Background: There is an increased emphasis in public health research on effective models and strategies to support knowledge translation (KT), the exchange, synthesis and ethically sound application of research findings within a complex set of interactions among researchers and knowledge users. In other words, KT can be seen as an acceleration of the knowledge cycle-an acceleration of the natural transformation of knowledge into use (Canadian Institutes of Health Services Research. Knowledge Translation Strategy, 2004). The most recent conceptualizations consider the complexities of public health decision-making. The role of practitioners and communities is increasingly considered.
Methods: We identify, describe and discuss the theoretical underpinnings of KT and recommend a way forward to build the evidence for more effective practice.
Results: Theoretical perspectives increasingly influence research on KT in public health. A range of innovative work is being conducted to explore methods for KT using practical tools, often with the support of government.
Conclusions: KT describes a crucial and to date under-developed element of the research process. There is an important gap in theoretically informed empirical studies of effectiveness of proposed approaches in public health, health promotion and preventive medicine, and thus much of the debate remains abstract. There is clearly an urgent policy need to establish the effectiveness of KT models in a range of contexts. This must include both the consideration of development and the utilization of knowledge.