CE Handbook - Chapter 7: Knowledge Dissemination and Public Outreach (Focus Area 4)

[ Table of Contents ]

Dissemination of knowledge, which is a component of knowledge translation, focuses on communicating research results by tailoring the findings and the message to a particular target audience.Footnote 33 This chapter describes the resources available to guide staff and researchers in how and when to involve citizens and communities in the design of knowledge dissemination plans and in public outreach activities. The first case study included in this chapter focuses on collaborative and innovative approaches for engaging knowledge users (in this case, community members) in knowledge dissemination.

Public outreach efforts are designed to provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problems, alternatives, and/or solutions in a given situation. Often they are designed to reach a wide audience in order to provide information about something and/or to acquaint the public with a fact. The Public Affairs unit in CIHR's Communications & Marketing Branch has developed a variety of tools to reach the media, parliamentarians, youth, and the general public, such as media workshops, Café Scientifiques,Footnote 34 and the Synapse program. The objectives for these activities include communicating the benefits of health research to Canadians and letting them know about CIHR and what we do. The spectrum of citizen engagement (CE) activities found in Table 2 of the CE Framework demonstrates many examples of collaborations between Institutes and Branches to educate the public about specific research topics and also to raise Canadians' level of science literacy. While there are not many relevant examples of engaging citizens in the design of public outreach efforts currently available, the second case study included in this chapter is about the Synapse program, which provides an innovative model for both public outreach and engaging knowledge-users in the planning phase of program development.

7.1 Knowledge Dissemination

At CIHR, knowledge translation (KT) 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; these interactions 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. In this context, "knowledge dissemination" involves identifying the appropriate audience (for research results, implications, etc.) and tailoring the message and medium to that audience.

Generally speaking, knowledge dissemination is associated with End of Grant KT,Footnote 35 which will typically involve conference presentations from researchers, or publication in academic journals. End of Grant KT and Integrated KT (discussed in Chapter 6) can both involve more intensive knowledge dissemination, however, and may use activities such as stakeholder briefings; educational sessions with patients, practitioners and/or policy makers; engaging knowledge users in developing and executing a dissemination/implementation plan; the creation of tools; and media engagement.Footnote 36

When it comes to knowledge dissemination, the following is a list of key points to keep in mind:

  • Dissemination activities should be considered and outlined in a dissemination plan that focuses on the needs of the audience that will use the knowledge (and considers how and when knowledge users want to receive the information). Where available, the design of dissemination processes and approaches should be informed by high-quality evidence that considers the contextual or locally applicable factors that are critical to successful knowledge translation;
  • Researchers [and CIHR staff] should engage knowledge users to craft messages and help disseminate research findings;
  • Messages should be clear, simple, action-oriented, and tailored for each audience (i.e., community members vs. policy makers, etc.);
  • Messengers or message sources should be individuals or organizations that are influential and credible with each target audience; and
  • A dissemination plan/strategy should include a plan to evaluate the impact of the chosen approach and ways to measure success.Footnote 37

When you begin to develop a dissemination plan, ask yourself the following key questions (based on the work of Reardon, Lavis, and Gibson):

  1. What is the message?
  2. Who is the audience?
  3. Who is the messenger?
  4. What is the [knowledge] transfer method?
  5. What is the expected outcome?Footnote 38

The following case study, featuring the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project, illustrates how these considerations took shape in a partnership between researchers and the Mohawk community of Kahnawake.

Case Study 4: Dissemination for Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project

Case Study #4

What: The Kahnawake School Diabetes Prevention Project

Why: This community-based participatory research project was designed to promote healthier lifestyles within the Kahnawake population. Community input was needed in order to ensure that the messages about health promotion and the research results were easily understood and would be used by the community.

Who: The Mohawk community of Kahnawake (mostly through a Community Advisory Board)

How: The Community Advisory Board members were full partners to the researchers. They helped craft the messages for the rest of the community, and participated in developing and delivering presentations about the research results.

The Kahnawake School Diabetes Prevention Project (KSDPP) started in 1994 as a partnership between the Mohawk community of Kahnawake (population of approximately 7,500 people), who were represented by a community advisory board, and researchers. Its goal is to improve healthy lifestyles to reduce the high rates of type 2 diabetes found in the community. In 2002, follow-up data on children in grades 1-6 showed early improved nutrition and stable physical activity levels, but increased weights. These results were first jointly interpreted by the community advisory board and researchers, and were then shared with the rest of the community.

To share the information with the community members, a team of six people (including advisory board members, local nutritionists, and researchers) crafted a 20-minute presentation in lay language. The presentation itself included the known risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, the rationale for improving lifestyles, and the eight-year KSDPP results. The same presentation was given by two to three people (advisory board members and researchers) to 14 organizations and at two open community meetings. Notes were taken on the wide-ranging discussions that followed each presentation, and attendees completed a short questionnaire about their satisfaction with the presentation. Recommendations for future KSDPP interventions were also solicited.Footnote 39

This joint effort to disseminate the results of the KSDPP provided the team with important lessons. These lessons include:

  • It takes time to build consensus. As consensus building is an important factor within the culture of the Haudenosaunee/Iroquois and Mohawk culture, it took longer than anticipated to develop and make the presentations because the team members needed to bring a broad range of perspectives together (researchers, nutritionists, community members). Because it is incredibly important (and rewarding) to bring diverse perspectives together, extra time should be included in the plans to allow for ample discussion, debate, and decisions.
  • It can be difficult to reach an entire community. In the case of the KSDPP, as in many other projects, there was a difficulty in reaching men. To ensure that they reached them, the team members went to the main work places (construction sites, etc.) to conduct blood pressure and blood sugar checks, and to chat about healthy lifestyle choices. The team also went to the most popular coffee shops to meet the men on their own turf (at 5:00 am) before they went to work. It is important for any research team to work with the schedules respecting priorities of their target community members.
  • Test communication materials first. The presentations were tested with community members (those on the Community Advisory Board) to ensure that the messages were clear. The team also noted the importance of joint advisory board-researcher presentations; the use of community and community cultural knowledge was important to the team from the beginning, and co-presenting the material was an excellent way to incorporate a community perspective and to attract an audience.
  • Partnership is key. The research team also noted the importance of having respected community members as partners in the project: having the right people at the table makes a difference in how much an audience can be influenced by the research results (i.e., partnership builds credibility).

It was important to community members that the results of this research were to be used as a positive benefit to the community at large. After all of the presentations were completed, the community feedback was used to improve the team's approach for subsequent interventions and to finalize the interpretation of the results before the researchers submitted a scientific paper for publication and another of their experiences of sharing results with the community (Macaulay). Please visit the KSDPP web site for more information.

For more information about knowledge dissemination, CIHR staff members are encouraged to read the Knowledge Translation Learning Modules, which were posted on the CIHR website in April 2009. In particular, the Guide to Researcher and Knowledge-User Collaboration in Health Research module provides an excellent overview of knowledge dissemination and "knowledge to action" techniques.

7.2 Public Outreach

CIHR has initiated a number of public outreach efforts to communicate the benefits of health research to Canadians and ultimately improve their health. The Communications & Marketing Branch, in particular, has developed a wide variety of tools to enhance CIHR's ability to reach Canadians. For example, the Café Scientifique program brings researchers together with a variety of citizens, including representatives of the voluntary health sector, the media, parliamentarians, youth, and the general public. At these events, citizens are able to ask questions and hear about the latest scientific research on a chosen topic. In addition, the Communications & Marketing Branch uses the media to reach the general public: Cafés Scientifiques and media workshops are used to portray CIHR as a useful and reliable source for story ideas and health commentary. These stories, in turn, may increase the scientific literacy of Canadians; they provide citizens with an introduction to CIHR and to how health research works.

The CE Framework also highlights several public and educational outreach activities developed by the Institutes. These activities have included public lectures on emerging research and collaborations to develop museum exhibits (for example, the Food for Health travelling exhibits with the Canadian Agriculture Museum). Several Institutes have also developed ongoing collaborative processes to engage the voluntary health sector in the design of outreach efforts, as voluntary health organizations play a key role in helping CIHR communicate research results in ways that are meaningful to the public. For example, the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction has established a "Working Group on Partnerships and Voluntary Health Sector" through its Institute Advisory Board. Partnering with non-governmental and voluntary health organizations is a priority for this Institute to augment its efforts aimed at increased advocacy, information dissemination, knowledge translation, training, leveraged funding, and community support.

The case study below describes the creation of the Synapse — Youth Connection Program. To establish this program, CIHR relied heavily on the expertise and advice of representatives from the youth science and engagement sector. Their input helped design a program that has, to date, reached over 100,000 Canadian youth.

Case Study 5: An Overview CIHR's Synapse — Youth Connection Program

Case Study #5

What: CIHR's Synapse — Youth Connection Program

Why: The youth science and engagement sector was already well established by the time CIHR arrived on the scene, so the organization needed to invest in the experience, expertise, and advice of established youth science and engagement practitioners.

Who: A wide variety of non-profit youth and science engagement organizations and experts.

How: An advisory board was struck to oversee the development of the program, and its members spanned the different parts of the youth science and engagement sector.

Synapse — CIHR Youth Connection is a mentorship program that creates opportunities for researchers to educate Canadian youth about science. Synapse encourages CIHR-funded researchers, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows to become mentors by passing on their passion for health research to young Canadians who can become their trainees. Using the Common CV Network, which allows scientists and graduate students to create curricula vitae for submission with funding applications, CIHR established a national Synapse Mentor Database option. Since its inception in October 2006, the unique database now lists over 5,500 CIHR-funded researchers who want to become mentors and train youth in various fields of science.

Developing this incredibly successful program was no simple task. CIHR conducted a thorough environmental scan and met with leading non-profit organizations in the area of youth science and engagement (including Actual and Let's Talk Science) to brainstorm about what type of role CIHR could take in youth outreach. The Canadian youth science outreach "sector" was already well established by the time CIHR arrived on the scene, and the intention was never to compete with other organizations; instead, CIHR wanted to complement the programs that already existed. The key to the success of this program, really, was that CIHR had to accept the expertise of other organizations and use their feedback to find its own niche in the youth engagement field.

An advisory board was created to oversee the development of the program. The members of the board included three CIHR staff members, along with the head of a Youth Outreach Unit at another health organization, the CBC host of Quarks and Quirks, a science counselor from a school board in Nova Scotia, the editor of YES Mag and KNOW (science magazines for youth), and two young grad students who launched "CRAM Science" (a website designed to let youth explore science, now CurioCity). Overall, the board included an appropriate cross-section of people from different parts of the youth science outreach sector. To find these board members, CIHR used its own connections (some staff members were already familiar with the work of several board members), but also went back to the organizations that had participated in the environmental scan to seek their recommendations for appropriate board members. Everyone gladly accepted the invitation to become volunteer advisory board members.

CIHR really listened to its youth outreach advisory board. When the non-profit organizations highlighted how helpful CIHR could be in finding researchers to support their activities, the "match-making" idea was born. It was decided that, through the Common CV tool, CIHR would become the "middle man" to unite interested researchers with youth engagement organizations — and with youth themselves. Synapse mentors can now inspire students in a number of ways, including one-on-one lab training and experience, virtual connections, in-school seminars, and science fairs. Synapse, in collaboration with the non-profit organizations, helps these mentors create the next generation of Canadian health researchers through the use of accessible scientific information and hands-on training experience.

CIHR still engages the non-profit organizations as partners in a number of ways. In order to help Synapse mentors develop efficient strategies for engaging youth in health research activities, CIHR, in collaboration with Let's Talk Science, offer Science with Impact workshops at various universities across Canada. In April 2009, CIHR sent out a request for applications that would establish partnerships with national and provincial organizations that want to build capacity in health research and youth outreach. Grants will be provided to successful applicants (organizations); each applicant must show how they can build on this capacity, engage Synapse mentors, distribute CIHR Synapse promotional materials, and offer training for under-represented Canadian students.

CIHR also continues to engage the youth engagement advisory board members (although some of the original members have moved on) to conduct a merit review of applications for CIHR's Synapse Mentorship awards. For three consecutive years, CIHR has launched the Synapse Mentorship Awards, which recognize the efforts of outstanding science and health research mentors in three categories: a) graduate students/post-doctoral fellows, b) established individual researchers, and c) research group. Those who receive the awards have respectively acted as exceptional scientific mentors for Canadian youth — and may have motivated the next generation to consider careers in science.

The Synapse — Youth Connection Program has enjoyed tremendous success, and has even been cited in the Government of Canada's S&T strategy as a model for getting young Canadians excited about science and technology. The success of this program, in large part, has been due to the strong partnerships CIHR developed with the non-profit organizations. These relationships have been based on trust, respect, and a mutual desire to work together to build Canadian youths' interest in science.

7.3 Conclusion

CIHR has developed many opportunities to engage the voluntary health sector among others in knowledge dissemination and public outreach efforts. As CIHR develops more experience in the design of knowledge translation efforts and citizen engagement, more innovative approaches to exchange and disseminate knowledge will evolve to increase the focus on engaging individual citizens—interested members of the public, patient group representatives, or caregivers—in the design of these efforts. Institutes and Branches will have increasing mechanisms to collaborate with "already-engaged citizens" as the Partnerships and Citizen Engagement (PCE) Branch develops opportunities to contact CIHR through the website, through Institute newsletters, and possibly via the increasing list of participants subscribing to the Café Scientifiques (who complete our evaluation forms or join the Facebook group).

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