Making Research Matter: The Power of Strategic Knowledge Transfer

The Aging, Community and Health Research Unit uses targeted communication and knowledge translation strategies, informed by stakeholder consultation, to help turn the latest research findings into effective policies and programs supporting older adults and their caregivers.


Aging, Community and Health Research Unit (ACHRU)

Research Lead

Dr. Maureen Markle-Reid (Scientific Director)

Associate Professor, School of Nursing, McMaster University

Dr. Jenny Ploeg (Scientific Director)

Professor, School of Nursing, McMaster University

Dr. Ruta Valaitis (Scientific Co-Director)

Associate Professor, School of Nursing, McMaster University

Case Contributor

Dr. Ruta Valaitis (Co-Investigator, KT Co-Lead)

Associate Professor, School of Nursing, McMaster University

Rebecca Ganann (KT Co-Lead)

Postdoctoral Fellow in Nursing, McMaster University

Laurie Kennedy

ACHRU Administrator


Over 70 health-related governmental, community and professional organizations

Research funded by

CIHR, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care


Since 2013, ACHRU has expanded to become a multi-institutional, interprofessional initiative involving over 70 partner organizations in Ontario and Alberta

ACHRU’s continuous engagement with more than 150 diverse knowledge users has resulted in a high level of user involvement and commitment to the project’s goals

Successful coordination of knowledge sharing across stakeholder groups, communities and levels of government has increased the project’s potential to produce whole system change in the long-term

Knowledge Exchange Strategy

Stakeholder engagement; new media; communication planning; collaboration


To develop a model for collaboration with policy makers, partner organizations and community members that refines research evidence into effective and sustainable health care interventions for an aging population.


  • Involving all stakeholders from the beginning of the project (i.e., grant proposal process) to ensure research will be impactful
  • Organizing in-person events with all stakeholders (e.g., roundtable discussions)
  • Promoting ACHRU initiatives through new media (e.g., website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc)
  • Having knowledge end-users share their experience to demonstrate the importance of the research

Keys to making it work

  • Strategize ways to encourage ongoing participation of diverse stakeholders in a large-scale program
  • Provide different outlets for people to share their thoughts and opinions as individuals and groups (e.g., email, in-person meetings, teleconferences, etc)
  • Continue outreach to build more relationships while maintaining current ones

Resources Required

  • Team members focused on developing and executing Communication and KT Plans
  • Administrative support and expertise in multimedia communication
  • Project-specific digital platforms and live events engaging multiple stakeholders
  • Knowledge/skill/training in KT approaches
  • Engaged stakeholder group

The Aging, Community and Health Research Unit (ACHRU) is an interprofessional nurse-led team that studies community-based health care interventions for older adults living with chronic disease and their caregivers. Established in 2013, ACHRU seeks to transform its research findings into practical recommendations for improved community-based programs by collaborating with government policy makers, health care providers and administrators, community service organizations, as well as patient and family caregivers. Representatives from these key knowledge-user groups work together to inform health care practice and policy in order to provide optimal health care support for an aging population.

Knowledge exchange challenge and goals/activities

ACHRU is a large-scale, multi-institutional research program consisting of a team of researchers from across Canada and multiple inter-related studies. .The research team recognized from the outset that integrating several groups of researchers and knowledge users, each linked to different projects, within the overarching ACHRU framework would require careful planning, coordination and use of resources. With such a broad range of stakeholders, keeping everyone involved, engaged and interested in ACHRU initiatives might become difficult.

The team co-developed with stakeholder participation a multifaceted Communication and Knowledge Translation Plan that could meet the expressed needs of knowledge users and partner organizations. They also evaluated the plan’s success in reaching these stakeholders through regular check-ins and reviewing website analytics (e.g., the number and average duration of page views), and modified the plan as needed. A Knowledge Translation evaluation study is currently underway to explore diverse stakeholders’ perceptions of optimal engagement in research teams and ACHRU, specifically.

Collaborative Knowledge Translation (KT) Planning

The ACHRU team agreed that the involvement of community members and health service providers would be vital to making research-informed changes to health services and embedding these changes within current services and supports. They identified existing relationships that senior researchers had developed and maintained over many years of building networks, and involved a wide range of stakeholders in the project, including those living with multiple chronic conditions and those making decisions about health care programs and policies. Before the research started, the core team identified key stakeholders and included them as partners in the grant application.

“It’s not that you start from zero; you start with a foundation.”

The team decided it would prioritize getting research findings into the hands of those who could use them, but they did not want to assume they already knew what options would work best for communication. All staff and researchers attended KT training workshops. Then they asked everyone in the large stakeholder network how the research would affect them, their preferred modes of communication and the parts of the project to which they could most actively contribute. The result was a Knowledge Translation and Communication Plan co-developed with knowledge users that identified and valued their expert contributions, and also ensured the time dedicated to communication would be well spent.

The Importance of Strategic Communication and Flexibility

The ACHRU team also considered the high degree of stakeholder input and “buy-in” required to generate robust recommendations and implement real improvements in health services. The team discovered through consultation that one style of engagement wouldn’t work for every stakeholder, but they could offer enough diversity in communication modes that each group could invest in at least one area. Coordination of resources was needed to ensure the efficiency and impact of each knowledge-sharing opportunity, but the plan could not be so rigid that it did not adapt to feedback. The team continues to make adaptations to ACHRU’s knowledge exchange strategies.

Traditional knowledge translation strategies such as conference presentations and peer-reviewed publications were used. In addition less traditional strategies were seen as being equally important. For example, regular email blasts, newsletters written in plain language, social media with videos and infographics, simple survey tools to gather input on research results, and other more common forms of research dissemination (e.g., a website, research briefs, interactive small group meetings, teleconferences, policy forums, invited presentations at relevant networking groups) were combined with five annual KT events. These diverse types of engagement integrated ample opportunity for stakeholder iterative evaluation of research and KT processes. The team also used data from web analytics to assess and improve their outreach.

Every month, I look at our analytics to be sure that we are still meeting our audience. I look at our website, look at how many PDFs are downloaded, see how long people staying on our page, look at the bounce rate, look at when we send out tweets and see if it is related to when it spikes up our audience. We look at who our audience is, and where they are from. Everything is strategic.” – Kennedy

Strengthening KT Capacity and Expanding Relationships

Careful planning in the early stages, constantly reconnecting with stakeholders and listening to their feedback meant that the ACHRU team was well-positioned to increase the program’s scale while also deepening the involvement of key stakeholders. The team was also well-prepared to seize opportunities that arose to strengthen the connections within and between different groups, organizing joint conversations (“mixing up people at the table”) at both practice and policy levels and firmly establishing the value of the project for enriching all participants’ perspectives. Patients and caregivers, the people whom the health care interventions are designed to help, were able to share their personal stories with decision-makers and explained the effects existing policies have on their lives.

Engaging with the end user – being the person who receives the services of all of these programs – was incredibly powerful. We brought them to a Ministry of Health meeting, and one of the caregivers did a talk, and literally you could hear a pin drop in the room – it was so engaging.

Stakeholders have taken on the role of KT leaders. They have helped researchers with recruitment strategies and acted as co-hosts for meetings. In one instance, a government employee working in a KT role collaborated in the promotion of an ACHRU meeting and drew out 50-60 key decision-makers who were not previously linked to the project but who saw its relevance to their own mandated areas of work.

We keep a really close eye on what’s happening in the government, federally, provincially and locally. We are really conscious of what direction they are taking, and then we know immediately that we can send some of our work to them, or point them to people in our communities who are doing work in that area. It truly is knowledge translation and exchange between researchers and government.

Extending the stakeholder network by communicating the project’s alignment with community and government interests and by building new relationships (“pulling in key people”) will ultimately broaden the reach and coordinating capacity of ACHRU, and ensure the program’s long-term and sustainable impact. As a result of prioritizing KT within the research framework, the program has “morphed into a big coalition of like-minded people from Alberta and Ontario who are committed to enhancing the system for older adults in the community.” It takes work and resources.