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University research centers as knowledge translation platforms: leveraging structure, support and resources to enhance multisectoral collaboration and advocacy

Abstract

Knowledge Translation Platforms (KTPs) have drawn attention as multidisciplinary institutional structures that broker evidence to policy and practice. University Research Centers (URCs) appear to serve as internal KTPs by fostering research collaboration as well as advocacy. This study’s aim was to examine URCs within one American School of Public Health (SPH) to explore the functions of knowledge translation (KT) they engender, the support and resources they offer to facilitate KT, and their unique organization’s structural features. We further explored how these functions contribute towards the SPH’s role in advancing evidence informed decision making. We conducted in-depth interviews with 52 SPH faculty—some embedded within URCs and others external to them—and 24 government decision-makers at City, State, Federal and Global levels. Data were analyzed inductively and deductively using Atlas.Ti. This paper presents results emerging from interview responses. Faculty embedded within URCs that engendered KT functions were often equipped with the support and resources to effectively engage with decision-makers and leveraged their school affiliation, reputation, and collective networks. URCs also offered several structural advantages, providing flexibility in hiring staff solely towards KT endeavors, opportunities for advocacy, and pursuing non-traditional funding avenues. We explore the institutionalization of URCs as internal KTPs and the value they can provide to universities. We discuss the merit in URCs positioning themselves as internal KTPs and propose a revised framework outlining KTP functions. Further exploration on how to better leverage and evaluate such URCs is critical as universities make strides in advancing evidence-informed decision-making efforts.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the leadership at JHSPH for their support as well as all the participants for their time and insights. The study was conducted through support provided by The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.

Funding

The study was conducted through support provided by The Lerner Center for Health Promotion at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health without restrictions on the research content or approach. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funder.

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NJ designed the study in collaboration with DH and MDR. NJ, AVN and BL were involved in data collection. NJ, AVN, BL, and CB were involved in the data analysis and interpretation. AVN and NJ drafted the full version of the manuscript while BL and CB contributed to its development. MDR and DH reviewed the penultimate version providing critical insight. All authors critically reviewed and approved the final version.

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Correspondence to Akshara Valmeekanathan.

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The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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The Johns Hopkins Institutional Review Board granted ethics approval for this study (IRB00006968).

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Valmeekanathan, A., Babcock, C., Ling, B. et al. University research centers as knowledge translation platforms: leveraging structure, support and resources to enhance multisectoral collaboration and advocacy. Tert Educ Manag 27, 227–256 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11233-021-09075-3

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Keywords

  • Knowledge Translation Platform
  • Knowledge Broker
  • University Research Center
  • Higher Education Institute
  • School of Public Health
  • Multisectoral Collaboration