A guide to knowledge translation theory

J Contin Educ Health Prof. Winter 2006;26(1):25-36. doi: 10.1002/chp.48.


Despite calls over several decades for theory development, there remains no overarching knowledge-translation theory. However, a range of models and theoretical perspectives focused on narrower and related areas have been available for some time. We provide an overview of selected perspectives that we believe are particularly useful for developing testable and useful knowledge-translation interventions. In addition, we discuss adjuvant theories necessary to complement these perspectives. We draw from organizational innovation, health, and social sciences literature to illustrate the similarities and differences of various theoretical perspectives related to the knowledge-translation field.A variety of theoretical perspectives useful to knowledge translation exist. They are often spread across disciplinary boundaries, making them difficult to locate and use. Poor definitional clarity, discipline-specific terminology, and implicit assumptions often hinder the use of complementary perspectives. Health care environments are complex, and assessing the setting prior to selecting a theory should be the first step in knowledge-translation initiatives. Finding a fit between setting (context) and theory is important for knowledge-translation initiatives to succeed. Because one theory will not fit all contexts, it is helpful to understand and use several different theories. Although there are often barriers associated with combining theories from different disciplines, such obstacles can be overcome, and to do so will increase the likelihood that knowledge-translation initiatives will succeed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Personnel / education
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • United States