Exploring knowledge sharing approaches in NIHR research: a systematic review

  • 16 April 2024

Evidence on the effectiveness of knowledge sharing techniques and approaches in National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) funded research could be improved, according to a newly published systematic review, which was supported by the NIHR Dissemination and Knowledge Mobilisation team.

The study, published in BMC Health Research Policy and Systems, looked at NIHR funded research that described knowledge sharing techniques or approaches. The researchers concluded that there is little evidence of the effectiveness of these approaches in these studies in influencing change in practice or ongoing research. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t effective in instigating change or impacting on practice, rather that clear evidence for this has not yet been produced.

Although a complex and often messy field, there are theories, models and frameworks that can be used to shed more light on techniques and approaches that currently show promise but lack evidence for their effectiveness.

The authors searched databases for published NIHR-funded studies that described knowledge sharing between researchers and stakeholders like clinicians, policymakers, patients and the public. Through screening, they identified 17 relevant studies.

They found five main knowledge sharing techniques or approaches:

  • Embedded researcher / practitioner models
  • Knowledge brokers
  • Stakeholder engagement (workshops, events)
  • Involvement of non-researchers in research / service design
  • Organisational collaborative partnerships

Seven studies reported creating new knowledge through these approaches, but only one showed an actual change in practice resulting from an embedded researcher model.

The use of an explicit theory or framework to guide the knowledge sharing process was limited, with only six studies using one.

Evaluations often focused more on acceptability rather than effectiveness in creating new knowledge or change.

The authors conclude that while promising approaches exist, there is little evidence yet of their effectiveness in influencing real-world change in policy and practice. They recommend clearer reporting, use of theories and frameworks, and evaluations linked to intended outcomes.

Dr Helen Baxter, lead author of the study, NIHR Senior Research Fellow (Knowledge Mobilisation) and Research Fellow in Knowledge Mobilisation and Implementation at NIHR ARC West said:

“We know that knowledge mobilisation techniques are used in NIHR funded research, especially research conducted by Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs). However, our systematic review has shown that reporting on the use of these approaches, and their effectiveness, is patchy. There is an opportunity to improve the evidence around knowledge mobilisation approaches, specifically in relation to NIHR funded research, but potentially more broadly too.”

Screenshot of paper titled: The effectiveness of knowledge-sharing techniques and approaches in research funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR): a systematic review

The effectiveness of knowledge-sharing techniques and approaches in research funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR): a systematic review