Developing a framework for transferring knowledge into action: a thematic analysis of the literature

J Health Serv Res Policy. 2009 Jul;14(3):156-64. doi: 10.1258/jhsrp.2009.008120.


Objectives: Although there is widespread agreement about the importance of transferring knowledge into action, we still lack high quality information about what works, in which settings and with whom. While there are a large number of models and theories for knowledge transfer interventions, the majority are untested, meaning that their applicability and relevance is largely unknown. This paper describes the development of a conceptual framework of translating knowledge into action and discusses how it can be used for developing a useful model of the knowledge transfer process.

Methods: A narrative review of the knowledge transfer literature identified 28 different models which explained all or part of the knowledge transfer process. The models were subjected to a thematic analysis to identify individual components and the types of processes used when transferring knowledge into action. The results were used to build a conceptual framework of the process.

Results: Five common components of the knowledge transfer process were identified: problem identification and communication; knowledge/research development and selection; analysis of context; knowledge transfer activities or interventions; and knowledge/research utilization. We also identified three types of knowledge transfer processes: a linear process; a cyclical process; and a dynamic multidirectional process. From these results a conceptual framework of knowledge transfer was developed. The framework illustrates the five common components of the knowledge transfer process and shows that they are connected via a complex, multidirectional set of interactions. As such the framework allows for the individual components to occur simultaneously or in any given order and to occur more than once during the knowledge transfer process.

Conclusion: Our framework provides a foundation for gathering evidence from case studies of knowledge transfer interventions. We propose that future empirical work is designed to test and refine the relevance, importance and applicability of each of the components in order to build a more useful model of knowledge transfer which can serve as a practical checklist for planning or evaluating knowledge transfer activities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research
  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • Documentation
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Models, Theoretical*