Go to any academic journal and pull up a random scientific article. Can you understand it? Chances are you will probably not understand all of it. Even if you do understand all of it (yes, even including the statistical analysis section), do you understand how this relates to the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of other articles done on the same subject? And equally as important, do you have the time to sift through stacks of articles to make an informed decision on a program, policy or service you are considering implementing in either your private or professional life? Herein lies the value of knowledge translation. Knowledge translation is the process of taking research and translating it into something practitioners, professionals, policy-makers and the general public can understand and use.
While this type of undertaking doesn’t happen enough in Canada (e.g. with professionals being given the time and resources to review research and translate it into understandable language), a good example of structures being put in place to support such KT activity is the National Collaborating Centres (NCC) for Public Health. These Centres aim to translate academic evidence and develop resources that can be used by public health practitioners and policy-makers to address a number of public health topics, including infectious diseases, health inequities, environmental health, and healthy public policy.
Living up to their name, the Centres also collaborate with one another on a number of special projects, including a structural profile of public health systems and functions across Canada. A particularly interesting project that has recently commenced within the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health looks at how the social determinants of health and health equity can be integrated into population health status reporting, and in turn how such reports can result in effective health equity policies, and improved health equity in Canada.
While research and practice are equally as important and in many ways dependent on one another to fuel their respective activities, the importance of having systems in place that allow for critical and independent translation between the two is crucial to ensuring valid and reliable research is driving quality, evidence-based practice and policy.