KT Alberta
A community of practice for health-related knowledge translation

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Denise Thomson Discusses Founding KT Alberta


KT Practitioner and Co-founding Member of KT Alberta

Denise, what about KT captured your imagination and intellect?

I came upon the theories and concept of knowledge translation when I was doing my MBA, many years ago.  I was doing my graduate work at the same time the Canadian Centre for Knowledge Transfer was around. The Centre brought together disciplines such as nursing, business. marketing, sociology and medicine.  The point of it was to fund graduate students to build KT capacity. I just happened to see a poster about one of the courses in the program and got interested because I had worked for a health non-profit, and had seen some of the issues around evidence and practice, and trying to do promotion, as well as trying to communicate the correct information to people.

So, you started as an end user of KT?

Yes, trying to educate people. I was working in a diabetes organization and running into people who had been told things about their diet that were not in line with the evidence.

Seeing the course on knowledge utilization that was being offered, I thought, “Well that sounds interesting!” Then I wound up finishing my MBA with a specialization in knowledge transfer. When I graduated in 2004 there was a job that had just opened with the Centre for the branch of it that cooperates with the University of Alberta. And so, I applied for that job and got it.

Then a couple of years ago I wound up moving on to the Alberta SPOR KT platform, and although my exposure has primarily been through the researchers or supporting researchers and research projects in KT, it has always been informed, I guess, by the start of my career which was more at the front end of the health promotion.

What has been your biggest challenge in the work so far?

I would say the first challenge that comes to mind is the constant emphasis on measurement and trying to demonstrate impact to funders. The difficulty of doing that, or the impossibility of doing that is a challenge and we just seem to be constantly running into people wanting us to tell them stories about, you know, how we changed the world and saved lives.

In my current role, I would probably say the biggest challenge still after all these years, is explaining to people what KT is and why it’s important. Even within the SPOR support unit, some of my colleagues don’t understand KT and why it’s part of patient oriented research, which to me seems to be self-evident that these go together.

So, what would you say has been your biggest success so far?

In my current work what I’ve noticed is that we seem to be coming along at a good time when there’s a lot of receptivity to what we’re trying to do for the SPOR platforms, and that will bubble over into the KT Alberta concept. And that means, I think, that it is a good time to be launching a community of practice and a good time to be a part of a community of practice. Also, I think people are seeing that there is something in it for them. And that in itself is a success because it’s hard to get on the radar of busy people.

So, in terms of this success, what are your hopes for the KT Alberta community of practice?

I’m thinking that what I would like to see is that it would outlive the SPOR initiative because people would be excited enough about it to want to keep it going.

I would also want them to feel that it is a community in the same way I'm influenced by having done my studies supported by the Centre for Knowledge Transfer that I mentioned earlier. Even though in the end I think it was only funded for maybe five-ish years, which isn’t a really long time, all these years later, i still have regularly encounters with  people who did their training through the centre at the same time I did. That community that was spawned all those years ago with those people – they’re still people I call, work or collaborate with from time to time. I think the funding ended shortly after I graduated, maybe 2005-ish. It is 12 years later and I'm still reaping the benefits of what I got from that experience and from the people that I met through that initiative.

Now the KT Alberta community of practice will be a different concept than what the Centre for Knowledge Transfer was, but I can see similar benefits. My hope for the community of practice would be that, through the conferences, method working groups and other things that we do is that we build them on the grounds of collaboration where somebody, maybe a couple years down the road would say, “Oh, I want to do a research grant in such and such. And oh, I remember running into this person in Calgary – from the University of Calgary when I was at a KT Alberta event. I wonder if they would be interested in collaborating.” You know, if that’s the sort of thing we leave behind that would be fantastic.  It will be more than just running conferences that people go to and probably don’t remember a whole lot from a week later. What we’re leaving behind is a growing network.

Beyond the KT Alberta in community of practice, what would you hope for the KT world?

Right now, I run into a lot of people who come at KT from many different disciplines like nursing, medicine or more quantitative or more qualitative areas. And I hear a lot of commentary about, “Oh, so-and-so doesn’t do real KT. Or what they do isn’t very rigorous. Or, oh, that’s not very good vs. what another person does.” And it just seems like a lot of people have the sense that what they do is the right way of doing it and other people don’t do it the right way.

Because my role is sort of on the outside of things wherein, I’m not a researcher myself, but I'm somebody who brokers relationships between researchers and supports researchers and so on, it is  just puzzling to see so many bright and talented people undercutting each other to some extent and not being able to just say, “Well, you know, so-and-so, it’s just not the way I would do it, but he/she has had some interesting results that came from their process,” and just leave things at that.

So yes, that’s something that I notice a lot and do wish people will get over.