Health Research Policy and Systems
[Accessed 26 May 2018]
24 May 2018
Translating research into action: an international study of the role of research funders
Authors: Robert K. D. McLean, Ian D. Graham, Jacqueline M. Tetroe and Jimmy A. Volmink
It is widely accepted that research can lead to improved health outcomes. However, translating research into meaningful impacts in peoples’ lives requires actions that stretch well beyond those traditionally associated with knowledge creation. The research reported in this manuscript provides an international review of health research funders’ efforts to encourage this process of research uptake, application and scaling, often referred to as knowledge translation.
We conducted web-site review, document review and key informant interviews to investigate knowledge translation at 26 research funding agencies. The sample comprises the regions of Australia, Europe and North America, and a diverse range of funder types, including biomedical, clinical, multi-health domain, philanthropic, public and private organisations. The data builds on a 2008 study by the authors with the same international sample, which permitted longitudinal trend analysis.
Knowledge translation is an objective of growing significance for funders across each region studied. However, there is no clear international consensus or standard on how funders might support knowledge translation. We found that approaches and mechanisms vary across region and funder type. Strategically tailored funding opportunities (grants) are the most prevalent modality of support. The most common funder-driven strategy for knowledge translation within these grants is the linking of researchers to research users. Funders could not to provide empirical evidence to support the majority of the knowledge translation activities they encourage or undertake.
Knowledge translation at a research funder relies on context. Accordingly, we suggest that the diversity of approaches uncovered in our research is fitting. We argue that evaluation of funding agency efforts to promote and/or support knowledge translation should be prioritised and actioned. It is paradoxical that funders’ efforts to get evidence into practice are not themselves evidence based.