Building the Knowledge Translation Toolkit

Building the Knowledge Translation Toolkit

The case for building knowledge translation into business and commerce doctoral training.

As an academic interested in societal economics, I have witnessed many changes within academia over the last two decades. One of the most interesting from a societal benefit perspective has been the drive to evidence the value proposition of university research. This has resulted in research becoming more focused on solving societal problems. Social impact has become a key criterion for success, and knowledge translation has emerged as an important broker between research and practice.

Academic research is becoming a more collaborative industry-partnered space, where dissemination is a multifaceted set of outputs with purposeful stakeholder engagement and outreach. Business Schools and Faculties are no exception here. Business research across disciplines such as economics, management, marketing, information systems etc., has found the knowledge translation landscape a productive place, particularly in relation to applied research.

Knowledge translation and doctoral training

One area of interest for me has been the doctoral education space, as this connects research with teaching and learning (arguably the two core businesses of universities). Recent recognition of the economic impacts of the knowledge economy as led to scrutiny of doctoral training. The creation of new knowledge is a central tenant of doctoral education and so there has been renewed interest in the quality of doctoral programs. This has included a discourse on what constitutes high quality and required skills, beyond research training. While knowledge creation has been the core of doctoral education for decades, knowledge translation still sits on the periphery of most doctoral education curriculums- especially for Business Schools.

The training of research students has been slow to incorporate knowledge translation into curriculum in a meaningful way. In my experience, curriculum content regarding knowledge translation is usually located in introductory research skills modules. As knowledge translation is an activity that takes place after the creation of knowledge its placement at the start of the program can be problematic. While planning for knowledge translation is important at the start of a project, the reality is that any learnings are soon forgotten and generally never put in practice at the appropriate point during candidature.

Knowledge translation skills are especially important given the increasing numbers of candidates undertaking doctoral education. The sector educates more doctoral students than it employs and so the idea of doctoral education as training for academic life is outdated. Doctoral graduates need skills to participate effectively in the modern workforce and workplaces of the future.

Media Interview

The creation of a thesis/dissertation through research has remained the primary outcome of the Business and Commerce doctoral degrees. But it is no longer sufficient for students to produce a thesis to simply be archived in a university repository. With increasing pressures for students to publish in academic journals during candidature, more dissertation findings are making their way to academic knowledge; but the gap still exists in terms of the outreach to other key stakeholders and the translation of the research findings into practice.

As an experienced supervisor of doctoral students, in what follows I explore what a doctoral thesis that embarrasses knowledge translation as a key component of doctoral training might look like.

Before we begin to think about how we might engage students in knowledge translation activities it is important to note the definitional difference between knowledge exchange and knowledge translation. In general knowledge exchange is already happening during candidature, through seminar and conference presentations by doctoral students. However, it should be noted that this is primarily focused on the scholarly contributions of the work and presented to other academics as opposed to a range of stakeholders. Knowledge exchange involves researchers synthesising research findings for presentation to key stakeholders whereas knowledge translation speaks to the conversion of research findings in a way that can be used by stakeholders. In practice the common mechanism for knowledge translation is in the creation of tools for practitioners to employ. Interestingly, while there is a lot of information on what knowledge translation is, there is less information about HOW to effectively transfer knowledge. Moreover, case studies are most commonly based in the natural sciences, particularly health settings, rather than the social sciences and business.

In the context of business and commerce doctoral students, the key stakeholders for their research findings are typically businesses, service providers, society groups and advocacy groups, consumers, government, legislators, regulators, social policy makers, and not for profit organisations, among others. This wide range of potential users of the research allows for a diverse set of tools to be considered. I believe that raising awareness of the possible tools that can be developed is the key to unlocking the knowledge translation box and allowing more students to engage in knowledge translation activities during their doctorial candidature. Furthermore, this is a cornerstone of my pedagogical practice as a supervisor.

Making Connections

What’s in the knowledge translation toolkit?

The key to unlocking the knowledge translation box is to think about the development of a knowledge translation toolkit. Once the toolkit has been specified, it is simple for doctoral students to select the most appropriate tool to be adopted for each research project and in some instances multiple tools might be created - especially where multiple users/stakeholders are identified. Below are the tools in my toolkit that I encourage doctoral candidates to consider. I focus on written tools as these can then be included in the thesis as part of the discussion section or as an appendix. The inclusion of knowledge translation tools within the thesis is relatively new and offers an exciting way to offer more applied outcomes of the research to be examined alongside the scholarly contribution to knowledge.

Effective example tools are listed below (in no particular order). The aim is for the results section of the thesis to move beyond just the identification and interpretation of results and for the knowledge translation to become something that the examiners consider in assessing the contribution of the research to both knowledge and practice. A brief discussion of how each tool can be applied to create successful knowledge translation is also provided for each tool suggested.

Suggested written knowledge translation tools

1. Press releases

Definition: A press release is an official statement given to press and other media for public release of information, a statement, or an announcement. In the case of research, the information is research findings.

Key stakeholders: Press and media and the general-public.

Best practice: Writing a press release is a valuable exercise for research students. They are a common tool in the promotion of research beyond academia to the public and are best suited to a thesis that tackles contemporary societal issues. Importantly, these should focus on one important finding and communicate that effectively to a lay audience. It should be possible for the candidate to write a series of press releases to promote the key findings of their thesis. Synthesising the thesis in this format is an important exercise in allowing the student to prioritise the many findings contained within the thesis.

2. Social media posts

Definition: Social media posts are short-form content published on social media platforms.

Key stakeholders: Professionals and the general public.

Best practice: The art of creating clickbait takes time to perfect and is a great way for students to create interest in their research even before they have results to post. Creating a following during candidature is an opportunity to assemble a network of stakeholders. Social media posts must be concise, and students often struggle to present their work effectively in this format. Here the focus should be on results that can be summarised in shortform usually in visually impactful ways. Results that can be illustrated in an infographic form are more suited to this knowledge translation tool. This can be a first step to creating an online academic profile, which can be further developed as the student’s career progresses.

3. Policy briefs

Definition: A policy brief is an interpretation of research findings for policy. It focuses on one aspect of policy and offers implications and recommendations for policy makers.

Key stakeholders: Policy makers, government.

Best practice: Whilst policy briefs usually cite published work it is acceptable for a student to cite their thesis and or the subsequent publications along with important points that evidence their argument from existing literature. As students are increasingly publishing during candidature, writing policy briefs during candidature is feasible. Policy briefs are useful tools for a thesis that has clear policy relevance. For example, research that speaks to a recent policy change or proposed changes to existing policy. These might be aspects of economic, social, or environmental policy for example. It allows the student to consider the broader implications and interpretation of their research in the policy arena.

4. Opinion editorials (op-ed’s)

Definition: Opinion pieces draw from a researcher’s expertise in their field of research. They use this expertise to present an informed opinion and create an argument for a particular course of action.

Key stakeholders: General audiences, Policy makers, government, professional bodies.

Best practice: These are best practiced towards the end of a student’s candidature when they have a sound command of their topic. Interestingly, students often fail to recognise how quickly they become experts. Writing an op-ed allows them to position themselves as experts to audiences outside of academia. Outlets like The Conversation and trade magazines are ideal places to publish opinion pieces. They allow students to formulate their own opinions from their research and to advocate for actions that align with these opinions.

5. Manuals

Definition: A manual presents a set of policies and procedures to ensure consistency of decision making and/or evidence based decision making. Manuals can also be designed to help people work within an agreed set of principles and values.

Key stakeholders: Business organisations, NGO’s, advocacy agencies.

Best practice: These are common tools in organisations and often associated with the Management, Human Resources, and Business IT Systems disciplines. Manuals are more ambitious tools to create and are applicable in cases where the research is concerned with protocols, and procedures or organisational culture. They are designed to aid decision making in complex environments and so are increasingly relevant to complex contemporary organisations. As a knowledge translation tool, they are well suited to research that studies policy, procedures, or the integration of new technologies.

6. Checklists

Definition: A checklist is a list of items or tasks to be considered or completed. It guides practitioners in terms of what they should think about or what they should do in a particular context/setting.

Key stakeholders: Practitioners in multiple settings and the public.

Best practice: Checklists are a great way to impart knowledge in complex and new environments. They are helpful when practitioners are working in new spaces or where consistency in approach is valuable or where tasks have multiple approaches. They are often useful knowledge translation tools of research which involves new systems or technologies or quality control research.

7. Best practice guides

Definition: Best practice guides provide knowledge in terms of better ways of operating often in terms of efficiency but can also be in relation to values. They offer practitioners ideas about new ways of doing things.

Key stakeholders: Practitioners in multiple settings and the public

Best practice: Best practice guides have a similar purpose as checklists but allow for more detail as to why things are important. They also typically provide examples of implementation and evaluations of practice. These are especially applicable for highly applied research projects often partnered with industry.

In summary, the adoption of the knowledge translation toolkit by doctoral candidates in business and commerce allows them to effectively demonstrate knowledge translation skills that are easily transferable outside of academia. They showcase the synthesis, application, and communication of new ideas to audiences beyond academia. They allow for the presentation of work-ready doctoral-qualified employees who are in high demand in the knowledge economy workforce.


Professor Lisa Farrell
School of Economics, Finance and Marketing
College of Business and Law

01 December 2023


01 December 2023


Related News

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.