By Tiina Kukkonen and Amanda Cooper
Arts-based knowledge translation refers to the process of using artistic approaches to communicate research findings to target audiences. Arts-based knowledge translation continues to grow in popularity among researchers and knowledge mobilisers, particularly in the health sector, because of its capacity to reach and engage diverse audiences through the arts. But how might researchers, with or without experience in the arts, actually go about planning and implementing arts-based knowledge translation?
We propose an arts-based knowledge translation planning framework, which encourages researchers to think through four non-linear “steps”, each with its own key question.
Step 1: Identifying Goals and Target Audiences
Key Question: What are the goals of your arts-based knowledge translation efforts and how are they best tailored for each target audience you hope to influence?
Drawing on the work of Cooper (2014), as well as examples from the arts-based knowledge translation literature, we have identified the following arts-based knowledge translation brokering goals that researchers might consider in relation to their target audiences:
- Increase awareness of the empirical evidence or developments on a topic
- Create spaces for debate and dialogue around pressing societal issues
- Increase accessibility to research through the arts, for instance, in cases where language, literacy, or cultural barriers exist
- Increase engagement with research content (eg., the arts can stimulate the senses and tap into emotions)
- Facilitate capacity-building, such as professional learning and skill development, around a particular topic (eg., understanding patient healthcare experiences and best practices)
- Support advocacy around specific issues of concern to influence policy priorities and change
- Facilitate partnerships and co-production of knowledge among diverse stakeholders, for example, by offering different modes of expression and representation.
Step 2: Choose Art Genres, Mediums, and Methods for Examining Impact
Key question: What art genre and medium are appropriate for your topic, goal, and target audience?
At this stage, researchers need to decide what art genres best fit with their specific context. Selection of art genre and methods for gathering impact data should again take into consideration the target audience and brokering goals.
Example: Colantonio and colleagues (2008) aimed to facilitate professional learning and awareness around the experiences of traumatic brain injury survivors, so they staged a professional-quality play, based on data gathered through focus group discussions with key stakeholders (eg., survivors, their families, healthcare providers), to audiences of healthcare professionals. To assess the impact of their production, they conducted post-performance surveys with 283 audience members.
In this case, the researchers had the specific goal of educating groups of professionals, therefore the choice of theatre was appropriate to convey specific messages, while also tapping into the emotional lived experiences of brain injury survivors. Surveys were the most efficient approach to gathering impact data from large audiences with limited free time.
Other researchers may find that visual arts, music, dance, creative writing, or multi-media genres are better suited for their brokering goals, and may choose other means of gathering impact data, such as in-person discussions, online platforms, or other written formats (eg., comment cards that audiences can fill out).
Step 3: Building Partnerships with Artists and Communities
Key question: Who might be interested in partnering with you from the arts communities?
Consistent with the standards in arts-based research, we agree that arts-based knowledge translation should include competent artists and/or curator intermediaries to ensure the quality and integrity of the artwork(s) being produced. In some cases, researchers may be practicing artists and possess the artistic skills required to carry out the project, but may still need the help of other artists and specialists to further guide the direction of the piece.
Step 4: Tracing Dissemination and Impact of Arts-Based Knowledge Translation
Key question: What methods and impact indicators might inform your arts-based knowledge translation efforts in relation to your goals?
In other kinds of research, impact may be assessed by looking at how research knowledge is put into practice and monitoring observable change. This type of impact is not as common in the arts, creating problems for anyone wishing to assess the impact of arts-based knowledge translation. Therefore, we propose expanding the meaning of “impact” to include more than observable actions and policy changes, such as shifts in perspective that are foundational to social change.
As mentioned earlier, methods for gathering impact data should relate to the original goals and the art genre. As impact data is gathered, researchers can look for specific indicators or signs to ascertain the scope and depth of the impact. While we provide potential metrics and indicators for impact assessment (adapted from Barwick (2011)) in arts-based knowledge translation, we still urge researchers not to think of impact in terms of metrics alone, but rather to see the value of arts-based knowledge translation as a process of knowledge co-production among researchers, participants, artists, and audiences.
That said, impact indicators might include:
- Reach indicators that measure how many people the arts-based knowledge translation initiative has reached, such as Google analytics data that tells how many visitors a website has had.
- Partnership and collaboration indicators that measure processes of co-production and dissemination, such as the number of products/performances disseminated with various partners.
- Usefulness indicators that measure whether a target audience found the arts-based knowledge translation initiative useful, such as increased knowledge or changed perceptions.
- Practice, program or service changes that show a commitment to change, which can be identified through, say, the number and consistency of observed changes.
- Policy and advocacy indicators that measure the influence and change in policy debate, formation, and implementation, such as social media coverage and citations.
More empirical research and dialogue are needed to better understand how the four steps might function in practice and how/if arts-based knowledge translation is actually having sustainable impact on behaviour and policy. We have provided an initial tool to help researchers think through the arts-based knowledge translation process, so now we look forward to seeing how it may be used and developed further. How might this framework be useful in your context? What problems might you (or others) face in implementation? Other thoughts and/or insights?
To find out more:
Kukkonen, T. and Cooper, A. (2017). An arts-based knowledge translation (ABKT) planning framework for researchers. Evidence and Policy. Online (DOI): 10.1332/174426417X15006249072134
Thanks to Evidence and Policy for making this paper free to access until 16 February, 2018.
To see all blog posts from the partnership with the journal Evidence and Policy:
Barwick, M. (2008, 2013). Knowledge translation planning template. Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario: Canada. Online: Retrieved from www.melaniebarwick.com/training.php
Colantonio, A., Kontos, P. C., Gilbert, J. E., Rossiter, K., Gray, J. and Keightley, M. L. (2008). After the crash: Research-based theatre for knowledge transfer. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 28, 3: 180–185.
Cooper, A. (2014). Knowledge mobilisation in education across Canada: A cross-case analysis of 44 research brokering organizations. Evidence and Policy, 10, 1: 29–59.
Biography: Tiina Kukkonen is an artist, arts educator, and PhD student in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University in Canada. Her research interests include rural and remote arts education, cross-sector partnerships and knowledge mobilization in arts education, and arts-based research methods. As a visual arts teacher, Tiina has taught in various community and school environments in Ontario and Quebec. Her work as an artist stems from her love of northern nature, craft, and design.
Biography: Amanda Cooper PhD is Assistant Professor in Educational Policy and Leadership at Queen’s University in Canada and the founder of RIPPLE (Research Informing Policy, Practice and Leadership in Education): a program of research, training and knowledge mobilization aimed at learning more about how knowledge brokering can increase research use and its impact in education by facilitating collaboration between multi-stakeholder networks.