includes a lot more sets of actors, hence would be limiting to equate KT to them as an aggregate. Through our ever-evolving Evidence Landscape project, we are taking note of unique but complementary roles for ecosystems development, which, if ignored, only bodes a gloomy outlook for the practice. Among these are reproducers of evidence, those providing quality assurance services, gatekeeping, commercialisation, capacity development, and ecosystem governance services. All these actors (not only evidence users) need to be supported for improved ecosystem vitality.
Taking a wider view of ecosystem actors, therefore, helps to identify unique capacity constraints that exist (including those of funders) within the ecosystem. Until we get this puzzle fixed, I suggest that solely targeting a few actors (very often evidence users) will only produce marginal and mostly temporary gains. This explains my preference for targeting the performance of these various actors rather than the limited “performance” of a group of them, which is normally conceptualised as evidence use.
A narrow view of evidence in the decision-making process
Next, the given definition of KT offers a narrow view of evidence – research-based evidence. As a prelude, although I confess that evidence use is a high-level desired outcome, the realisation of this outcome should necessarily translate into the welfare of ordinary citizens (or target populations). It is also well-documented that the decision-making process is influenced by a wide variety of factors beyond evidence (the knowledge/insights they contain), including those from economics, politics, socio-cultural orientations, and the environment, among others.
Limiting the type of evidence that informs this decision-making process, therefore, largely ignores the inherent tensions that emanate from these different factors. I recommend, therefore, a nuanced view of evidence, including high-quality research evidence that employs rigorous analysis but also less-rigorous analysis of citizen knowledge, practice-informed knowledge, as well as administrative, census and research data. This approach helps address weaknesses inherent within each type of evidence.
|Potential interventions for evidence capacities
|1. Create a supportive environment and value research in policy
|2. Align research production to the needs of policymakers
|3. Invest in “push efforts” to bring research to policymakers
|4. Facilitate access to research
|5. Build policymakers’ capacity to engage with and use research
|6. Establish regular exchange between research producers and policymakers
Source: Aron Baumann (2020)
Different forms of human interactions for evidence capacities
As social beings within the ecosystem, dialogue becomes a crucial component of our interactions for EIDM. Likewise, KT needs to be intentional about interventions to address identified concerns for improved evidence use. However, as these individual, organisational, and system-level constraints for EIDM practice vary in nature, different types of interventions need to be deployed.
Aron Baumann, for instance, identifies six different (but harmonising) potential interventions that have only one related to the use of dialogue. In the spirit of a wider view of this practice, such a comprehensive view of interventions helps deliver better-sustaining solutions for improved evidence use and hence wellbeing of our populations.
Alternatively, if KT is considered a sub-domain within the intermediary cluster of actors, then we may need to redefine its appropriate place within the practice, maybe as capacity development actors, or a category within that group, so that we avoid confusion in the manner in which we approach our practice.
In line with the notion of decolonising development, the practice of KT and other functions within the EIDM field would need to be adequately (re)conceptualised. This will need to be conducted in a manner that enables adequate representation of contextual issues as well as essential inadequacies in concepts.
Taking that approach will open opportunities for the inclusion of previously marginalised groups, opening avenues for diversity and equitable allocation of scarce resources for scaled impact. As I presented in some previous reflection pieces, it is through such approaches that we can aim for higher goals, seek to collaborate and aspire to be interdependent.