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Introduction to...

Knowledge Exchange

This Guide outlines key developments within the field of knowledge exchange to influence policy and inform practice in primary health care.

What is knowledge exchange?

Knowledge Exchange is the dynamic process of making the best use of research evidence and knowledge to inform policy and practice. It is a collaborative, strategic way of doing research that values engagement from knowledge users from the outset to ensure research directions are informed. It aims to see research utilised to improve health care outcomes.

In Australia, Knowledge Exchange is increasingly used as an umbrella term to define a philosophy of knowledge sharing to make a difference to health care outcomes. Such knowledge sharing is based on the understanding that knowledge encompasses much more than just research findings.

What are other key concepts in knowledge exchange?

    • Knowledge Translation is the synthesis and ethically-sound application of knowledge to support improved health, services and products.
    • Implementation, or research utilisation, is focused on moving research findings into routine practice.
    • Dissemination and diffusion refer to the wide spreading of knowledge or research using strategies such as publications, media releases, conference presentations etc. It is important to craft effective, diverse communications to engage different knowledge users. (Graham et al, 2006)

The above definitions incorporate the key concepts in knowledge exchange. It should however be noted that, as in any emerging field, there are a multitude of, often overlapping, terms used globally to describe knowledge sharing activities. A concept paper prepared by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health uses the term K* as a short-hand descriptor of the range of terms from knowledge mobilisation to knowledge brokering. (Shaxson L, et al 2012) Rather than being lost in a sea of terminology, the important core message is the growing awareness of, and commitment to, the importance of utilising research to improve outcomes.

Why is knowledge exchange important?

Publication alone is rarely sufficient for research to make a difference in policy and practice. Although considerable resources are allocated to health services research, the ability of research findings alone to inform and influence policy and practice in health care can often be slow and haphazard.

At the practice level this means that patients may be denied enhanced treatments, given unnecessary or even harmful care. Similarly, policy development can be deprived of rigorous evidence to address increasingly complex challenges.

Working with research users from the outset helps to ensure the relevant questions are being investigated. Such a knowledge exchange approach also accelerates the uptake of research findings as knowledge users are more confident in the findings and consequently more likely to utilise them.

A Knowledge Exchange focus does have a cost. Increased time is needed to understand the knowledge users’ perspectives and incorporate them into developing research directions. The benefit however is gained in working with knowledge users as a part of a Community of Solutions and fostering a climate of accelerated uptake of research findings to improve health care outcomes.

Building knowledge exchange capacity

Researchers may not have been taught knowledge exchange techniques as part of their training. It is important to learn the skills to engage with research users to ensure research questions are relevant, that research findings are timely and communicated in a way that is clear and meaningful.

Similarly, research users may benefit from skills training to appraise research findings and understand the relevant research methodologies for their questions.

An important strategy is to build trusting, productive relationships and professional networks between researchers and research users. One key tactic is to attend relevant networking conferences (e.g. the annual Primary Health Care Research Conference run by PHCRIS) to meet people with an interest in your area. Another tactic is to further establish your profile by serving on committees, taskforces and working parties.

Knowledge Exchange… it’s not just black and white!

Developing a knowledge exchange outlook encourages researchers to cultivate an outward facing perspective, build professional relationships across all sectors, and work with end users to inform research directions. In 2014, the Knowledge Exchange Capacity Building Workshop for Higher Degree Students took place as a satellite event to the 2014 Primary Health Care Research Conference in Canberra, to encourage a philosophy of knowledge exchange early in researchers’ careers. This video presentation encapsulates the key concepts explored at this event, with insights from student delegates and presenters.

Let’s Talk!

The PHCRIS Innovations in Primary Health Care video series features in-depth interviews with opinion leaders in the field of KE and primary health care.

Knowledge exchange - a paradigm shift

“If you want research to be applied you need to make sure that it’s relevant.”

Dr Ian Graham, Professor, Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, discusses the basic concepts relating to KE with PHCRIS Director Professor Ellen McIntyre.



Australian Government, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. (2012). APS 200 Project: The Place of Science in Policy Development in the Public Sector. Canberra.

Bennett G, Jessani N. (2011). The Knowledge Translation Toolkit, Sage Publications, India.

Campbell DM, Redman S, Jorn L, Cooke M, Zwi AB, Rychetnik L. (2009). Increasing the use of research in health policy: practice and view of policy makers and researchers. Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, 6, 21.

Dwan KM, McInnes PC. (2013). Increasing the influence of one’s research on policy. Australian Health Review, 37(2), 194-198.

Gagnon ML. (2011). Moving knowledge to action through dissemination and exchange. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 64(1), 25-31.

Graham ID, Logan J, Harrison MB, Straus S, Tetroe J, Caswell W, Robinson N. (2006). Lost in knowledge translation: time for a map? Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 26, 13-24.

Haynes AS, Derrick GE, Redman S, Hall WD, Gillespie JA, Chapman S, Sturk H. (2012). Identifying trustworthy experts: how do policymakers find and assess public health researchers worth consulting or collaborating with? PloS ONE, 7(3).

Oxman AD, Lavis JN, Lewin S, Fretheim A. (2009). SUPPORT Tools for evidence-informed health Policymaking (STP) 1: What is evidence-informed policymaking? Health Research Policy and Systems. 7(Suppl). S1.

Nutley SM, Walter I, Davies HTO. (2007). Using Evidence: How research can inform public services. The Policy Press: University of Bristol.

Shaxson L, Klerkx L, et al. (2012). Expanding our understanding of K* (KT, KE, KTT, KMb, KB, KM etc.): A concept paper emerging from the K* conference held in Hamilton, Onatario, Canada, April 2012. United Nations University, Institute for Water, Environment and Health. [PDF 1.8MB]

Straus S, Tetroe J and Graham ID. (2009). Knowledge Translation in Health Care: Moving from Evidence to Practice. Wiley-Blackwell: UK.

Useful PHCRIS resources

 How to get the most out of conferences

Other useful resources

 Canadian Institutes of Health Research: Guide to Knowledge Translation Planning at CIHR: Integrated and End-of-Grant Approaches

 APHCRI ANU, Improving Knowledge Exchange (2013)
Entertaining and informative talks from experts on improving the two way flow of knowledge between policy makers and researchers. Includes tips on how to effectively send messages in a crowded information marketplace.

 Knowledge exchange in the School of Mathematics

 KE in a different field, from the Center for International Forestry Research Amy Duchelle — Students and knowledge exchange with local stakeholders

 Making Good Ideas Infectious: a film about knowledge exchange


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Compiled by PHCRIS
Last updated Wed 13 Jan 2016
Suggested citation
Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (2017). PHCRIS Getting Started Guides: Introduction to... Knowledge Exchange. From (Accessed 19 Nov 2017)