Hacking the Knowledge Gap in Health Research

It takes approximately 17 years for research evidence to be fully adopted by practitioners and the publicFootnote 1. This gap between research and practice means the public may not benefit from health research until nearly a generation after discoveries are made.

The field of knowledge translation and exchange (KTE) exists to shorten the time between the development of new knowledge and its ‘translation’ into everyday practice. Research suggests that accounting for sex and gender in KTE strategies may strengthen interventions, improve health outcomes and reduce gender inequities Footnote 2.

Moving Research into Action

IGH is interested in how to speed up and improve the process of translating research evidence into practice. We consulted researchers, KTE professionals, knowledge users and funders about the greatest barriers to closing the ‘knowledge-to-action gap’. Here is some of what we heard:

  • Researchers often don’t have the time or skills to do effective KTE.
  • There are others who have the skills and expertise to do this work (eg. KTE, marketing, communications, design professionals); so why should researchers be forced to be jacks-of-all-trades?
  • Even if researchers had contacts within these professions (though they often don’t), KT grants and awards are usually quite small so they can’t afford to hire them.

Hacking the Knowledge Gap Series

To address these barriers, IGH has developed the Hacking the Knowledge Gap Series.

Through a series of themed events called Design Jams, we bring together researchers and individuals with different and complementary knowledge, expertise and lived experiences to develop innovative and effective KTE solutions.

Hacking the Knowledge Gap is made possible through partnerships with Hacking Health, a Canadian not-for-profit focused on accelerating innovation in the health-care sector, and Cossette Health, the health arm of one of Canada’s top marketing and communications agencies.

  • Cossette Health helps us connect researchers with marketing, communications and design professionals who have the skills and expertise to achieve transformative KTE results.
  • Hacking Health helps make the most of these collaborations by facilitating a two-day ‘design jam’ event, which leads researchers and other participants through the process of design thinking methodology to spark the development of innovative KTE solutions.


  1. Support the use of design thinking as a novel approach to KTE.
  2. Build capacity among health researchers to develop and implement effective KTE initiatives.
  3. Create opportunities for interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and engagement between members of the research community, individuals with lived experience and experts from a variety of disciplines.
  4. Promote the appropriate integration of sex and gender in KTE.

The Process

While each Hacking the Knowledge Gap Design Jam is unique, all follow the same general process:

  1. IGH and partners identify an area where there is a sex- and/or gender-related gap between research evidence and practice or knowledge. A request for applications is launched.
  2. Trainees apply with problem statements that identify a specific gap, which could benefit from being addressed at a design jam.
  3. Successful applicants are funded to attend a design jam.
  4. IGH and partners work to identify and invite individuals with a range of complementary expertise (e.g. marketers, senior researchers, KTE experts, designers, individuals with lived experience) and form teams based on the most appropriate mix of skills and expertise for a given gap area.
  5. At the event, teams are led through the process of design thinking methodology to develop KTE solutions.
  6. Teams pitch their solutions to a panel of judges who ask questions and provide feedback. If there are prizes, the judges select winners.
  7. Over the following year, grantees continue work on the collaborative projects developed during the event.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Design Jam?

A typical KTE Design Jam runs for 1-3 days. Participants can come from a wide variety of backgrounds, (e.g. health research, clinical practice, knowledge translation, marketing, communications, design, web development) to work with knowledge users and individuals with lived experience to create KTE solutions. With the help of skilled facilitators, teams are guided through design thinking methodology to develop their solutions.

What is Hacking?

Hacking is about creative problem solving. To hack means to modify an existing solution in a skillful or clever way either to improve it or to serve a new need.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking can be defined as “a methodology for innovation that combines creative and analytical approaches and requires collaboration across disciplines.” (Stanford d.school).

The design thinking methodology is not strictly defined; rather, it is intentionally adaptable to different situations and contexts. Design thinking methodology generally includes the following phases:

  1. Empathize: Consider the individuals who have experience with the health challenge under consideration.
  2. Define: Narrow down and focus on the specific problem.
  3. Ideate: Brainstorm, consider and develop ideas in rapid sessions.
  4. Prototype: Develop models of potential solutions.
  5. Test: Use feedback on prototypes from experts and end users to refine and develop solutions.

What is knowledge translation and exchange (KTE)?

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research define knowledge translation 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.

What is a knowledge-to-action gap?

A knowledge-to-action gap is an area in which research knowledge exists but has not yet adequately filtered into health policy, public awareness, clinical practice or individual behaviour to improve health outcomes.

Important: Knowledge-to-action gaps are not areas where more research is needed, but rather gaps between what is known in the scientific literature (knowledge) and what clinicians, patients and governments currently do in practice (action).

What is a KTE solution?

A KTE solution is an intervention, service or product that aims to get research evidence into the hands of those who will use it to improve health research, services, policies and systems. Examples of KTE solutions include:

  • Public awareness campaigns
  • Clinical awareness initiatives
  • Research-informed guidelines
  • E-health apps

What is a problem statement?

A problem statement is a plain language document that presents and explains an identified knowledge-to-action gap. It contains the following components:

  • The Knowledge-to-Action Gap: Briefly identify a significant gap between research evidence (knowledge) and current practice or awareness (action) in one of the identified research areas. Support and substantiate the existence of this gap through a review of the literature.
  • Importance and Potential for Impact: Describe the significance of this gap to health outcomes for individuals and the potential for improved health outcomes if this gap were to be successfully addressed. Explain how your identified gap would benefit from being included in the event. Identify any potential risks of work (e.g. reinforcing stigmas or negative stereotypes) and how these consequences might be mitigated.
  • Lessons Learned: Identify previous efforts to close the gap and where they fell short (if applicable).
  • The Challenge: Identify 3-5 key barriers to closing the knowledge-to-action gap you have identified.
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