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Getting the most out of knowledge and innovation transfer agents in health care: a qualitative study

Bullock, A. ORCID:, Barnes, E., Morris, Z. S., Fairbank, J., de Pury, J., Howell, R. and Denman, S. 2016. Getting the most out of knowledge and innovation transfer agents in health care: a qualitative study. Health Services and Delivery Research 4 (33) 10.3310/hsdr04330

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Background: Knowledge and innovation transfer (KIT) is recognised internationally as a complex, dynamic process that is difficult to embed in organisations. There is growing use of health service–academic–industry collaborations in the UK, with knowledge brokers linking producers with the users of knowledge and innovation. Aim: Focusing on KIT ‘agent’ roles within Academic Health Science Networks in England and Partnerships in Wales, we show how individual dispositions, processes and content contribute to desired outcomes. Methods: We studied the KIT intentions of all Academic Health Science Networks in England, and the South East Wales Academic Health Science Partnership. Using a qualitative case study design, we studied the work of 13 KIT agents purposively sampled from five networks, by collecting data from observation of meetings, documentation, KIT agent audio-diaries, and semistructured interviews with KIT agents, their line managers and those they supported (‘Links’). We also used a consensus method in a meeting of experts (nominal group technique) to discuss the measurement of outcomes of KIT agent activity. Findings: The case study KIT agents were predominantly from a clinical background with differing levels of experience and expertise, with the shared aim of improving services and patient care. Although outside of recognised career structures, the flexibility afforded to KIT agents to define their role was an enabler of success. Other helpful factors included (1) time and resources to devote to KIT activity; (2) line manager support and a team to assist in the work; and (3) access and the means to use data for improvement projects. The organisational and political context could be challenging. KIT agents not only tackled local barriers such as siloed working, but also navigated shifting regional and national policies. Board-level support for knowledge mobilisation together with a culture of reflection (listening to front-line staff), openness to challenges and receptivity to research all enabled KIT agents to achieve desired outcomes. Nominal group findings underscored the importance of relating measures to specific intended outcomes. However, the case studies highlighted that few measures were employed by KIT agents and their managers. Using social marketing theory helped to show linkages between processes, outcomes and impact, and drew attention to how KIT agents developed insight into their clients’ needs and tailored work accordingly. Limitations: Level of KIT agent participation varied; line managers and Links were interviewed only once; and outcomes were self-reported. Conclusions: Social marketing theory provided a framework for analysing KIT agent activity. The preparatory work KIT agents do in listening, understanding local context and building relationships enabled them to develop ‘insight’ and adapt their ‘offer’ to clients to achieve desired outcomes. Future work: The complexity of the role and the environment in which it is played out justifies more research on KIT agents. Suggestions include (1) longitudinal study of career pathways; (2) how roles are negotiated within teams and how competing priorities are managed; (3) how success is measured; (4) the place of improvement methodologies within KIT work; (5) the application of social marketing theory to comparative study of similar roles; and (6) patients as KIT agents. Funding: The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Publisher: NIHR Journals Library
ISSN: 2050-4349
Funders: NIHR
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 10 April 2019
Date of Acceptance: 30 June 2016
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2023 20:55

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