By Lindsay Marcaccio

I met Selina Allu during my first month in my new role at the University of Calgary; she was introduced as a wizard at Knowledge Translation. Fast forward to a year later when I was struggling to connect with my audiences–I knew who to reach out to. Although Selina did not show up to our virtual interview with a wand and owl on her shoulder, it became very clear she was skilled, knowledgeable and passionate about her work. 

Honing our skills to use plain language and be able to distill key messages is ultimately about making information more accessible to a broad audience.

Why do we need knowledge translation (KT)?

Although KT is heavily rooted in health care, it is applicable in other areas such as law, education, human services and industry. “We do a really good job of producing robust science, but we don’t do a good job of making that science accessible to people outside academia,” says Selina. And it’s important to make research evidence accessible and in a format that is easily understood by those outside of the subject area in order to better inform policy and patient decision making. 

The components of Knowledge Translation 

In 2000, the Canadian Institute of Health Research coined the term Knowledge Translation and defined it as the “synthesis, dissemination, exchange and ethically sound application of knowledge to improve the health of Canadians, provide more effective health services and products to strengthen the health care system.” 

  • Synthesis – combining results from individual research studies and interpreting the results
  • Exchange – the transfer of knowledge between research producers and users
  • Application – the implementation of knowledge into practice, policy and/or action
  • Dissemination – the sharing of research findings 

Putting KT into practice  

Selina’s official title is Knowledge Translation Broker. She works with kidney disease researchers, patients and patient services, helping to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice. “Researchers rarely go out of their way to make their findings understandable to non-scientific audiences. Similarly, decision-makers do not typically turn to the research community when making decisions,” says Allu.

One of her responsibilities is to read through research papers and translate the key findings into plain language to invoke action from an audience. Selina emphasizes the importance of clearly understanding your audience and consider what they would want to know before reading a research paper. This will allow you to articulate the call-to-action accurately. 

When translating results into key messages in plain language, Allu advises:

  • Consider if the message is urgent or suggestive as this will determine the tone and language 
  • Use a conversational style and personal pronouns to make the message more personable and less technical
  • Use positive terminology over negative i.e., remember to vs. don’t forget 
  • Avoid jargon but don’t oversimplify things 
  • Be direct and write in short sentences or you will lose your audience
  • Stay true to the evidence
  • Consider the use of visual abstracts to reach your audience over social media 

When communicating complex science Allu recommends asking yourself if your message can answer these 3 KT principles:

  • Is it tailored for an audience/reader? 
  • Is your content accurate and evidence-based?
  • What actions are you hoping for? 

Knowledge Translation may have started in health care, but the ability to take complex bodies of content filled with jargon and distill it down to easily understood key messages to influence action is applicable to many fields/industries. We all benefit from plain language and clear communication.

Selina Allu is a Knowledge Translation Broker with a Master’s degree in Human/Health Geography. She has over 12 years of combined experience in knowledge translation, strategic communication, community engagement and outreach (provincial and national). Currently, she is responsible for developing and managing knowledge translation programs and activities for Can-SOLVE CKD (CIHR-SPOR), a national network of patients, researchers, health care providers and policy makers working to transform treatment and care for Canadians living with or at risk for chronic kidney disease.

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