Where does research begin and end, or where should it?

For some time now, I have been pondering the notion of how we need to consider changing where research begins and ends. Traditionally research starts with writing a grant and usually finishes with publishing a paper – it’s funny, I have never thought about the way we currently bookend our research with a bunch of writing to justify ourselves! But, with all the discussion around translation and research impact the goal posts are moving. Knowledge translation is the underpinning process that gives us a pathway to research impact, with impact being the ultimate thing we are trying to create and if you ask funders….measure!

Is translation an add on to the research process or should it be embedded? The answer is yes, no and maybe!

Simply put, if we are to create impact, then we must do research that is relevant, meets a user’s needs and is delivered in a way that is appropriate to those needs and understanding. There are exceptions to this rule – cue happy sigh of the basic scientists. Indeed, in some cases, the use or user may not be known until the end of the process. However, KT still applies, only it will look a little different. You may recall the differences in integrated and end-of-grant KT as shown below.

Integrated KT

Involves collaboration between researchers and knowledge users at every stage of the research process – from shaping the research question, to interpreting the results, to disseminating the research findings into practice. This co-production of research increases the likelihood that the results of a project will be relevant to end-users, thereby improving the possibility of uptake and application

End-of-grant KT

The dissemination of findings generated from research once a project is completed, depending on the extent to which there are mature findings appropriate for dissemination. Researchers who undertake traditional dissemination activities such as publishing in peer-reviewed journals and presenting their research at conferences and workshops are engaging in end-of-grant knowledge translation.

http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/45321.html#a3

Relationships, interactions and dialogue between multidisciplinary research groups and stakeholder groups create buy-in are crucial for successful KT. These interactions increase the likely uptake of your knowledge in some form, be it to change behaviour, guide discussions, or for more tangible changes. The inclusion of a variety of stakeholders, from policymakers, planners and managers, private sector industries and consumer groups within different areas of health care and health policy, helps to shape questions and solutions while representing the interests of research user groups (Sudsawad). Additionally, the engagement between researchers and research user groups facilitates an understanding of each other environments that help the utilisation process (Mitton). This evidence points to the importance of early engagement and a more integrated process of translation, hence altering where the research process begins and ends.

Other types of research may not need consistent engagement, but I would argue that a well thought out KT plan would add significant value to any research endeavour, and this would be considered at the research development stage, hence the “maybe”. Additionally, we should be finding additional ways of sharing new knowledge from our research, be it sharing with an academic audience or a non-academic audience; this would require moving the finish line just a little.

I first started to ponder this question at the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Public Forum held in Melbourne. It was explicitly stated that the fund was to be used to fund research and not translation. However, I think that translation should be considered an integral part of the process of research,l and how we share that work with others. The MRFF has an opportunity to move the goal posts and change where research begins and ends with its funding process, particularly if it is to meet its strategic objectives, all of which are pointed heavily toward translation and impact.