Knowledge translation is underpinned by a dynamic and social knowledge exchange process but there are few descriptions of how this unfolds in practice settings. This has hampered attempts to produce realistic and useful models to help policymakers and researchers understand how knowledge exchange works. This paper reports the results of research which investigated the nature of knowledge exchange. We aimed to understand whether dynamic and fluid definitions of knowledge exchange are valid and to produce a realistic, descriptive framework of knowledge exchange. Our research was informed by a realist approach. We embedded a knowledge broker within three service delivery teams across a mental health organisation in the UK, each of whom was grappling with specific challenges. The knowledge broker participated in the team's problem-solving process and collected observational fieldnotes. We also interviewed the team members. Observational and interview data were analysed quantitatively and qualitatively in order to determine and describe the nature of the knowledge exchange process in more detail. This enabled us to refine our conceptual framework of knowledge exchange. We found that knowledge exchange can be understood as a dynamic and fluid process which incorporates distinct forms of knowledge from multiple sources. Quantitative analysis illustrated that five broadly-defined components of knowledge exchange (problem, context, knowledge, activities, use) can all be in play at any one time and do not occur in a set order. Qualitative analysis revealed a number of distinct themes which better described the nature of knowledge exchange. By shedding light on the nature of knowledge exchange, our findings problematise some of the linear, technicist approaches to knowledge translation. The revised model of knowledge exchange which we propose here could therefore help to reorient thinking about knowledge exchange and act as a starting point for further exploration and evaluation of the knowledge exchange process.
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