Several organisations active in the field of sexual and reproductive health struggle with effectively translating research evidence into better policies and practices – a translation through which they aim to increase the sexual and reproductive health of persons and populations. One strategy to guide this translation of research evidence into action is the initiation of so called ‘knowledge translation platforms’ (KTP).
According to the World Health Organization, KTP promote and create an environment that supports both research use in policy making, and the consideration of policy needs in research design. A KTP can be a formal organisation, department, or network that focusses on bringing actors together, synthesising knowledge, and governing knowledge translation efforts. A KTP may, however, also be an informal network of interested actors that share an ambition to facilitate the use of research evidence. The common denominator among these initiatives is that they initiate several activities, such as conducting (research) priority setting exercises, the development of policy briefs, and the organisation of deliberative dialogues.
Evaluations show that the combination of deliberative dialogues and evidence briefs is highly regarded by policy makers and other stakeholders. These activities often result in intentions to act upon new information. While the intention to act could be considered a stepping stone for translation into action, it remains unclear how the mechanisms of deliberative dialogues and evidence briefs increase the likelihood of translation of the knowledge into policies and practices.
A second challenge that remains is that assessing or mapping the ‘use’ of evidence is cumbersome and prone to so-called ‘reductionist fallacies’. Use of research evidence is often conceptualised in terms of ‘impact’ measured through quantitative indicators or network analyses. Such assessments tend to assume that knowledge is a fixed product that can be implemented or disseminated, and thus disregard the work that is required to make knowledge usable and adapt information to local situations and circumstances.
A third challenge is the institutionalisation of KTP. In several countries, KTP are set up by a small group of ‘local champions’, likely to be supported by international organisations such as the World Health Organization and foreign development partners. While the support from international organisations and the international orientation of local champions may help to establish these KTP, the external orientation may lead to less attention for the efforts required to locally institutionalise these KT-platforms. In addition, the dependence of KTP to external funding makes them prone to shifts in budget or diversion to priorities of external actors.
In exploring the use of research evidence and role of KTP in sexual and reproductive health, three important questions remain:
- How to increase the likelihood of translation of evidence into action?
- How to assess ‘use’ of evidence and contribution to action?
- How to facilitate the institutionalisation of responsive KT platforms?
Within the Support-KT programme, our objective is to provide answers to these three questions and provide insights into the translation of evidence into action. The programme aims to deliver three concrete tools that will aid in answering the three questions stipulated above. First, the Support-KT programme will assess the use of deliberative dialogues in aligning evidence to local needs. We will enrich existing methods for deliberative dialogues by providing a perspective that helps to explicate how actors envision the use of evidence. Second, the project will update and trim the earlier developed method of ‘Contribution Mapping’. Contribution Mapping provides a specific method that shifts focus from mapping impact to mapping how, and in which ways, research contributes to policies and practices. The method could be more transferable than it is right now (i.e. its use currently requires understanding of a specific body of literature). In addition, Contribution Mapping could focus more on the role of local situations and contexts. The renewed method will aid in assessing the role and functioning of deliberative dialogues. Last, we will develop a so-called ‘platform scan’ to assess the construction, functioning, and institutionalisation of KTP.