By Lewis Atkinson
Want to reduce the likelihood that your research will produce policy and practice change? Here are 12 anti-rules to prevent research translation.
Anti-rule #1: ONLY FOCUS ON YOUR PART OF THE PROBLEM. Avoid seeing the problem as a whole to limit the intervention possibilities. Acknowledge the translational “gap” but be ambivalent about who owns it. Contest it with others and perpetuate confusion with a range of definitions for what research translation means.
Anti-rule #2: CLOSE OFF THE FLOW OF INFORMATION AND KNOWLEDGE. Keep a tight lid on who is involved and what knowledge is seen to be relevant. Do not share your data or allow access to your sources of data. Minimise the rate of data exchange within and among various research and non-research partners.
Anti-rule #3: MAINTAIN IMPERMEABLE PROFESSIONAL & INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH BOUNDARIES. Reinforce the divisions between researchers and maintain competitive silos in the research sector driven by institutional rivalry, specialist societies and professional associations. In the name of research excellence, encourage cut-throat competition. Get groups to critique and challenge each other’s proposals, preferably in public forums, and then declare winners and losers.
Anti-rule #4: IGNORE THE CHANGING NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITIES THAT YOU SERVE. Advocate that “research translation” is something new and mysterious. That it is driven by research needs as primary inputs rather than the impact on the communities that researchers are generating findings to serve. Argue that research translation can’t be done as part of the normal scope of day-to-day practice and that it cannot be changed once it is in progress.
Anti-rule #5: AVOID ANY MEASURES OF EFFECTIVENESS OR ACCOUNTABILITY FOR TRANSLATION. Translation is someone else’s problem. Make sure that all researchers are part-time and without clear accountability and diffused responsibility for impact. Better still, practice public humiliation, making expectations for translation ambivalent and impossible to achieve. Everyone will know that risk-taking is bad.
Anti-rule #6: IGNORE THE COMPLEXITY OF MULTIPLE INTERACTING CONDITIONS. Avoid paying attention to ‘agency’ at the heart of individual and/or population behaviour, where different people and groups seek their own desired outcomes. Instead maintain that yours can be the ONLY outcome and therefore confine discussion of strategies and plans to a small circle of trusted advisors. Announce big decisions in full-blown form. This ensures that no one will start anything new because they never know what new orders will be coming down from the top.
Anti-rule #7: MAINTAIN THAT TRANSLATION IS A LINEAR PROCESS. Maintain your commitment to the unidirectional view of translation. Neglect the value added that broader thinking about the problem and intervention can bring, including the advantages of multidisciplinarity to basic science and technology development.
Anti-rule #8: BUILD YOUR IMMUNITY TO CHANGE. Protect yourself against the nuisance of change. Maintain strict hierarchy and blame problems on the incompetent people below — their weak skills and poor work ethic. Complain frequently about the low quality of the talent pool today.
Anti-rule #9: WE ALREADY KNOW EVERYTHING (WAKE). Be suspicious of any new idea from below — because it’s new, and because it’s from below. After all, if the idea were any good, we at the top would have thought of it already. Above all, never forget that we got to the top because we already know everything there is to know about this.
Anti-rule #10: FOCUS ON THE MEANS, NOT THE ENDS. Make the process of accessing funds and undertaking the research project and translation of results as difficult and complex as possible. Keep everyone very busy and skew the loading of incentives towards furthering their own personal ambitions rather than awareness of the impact of actions on others, unintended or otherwise.
Anti-rule #11: MAINTAIN A MYOPIC INTERNALLY FOCUSED VIEW. Do not scan the literature for any lessons about research translation because we are different and successful research translation can only be done based on research done by our people in our context.
Anti-rule #12: TRACK EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE TRACKED, AND ASK FOR IT AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. Create complex structures, processes and reporting systems. Insist that all procedures be followed. Encourage researchers to find answers as soon as possible and at least cost. Favour exact plans and guarantees of success. Don’t credit people with exceeding their targets because that would just undermine planning.
Do you have other anti-rules to share? Do you have your own version of the anti-rules above?
Biography: Lewis Atkinson PhD is a global partner at the Haines Centre for Strategic Management LLC. He is a systems thinker and architect of strategic and social change built on a foundation of systems thinking. The anti-rules above are based on the 12 characteristics of traditional human dynamics and the anti-dotes can be found by using systems thinking. Several systems thinking resources can be found at: https://hainescentreaustralia.com.au/resources-books/