Mapping new theoretical and methodological terrain for knowledge translation: contributions from critical realism and the arts

Implement Sci. 2009 Jan 5:4:1. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-4-1.


Background: Clinical practice guidelines have been a popular tool for the improvement of health care through the implementation of evidence from systematic research. Yet, it is increasingly clear that knowledge alone is insufficient to change practice. The social, cultural, and material contexts within which practice occurs may invite or reject innovation, complement or inhibit the activities required for success, and sustain or alter adherence to entrenched practices. However, knowledge translation (KT) models are limited in providing insight about how and why contextual contingencies interact, the causal mechanisms linking structural aspects of context and individual agency, and how these mechanisms influence KT. Another limitation of KT models is the neglect of methods to engage potential adopters of the innovation in critical reflection about aspects of context that influence practice, the relevance and meaning of innovation in the context of practice, and the identification of strategies for bringing about meaningful change.

Discussion: This paper presents a KT model, the Critical Realism and the Arts Research Utilization Model (CRARUM), that combines critical realism and arts-based methodologies. Critical realism facilitates understanding of clinical settings by providing insight into the interrelationship between its structures and potentials, and individual action. The arts nurture empathy, and can foster reflection on the ways in which contextual factors influence and shape clinical practice, and how they may facilitate or impede change. The combination of critical realism and the arts within the CRARUM model promotes the successful embedding of interventions, and greater impact and sustainability.

Conclusion: CRARUM has the potential to strengthen the science of implementation research by addressing the complexities of practice settings, and engaging potential adopters to critically reflect on existing and proposed practices and strategies for sustaining change.