Research Impact, the Long Way Round / L’impact de la recherche : patience et longueur de temps…

Lesley Kelly, Centre for research on Families and Relationships

Lesley Kelly works as a knowledge broker for GUS (Growing up in Scotland study) a longitudinal research study tracking the lives of thousands of Scottish children and their families from birth through to the teenage years and beyond. She is part of the KE team at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (

Lesley Kelly est courtière de connaissances pour le GUS (Growing up in Scotland Study), une recherche longitudinale qui récolte des données sur la vie de milliers d’enfants écossais et de leurs familles, de la naissance à l’adolescence et au-delà. Mme Kelly est membre de l’équipe d’échange de connaissances du Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (

Lesley Kelly

Lesley Kelly

No matter how hard we try to engage directly with stakeholders, sometimes research impact can happen in a more unplanned, circuitous way.

As part of my role in engaging a wide range of stakeholders with the Growing up in Scotland study, I recently sent out an electronic newsletter to our 1,500 research network members.   As usual, our newsletter featured links to new publications, including journal articles published using data from the study. In this case it included an article about ‘Early parental physical punishment and emotional and behavioural outcomes in pre-school children’. The article had been written over 3 years ago by a Public Health professional as part of a Postgraduate course of study but was only recently published on-line in the journal Child: care, health and development.

A freelance journalist who received the newsletter picked up on the article, particularly the finding that children living in Scotland whose parents had used smacking as discipline technique during their first 2 years were at increased risk of emotional and behavioural problems by age 4 years. The author uses the findings to argue for a change in the law to ban physical punishment of children and for more resources to promote positive disciplinary techniques amongst parents.

This set off a whole chain of awareness raising, debate and publicity.

The journalist wrote a short article for the Scottish newspaper The Herald ( and contacted one of Scotland’s leading children’s sector charities, who responded by releasing a statement in support of a ban on the use of physical punishment. This is an issue on which many NGOs have been campaigning for years  from a human rights based perspective, so were delighted to find new research providing further support for their argument.

Subsequently, ‘Should smacking be made illegal?’ was the subject of a debate on a high-profile programme on BBC Radio Scotland, featuring detailed input from one of the Directors of the children’s charity and many listeners who called in to express their views. While the research itself was given only a brief mention by the radio presenter it might be argued that sharing the research findings helped to raise the profile of the campaign to ban the physical punishment of children in Scotland.

So, the children’s charity, thousands of readers of The Herald and listeners to Radio Scotland were engaged in the issues of whether physical punishment of children should be banned. That group includes parents and carers, practitioners and policy-makers. In the world of Knowledge Exchange, we have to accept that no matter how hard we plan, there is always room for serendipity. Impact can happen by accident and is no less valuable than planned exchange.

Lesley Kelly
Dissemination Officer (Growing Up in Scotland study)
Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh

This is a simultaneous blog for CRFR and Mobilize This!

Using Research to Influence Family Services and Policies

The following was first published on Centre for Research on Families and Relationships’ (CRFR) blog and is reposted here with permission.
CRFR co-director Sarah Morton and colleagues Sandra Nutley (Director of the Research Unit for Research Utilisation, and David Phipps (Director of Research Servics & Knowledge Exchange at York University, Canada) offer seven lessons, and associated challenges, to improve how research is used in policy and practice in a recent article in the new journal Families Societies and Relationships.
  1. Set realistic ambitions and expectations: Research is one form of knowledge that policy makers and practitioners will be using, but it is rare for research to have the definitive word.
  2. Improve research strategies to ensure they address relevant issues and expand our knowledge base rather than unwittingly replicate existing studies. Reviewing research and evaluation processes helps to ensure that research responds to relevant issues and address the main knowledge gaps.
  3. Shape – as well as respond to – policy and practice debates: Take up opportunities to influence policy and practice debates when they appear, – rather than waiting for opportunities to open up, work with advocacy organisations to raise issues of concern and get debates going.
  4. Create dialogue around research by pulling together different perspectives: Research on its own does not create change, but it can influence it. Encourage dialogues between people that recognises research needs to interact with practice experience and tacit knowledge.
  5. Recognise the role of dedicated knowledge broker organisations and networks: There are increasing numbers of knowledge broker organisations and networks who can help to facilitate the creation, sharing and application of research-based knowledge.
  6. Target multiple audiences to increase the reach and impact of your message: Disseminate research findings into wider political and public debate, alongside more targeted approaches. This might be targeting influential people, participating in media debates, speaking at policy and practice conferences and seminars or responding to consultation processes.
  7. Evaluate, learn, improve: Knowledge exchange is still an immature discipline; only through improved evaluation and learning will our understanding of effective strategies develop over time.
Don’t forget that challenges remain:

How to Assess the Impact of Your Research / Comment mesurer l’impact de votre recherche

Michael Johnny, RIR-York

Impact has become a significant component of the research cycle but how does one actually do this?  Dr. Sarah Morton from the University of Edinburgh offers a one-day workshop with methodologies to assess the impact of your research.

L’impact est devenu un aspect très important du cycle de la recherche, mais comment doit-on procéder pour le mesurer? La professeure Sarah Morton de l’Université d’Édimbourg offre un atelier d’une journée au cours duquel sont présentées des méthodologies permettant de mesurer l’impact de vos recherches.

David Phipps of York University (@researchimpact) has recently written about Knowledge Hypocrites.  Well, I for one am taking action (sort of).  I wouldn’t exactly call myself a bookworm, but I am taking opportunity to learn from other professionals to help inform my practice.  Perhaps not a direct solution to David’s point, but I am happy about opportunities to learn from leaders in KMb from Canada and internationally.

A recent post shared my experience attending a workshop from Peter Levesque of Knowledge Mobilization Works.  The following week I attended a day-long session led by Sarah Morton (recently Dr. Sarah Morton) of the University of Edinburgh, Co-Director Communication and Knowledge Exchange within the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships.  The topic of Sarah’s workshop was how to assess the impact of your research.

I was one of 12 present and felt I was in a unique position, whereas I am not directly involved in or leading a research project, but play a brokering role in developing research projects.  For the purposes of the workshop I used York University’s partnership with the United Way of York Region as an example (we are piloting a community knowledge broker role).  For me, in my experience, impact is misunderstood with outcomes, or even outputs.  So it was refreshing (and validating) for me to hear Sarah speak about a process of inputs, activities, uptake, use and impact.

The significant takeaway for me was a mapping exercise which will help me working with university researchers in developing knowledge mobilization plans.  In Sarah’s research and experience, embarking on a process of examining potential assumptions and risks around the process listed above can actually help determine potential indicators around impact.  Unlocking a procedure to support this process will help me in my brokering work.  The fact that I can employ the tools and not have to read Sarah’s dissertation makes my life somewhat easier.  Can I declare myself hypocrisy-free?  No, not yet, but I do prefer this active process of knowledge exchange.  My thanks to Sarah for sharing her research and methodologies to further unpack the notion of impact in research.

Walking amongst Canada’s knowledge mobilizers: lessons and comparisons from a visit to York University Toronto

The following blog story was first published on the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) on January 12, 2012. It is reposted here with permission.

Sarah Morton Co-Director (Knowledge Exchange) reflects on a recent visit to Canada

I was fortunate enough for the ESRC to fund me for a visit to York University, Toronto Canada as part of my PhD studentship looking at how we assess the impact of research. The visit also chimed with my role as Co-Director (Knowledge Exchange) at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. This blog reflects on some of by observations about the ways we do KE or KMb on opposite sides of the pond.

David Phipps, Director, Research Services & Knowledge Exchange at York was a wonderful host, who set up many meetings and exchanges with like-minded individuals and made me feel very welcome.

So the language is immediately different. No-one in my networks in the UK uses the term Knowledge Mobilization – and the ‘z’ makes it appear very North American to us. I also enjoyed the term ‘transition into lunch’ used at a conference! But overall there was more to unite than divide the respective communities in Scotland (UK) and Toronto. CRFR’s model of doing KE was still an exemplar, and there was lots of interest in my work on increasing and assessing research impact.

Day one I gave a presentation at the Ontario KMb community of practice – a wonderful way to make connections and set up further meetings. What interested me about the CoP was that it was a real mix of university-based and public/community based KEpractitioners (in health, housing, schools), who all talked the same language around knowledge use. The CoP is large – over 100 members, so 40 can turn up to a meeting at any time, and a fairly high level, knowledgeable discussion of KE issues is possible in that forum. I struggle to think of an equivalent here, although we hope to set up a new KE network from CRFR in the Spring.

David Phipps’ Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York is part of theKE and Commercialisation department, but with a specific decision to make the KMb in social sciences distinctive, especially in terms of engagement with the local community. There are two main members of staff in the unit: Michael Johnny, and Krista Jensen, assisted by project staff, and graduate students at different times.What I found distinctive about their approach compared to my experience in the UK was:

  • A university-wide approach to Knowledge Mobilization
  • Having a help desk at events where community members can ask for assistance from the university – I can’t imagine some universities here offering such a service!
  • Running plain language training and then producing briefings of peer-reviewed research across the university
  • KM in the AM – breakfast community meetings
  • Annual KMb Expo – where community groups engage with the unit
  • Extensive use of social media: blog and twitter @researchimpact (although some groups in the UK are catching up with this and it has inspired me to do more @crfrtweets)

David and I met with some civil servants in the Ontario Provincial Government from across departments to have a fairly informal chat about KMb and government. They have an emerging KMbnetwork within government with some dedicated resources, not unlike the KE unit within the Scottish Government. Many of the issues of trying to work across departments, timing and accessibility of research, and how to show the importance of research in creating impact resonated with concerns in Scotland and the UK.

Other meetings with students in Ben Levin’s department in OISE, with the Children’s Welfare Organisations and with other KEprofessionals in local authority, water board (!) and women’s health added to a very rich and rewarding visit. I even had dinner with my colleague from Edinburgh Sandra Nutley – a rare opportunity to catch up outwith work!

David and I have continued our collaboration, with David giving a keynote presentation at our 10th anniversary National Conference ‘Influencing Society: the impact of social research’; us presenting some joint work on the role of knowledge brokers at the London Conference ‘Bridging the Gap between research, policy and practice’ in December 2011, and working on a joint paper on the same topic. I hope to return to Toronto in 2012, to present my work on assessing research impact and continue this fruitful collaboration.

Sarah Morton

Sandra Nutley – In Her Own Words / Sandra Nutley – dans ses propres mots

David Phipps, RIR-York 

Sandra Nutley has written and will continue to write seminal works on research use. Read her articles and her books but also attend a presentation she makes because it is there that she distills her many words into just a few.  And she makes them all count.

Sandra Nutley a écrit et continue d’écrire des travaux de référence sur l’utilisation de la recherche. Ne manquez pas de lire ses articles et ses livres, mais surtout, ne perdez pas l’occasion d’assister à ses présentations. C’est à ces occasions qu’elle synthétise sa pensée complexe en quelques mots, chacun d’un vaut son pesant d’or.

I have had the pleasure of hearing Sandra Nutley speak on numerous occasions in the UK and in Canada. I have read nine of her papers, working papers and even a forthcoming book chapter.  Of course, I have read her book, Using Evidence that she wrote in 2007 with Huw Davies and Isobel Davies. In fact I have purchased over 30 copies of her book since it has been published using them in workshops and meetings.

Her writing is on the must read list for all knowledge brokers. Even though her writing is fairly accessible, Sandra writes for academics not for practitioners because Sandra is an academic. That’s where going to hear her speak is a wonderful complement to reading her scholarship. Most recently I shared the stage with Sandra at the 10th Anniversary conference of the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh. Sandra presented straight forward advice that was accessible to scholars, practitioners and partners from the policy and community sectors. She presented seven lessons for those seeking to enhance the use of academic research by decision makers. Thank you to Sandra for permission to reprint these which we reproduce with reflections on our knowledge mobilization practice at RIR-York.

Nutley’s Lesson RIR-York Reflections
Set realistic ambitions and expectations about research use York’s KMb Unit promises to use best efforts to connect researchers to decision maker partners. We do not promise to deliver the best evidence to inform decisions.  That is up to the collaboration.
Improve supply of relevant, accessible and credible evidence, but don’t stop there York translates academic articles into ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries and publishes these in an on line searchable database. These serve as a starting point for knowledge brokering, they are not an end in themselves.
Shape as well as respond to the demand for evidence in policy and practice settings (consider working with advocacy organizations) We work closely with the United Way of York Region to build community capacity for engaging in research and create a culture of collaboration between the university and community partners.
Develop multifaceted knowledge exchange strategies, more than just packaging and knowledge translation (players and processes are more important than the products) As above, ResearchSnapshots are only the starting point for knowledge brokering. York’s KMb Unit then uses user pull (research translation help desk, Lunch & Learn), knowledge exchange (KM in AM, Research Forums) and co-production (interns, social media) methods to support the co-production of knowledge by researchers and their decision maker partners.
Recognize the role of dedicated knowledge broker organizations and networks Together with York, our RIR partners (Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, Université du Québec à Montréal, U. Guelph, U. Saskatchewan, U. Victoria) have invested in an institutional capacity for KMb services.
Target multiple voices to increase opportunities for evidence to be part of the policy discourse York’s KMb practice routinely engages the community sector, Regional and municipal agencies, provincial ministries and the hospital sector in conversations with university researchers and students. We are considering how best to include colleges and the private sector in the conversations.
Evaluate knowledge exchange strategies to improve research use and learn from this We did a formal evaluation of the KMb Unit in 2009/2010. We posted the formal evaluation and our response on Mobilize This! and we published a peer reviewed journal article. Our KMb practice is participatory and self reflective, embedding learning as we go.

Sandra summarized her research knowledge in straight forward practice relevant advice presented in clear, concise language (well, “policy discourse” might not be clear language). Thank you Sandra for practicing what you preach and for helping us reflect on our own knowledge brokering practice.