Bridging the Gap between Research and Action

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.

Playing for Keeps

Toronto and surrounding communities will be hosting the Pan/Parapan American Games in 2015.  While these events aren’t the same scale as the Olympics/Paralympics, they are none the less an opportunity for the GTA to host a significant sporting event with 41 nations participating in 37 sports.  But once all the events have happened and the medals have been handed out, some are already wondering what will be the point of the millions of dollars spent by all three levels of government and countless sponsors and NGOs.  Sure there will be the couple weeks of the events when Toronto and the rest of the GTA will be in the sporting news spotlight.  And yes, we’ll have the new sports facilities and the long awaited redevelopment of Toronto’s waterfront.  But the question on the mind of one new coalition of NGOs and government departments is, what is in it for the people of Ontario – how will their lives be made better because of the Pan/Parapan American Games?  This coalition calls themselves Playing for Keeps and their goal is to make sure that communities in Ontario benefit from hosting the Games both during, but more importantly in the long-term.
Playing for Keeps promises to create a legacy of healthier, more active and stronger communities and a deepened sense of belonging through a collaborative, innovative and strategic approach.  It is organized by The Toronto Community Foundation, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, University of Toronto – Faculty of Physical Education and Health, Ontario Trillium Foundation, Get Active Toronto and many other organizations to build social capital legacies by leveraging the 2012 Ontario Summer Games and the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games.  I attended one of their three design workshops last week that kick started the process of determining how to leverage the Games and to start getting organizations to commit to enhancing social networks and develop social capital before, during and after the games.

The Pan/Parapan Am Games already focuses on improving the health through lifestyle choices.  The focus of Playing for Keeps is on social capital rather than lifestyle.  They define social capital as the social networks and connections of diverse individuals and groups with shared values and assets.  And it includes the socioeconomic, cultural and environmental factors that are often just as important, if not more, for health (also known as the social determinants of health).  The initial activity of the design workshop was to develop principles around aspects of social capital, including belonging, diversity, values and norms, citizen power, networks, trust and safety, reciprocity, and participation.  These are all things that are valuable to communities but difficult to measure and complex to address.

Playing for Keeps is ambitious and aspiring to tackle some really wicked issues in our society.  I hope that they make positive change by harnessing the potential of the Pan/Parapan American Games.  As someone who has never lived in a city leading up to or during a major international sporting event of this scale, I am hopeful.  But maybe those in Vancouver have a different perspective.   How did it work in Vancouver for the Olympics/Paralympics?  Was there a similar coalition?  If so, what has happened now that the Games are over?  If not, do you think one would have made a difference?  I look forward to learning more and observing how large sporting events can be leveraged for healthy people and healthy communities.