SCIENCE 10.1177/1075547005275427 Kramer, Wells COMMUNICATION / ACHIEVING BUY-IN
Achieving Buy-In Building Networks to Facilitate Knowledge Transfer
DESRE M. KRAMER Centre of Research Expertise in Musculoskeletal Disorders
RICHARD P. WELLS University of Waterloo
This article offers an overview and an evaluation of the process of transferring a complex body of knowledge from a research institute to workplace parties. It includes practical insights into the “how” of building knowledge transfer networks. It also describes the development of a networkbased strategy to transfer knowledge about workplace safety/ergonomics to a group of practitionerbased associations within Ontario’s Health & Safety Prevention system. The purpose of the practitioner network was to have them become knowledge brokers of the research linking to multiple workplaces in many different sectors. This strategy builds on the theoretical frameworks of knowledge transfer and network theory. Through multiple group interactions, the practitioners became familiar with the research, identified matching concepts between the research and their experiences, saw the research as relevant, adopted the principles of the research, and went on to apply it with their client workplaces. Keywords: knowledge transfer; network theory; evaluation; participative ergonomics
There are more than 400,000 workplaces in Ontario. They are all potential users of research on occupational health and safety. But the logistics of trying to reach even a fraction of these workplaces is difficult, especially if the goal Authors’ Note: This project was a key project of the Institute for Work & Health’s Knowledge Transfer and Exchange team and we gratefully thank its director, Jane Brenneman Gibson, for her support and assistance. Help also came from many members of this team, to whom we would like to extend our thanks. Moreover, the openness and willingness to give valuable time to the Science Communication, Vol. 26 No. 4, June 2005 428-444 DOI: 10.1177/1075547005275427 © 2005 Sage Publications
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is knowledge use and not merely dissemination of information. The task becomes even harder if the goal is knowledge transfer, which includes targeting the audience (Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2003), making knowledge created within one community accessible, understandable, and useful within another community (Canadian Health Services Research Foundation [CHSRF] 2003a; Wingens 1990) and generating new, context-specific knowledge through personal interaction and building linkages (CHSRF 2003b; Grimshaw et al. 2001). Moreover, there have been very few studies on the process of transferring workplace health and safety research to workplaces (Kramer and Cole 2003; Kramer, Cole, and Leithwood 2004), and there are few guidelines on how to go about achieving this objective. One solution, explored in this article, is for a research organization to create a network of practitioners who will act as “knowledge brokers” of research to client workplaces. This article describes how a Toronto-based research institute, the Institute for Work & Health (called the Institute), used consultants and ergonomists from practitioner-based associations within Ontario’s Health and Safety Prevention system (HSAs) to act as knowledge brokers to potential end users. It describes how a network-based strategy was created to facilitate knowledge transfer and how the network was maintained. It also describes the outcome of the knowledge transfer process, which was the adoption of the principles of participative ergonomics by these HSAs. The investigation was based on two theoretical foundations: knowledge transfer and networking theory. These fields have much in common and can be useful to each other. In the social interaction model of knowledge transfer, the purpose is to make research available, understandable, and usable for decision makers and to build stakeholder relationships to enhance the applicability and uptake of the research (Huberman 1990; Kramer 2002; Landry, Amara, and Lamari 2001; National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research [NCDDR] 2003; Oh 1997). This model emphasizes that “personal interaction is by far the most effective—and usually an absolutely essential—channel for assuring the use of research outcomes” (NCDDR 2003). On the other hand, models of network theory focus on studying the flow of knowledge, resources, activities, and learning between different social structures to understand how the creation of information networks changes the research team by the ergonomists and the consultants at the Health and Safety Associations is most appreciated. Please address correspondence to D.M. Kramer, PhD., Centre of Research Expertise in Musculoskeletal Disorders (CRE-MSD), Manager: Research & Knowledge Transfer, University of Waterloo, Room # LHI 3711, 200 University Ave. W., Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1; phone: 416 467-6272; fax: 519-886-5488; email: [email protected]
behavior of individuals and organizations (Barabasi 2002). One of the foundational theories of networking is the theory of “weak links” (Granovetter 1973). This theory puts forward the idea that connections between people can be relatively tenuous (“weak”) or intensive (“strong”) depending on the frequency, intensity, intimacy, and reciprocity of the interaction and connection (Krackhardt 1992). Depending on the desired outcomes, both kinds of ties can be very useful. Although weak ties have been found to be useful (in finding jobs, for example), this strategy worked on the idea that strong ties would be more beneficial as a means of facilitating knowledge transfer. The theory proposes that strong links are created through direct connections and ongoing relationships. These links are built through repeated, sequential forms of interaction, obeying rules of reciprocity, which evolve into a common understanding of mutual commitments and trust in the goodwill of others (Lutz 1997). This opens the opportunity for “double-loop learning” (Argyris and Schon 1978) and the possibility of restructuring well-examined frames of reference and prevailing assumptions. These strong links (as opposed to weak ones) are useful during times of change for long-term collaboration and for behavioral change (Krebs 1999–2003). A typology of knowledge use was used for this study that draws on previously established ways of viewing knowledge use (Huberman 1989, 1994; Landry 1999; Weiss 1979). The standards of conceptual, instrumental, and political use of knowledge were used. “Conceptual use” (also called “enlightenment” or “indirect” use) was determined when the research findings were used to gradually change and frame the understanding of an issue; “instrumental use” (also called “structural,” “problem solving,” or “direct” use) when the research findings were used to design a new policy, program, or procedure; and “political use” (also called “strategic,” “tactical,” or “symbolic” use) when research was used to justify a course of action that has already been decided on.
Method The objective of this study was to transfer a body of knowledge on participative ergonomics to a number of consultants and ergonomists within sector-specific HSAs. The goal was to have the HSAs adopt the principles of the research to their individual models of consulting, to incorporate case studies from their own sectors to make the research more context-specific, and to have them become “knowledge brokers” of the research to their client workplaces to achieve as wide a use of the knowledge as possible.
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This section describes what was transferred (i.e., the Blueprint) and by whom, who was chosen to be the recipients of the knowledge and why, and the conceptual framework that was used.
The Research Message The body of knowledge was a plain-language booklet. It was called the “Participative Ergonomic Blueprint,” or the “Blueprint” (Laing et al. 2005). The Blueprint was a facilitator’s guide to implementing a successful participative ergonomics program as part of an organization’s health and safety program. It was the product of a review of the scientific literature and a five-year workplace intervention research study in twelve plants (manufacturing, courier, and textiles). The Blueprint described how to reduce workplace injuries and improve workplace health by creating a participative ergonomic process. Its key message was that a successful program is intensive and sustained and is part of an overall management system. It includes management support, good representation from cross-sections within the workplace (management, supervisors, and workers), group decision making, and some basic training in ergonomics. The Blueprint’s intended audience was consultants and ergonomists from the HSAs, workplace health and safety specialists who have some ergonomics background, and organizational change consultants with a specialization in ergonomics. The Blueprint is divided into an ergonomic process and a health and safety process. Figure 1 acted as both the conceptual framework for the Blueprint and a way of formulating its chapter headings. The two authors of this article took on the role of transferring the Blueprint. One of the authors (Wells) was the principal investigator on the workplace intervention studies, the primary author of the Blueprint, and an adjunct scientist at the Institute (the Institute was one of the sponsoring research institutes of the intervention research). The other author (Kramer) is a coauthor on the Blueprint and is a knowledge transfer associate at the Institute.
The Audience The knowledge transfer strategy had an immediate audience—the practitioners who work for the HSAs. They were identified as potential users of the research and multipliers of the research. Their role was to link to the longer term target audience of Ontario’s workplaces.
Start Up Establish management support Form Ergonomic Change Team Initiate basic training
Health & Safety Process 1. Participation and Consultation
10. (Compliance Assurance)
Reactive 9. (Medical Management) 8. Ergonomic Tools, Techniques and Skills
2. Management Support of Ergonomics and Resources
1. Identify opportunities for improvement: Health outcome, risk Factor identification and integration 2. Assess ergonomic risk factors and prioritize jobs for improvement
Proactive 6. Adopt solution
5. Evaluate prototype 4. Implement Prototype
3. Build Solutions
7a. Use feedback from previous designs and plants
7b. Employ ergonomic design criteria and purchasing guidelines
6. Evaluation/Audit Process
3. Corporate Ergonomics Policy
4. Education and Training
5. Ergonomic Program Management
Figure 1: The Participative Ergonomic Blueprint Model
The choice to create strong links with the HSAs and to regard their practitioners as knowledge brokers for the research was logical. In Ontario, there are twelve of these sector-based HSAs (health care, manufacturing, service sector, pulp and paper, etc.), and two other associations that are similarly funded: the Workers Health and Safety Centre and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers. They provide safety-focused training programs, products, and services to the province’s employers and workers. The HSAs as organizations have a common interest in improving the health of workers that is shared with the Institute, and this facilitated the creation of linkages. They share a mandate to reduce workplace injuries and a commitment to evidence-based practice. Moreover, the HSAs and the Institute are largely funded by the same umbrella organization (the province’s workers’ compensation board) and hence, are positively inclined toward being open to research evidence from the Institute.
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A decision was made that meetings would take place with the ergonomists and consultants of individual HSAs and that the associations would not be brought together as a group. The recommendation to pattern the interaction in this way came from a group, the HSA Liaison Committee, that was created by the Institute and preceded this intervention. It had representatives from five of the HSAs. They argued that the Institute should network separately with each of the associations because the HSAs are dissimilar associations, with different needs, that target unlike sectors. A subsequent survey of the HSAs that was executed in fall 2003 (Education Safety Association of Ontario 2003) reinforced this decision. It showed how the associations differ widely in the sectors they interact with (from education to health care to mining), size (from five to more than 50 field staff), and number of client firms they consult with in a year (from 120 to 100,000 firms). They also differ in the consulting models they use (from one consultant focusing on only five firms in a year to another that saw more than three hundred firms in a year), and services they offer (from classroom training to consulting with management). This model of interaction continued for the duration of this study.
Conceptual Framework The conceptual framework (see Figure 2) that guided the knowledge transfer project and its evaluation reflects the synthesis of knowledge transfer and network theory. The framework highlights (1) establishing goodwill through identifying links, building trust and credibility, and engaging in interactive dialogue on the research ideas and concepts; (2) achieving reciprocity through the knowledge transfer and exchange process of identifying collaborative opportunities, holding executive-level meetings, and making the research context specific; (3) knowledge use as evidenced through conceptual, political, and instrumental use of the knowledge; and (4) creating long-term alliances with the different associations through an ongoing exchange of resources, projects, research, and experience.
Data collection Once the conceptual and evaluation frameworks were agreed on and the sample frame of the HSAs was determined, meetings were set up. This intervention lasted a calendar year, and during that time, seventeen meetings were held with twelve different HSAs. In all, more than 150 people participated in these meetings and have at least gained familiarity with the Blueprint’s basic concepts. Discussions also took place with the executives from five of these
Identifying collaborative opportunities
Building trust and credibility
Holding executivelevel meetings
Interactive dialogue on ideas and research
Knowledge Utilization Research is adapted to user context: Conceptual use Political use
Creating long-term alliances Exchange of resources, projects, research and experience
Figure 2: Conceptual Framework: Building interorganizational networks to facilitate knowledge transfer.
HSAs to discuss how the research could be incorporated into the ergonomists’ or consultants’ intervention work. Data were collected and analyzed from the notes that were taken at the meetings using qualitative research methods. These notes included the major purpose of the meeting, who was present, the issues that emerged from the meetings, and the progress that was made from one meeting to the next. This article will describe the meetings in more detail, but typically they included a presentation on the Blueprint by the researcher and then the knowledge transfer associate facilitated a discussion on the implications that the research knowledge could have on the practitioners’ consulting model. The practitioners were able to frame the issues in their own way and use their own language and conceptual repertoire to express themselves. The discussions were focused on the specific issue of participative ergonomics but were expanded and modified as new and unexpected issues of relevance emerged.
The Knowledge Transfer Process Following the conceptual framework, the knowledge transfer process fell into four phases: the establishment of goodwill, which explains how the initial contact was established; how reciprocity was achieved, which describes the interactive meetings; how knowledge use was tracked through the indicators of conceptual, instrumental, and political use; and how long-term alliances were developed.
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Establishing Goodwill The major task in this part of the process was building trust and credibility. The knowledge broker approached an individual at each of the HSAs. This first contact was often on the advice of members of the HSA Liaison Committee. This person was either an ergonomist or a key consultant or senior executive within the HSA. They were informally contacted, their level of interest was gauged, and they were asked whether they would help convene a group of consultants or ergonomists for a two- to three-hour workshop. Small groups were considered the most desirable. This builds on other research (Kramer 2002; Senge et al. 1994) that highlights the importance of decision makers’ having the opportunity to dialogue in groups to work through the implications of research for their own work. At the meeting, the knowledge associate introduced herself and the researcher. It was felt that having the researcher deliver the presentations lent credibility to the message and that it emphasized the importance that was placed on having this exchange of information. The practitioners were asked to identify themselves by giving some information on their role within their associations and their experience with and knowledge of ergonomics. This helped to tailor the presentation to the particular group. The researcher gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Blueprint. The presentation lasted from ten minutes to an hour; it could be adjusted in real time and differed from group to group, depending on what was considered the dominant interest of the users. Some groups were unsophisticated, in which case the basics of ergonomics were introduced. Others were very interested in the details of the intervention research that was the basis of the Blueprint and wanted to know details of the research design, implementation, and outcomes that were measured. Yet others were interested in case studies that were being written to demonstrate the applicability of the Blueprint to different workplaces. They explored how they could contribute to these with their own experiences.
Achieving Reciprocity A goal of these meetings was to identify potential areas of collaboration. The objectives of the meetings set the tone for a collaborative, reciprocal engagement. The objectives that were mentioned at the beginning of each of the meetings were (1) for the users to gain familiarity with the research, (2) for the knowledge associate and the researcher to learn from the users about their experiences, (3) to identify the users’ intervention models and how the
Blueprint’s principles could be mapped onto them, and (4) to identify some practitioners’ activities that could be enhanced by the research. The meetings were very interactive. The dynamic nature of the meetings was encouraged by soliciting the users’ views and experiences throughout the meeting. Moreover, the value of the consultants’ and ergonomists’ “realworld” experiential knowledge was emphasized, as was the opportunity that the meetings offered to have that knowledge come together with the “scientific” knowledge to create something more relevant and context specific than either could achieve on its own. In this way, a comfortable, respectful atmosphere was established that facilitated opportunities for reciprocity. The practitioners also offered feedback on the applicability of the Blueprint to workplaces. Some of the practitioners thought that it would be enhanced by case studies. Others thought it would be difficult to adapt to small workplaces. Still others wondered at the feasibility of getting top management to agree to such an intensive intervention (“you need to emphasize that the ergonomic system rests on the management system,” was one comment; “there will be an issue in persuading a company to make the Blueprint part of an overall cultural change,” said another). Yet other practitioners thought that the Blueprint needed to be used in small doses, as this comment demonstrates: “We could never give a JHSC [Joint Health and Safety Committee] the whole thing because it would be overwhelming to them. You will have to break it down so that it is palatable to the JHSC or a subcommittee of the JHSC.” A number of the HSAs had existing documents outlining policies and procedures on ergonomics. When this was the case, the research was often seen as compatible with what the participants were already doing, and it was easier to identify opportunities for collaboration. There was a readier acceptance and a greater openness to seeing how the Blueprint’s concepts could be adopted into their policies. Research has found that it is easier to achieve knowledge use if new ideas are seen as relevant to the problems of the individuals and if it is possible for new ideas to build on existing policies or practices (Kramer 2002). Identifying commonality became one of the goals of the meetings and a strong indicator of receptivity. Comments such as, “This is already where we are going; we have been attempting to evaluate upstream, involve management, and get companies to measure their success,” were happily received. For example, one of the consultants at the Workers Centre said: We have a program that is very similar to this program. I am using the knowledge that I have to understand the process here. It can work and there are
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different applications. We think you’re on the right track with the participatory approach. You have to make sure that workers feel that they can make a difference. This will help us prioritize our training aspect.
Knowledge Use The Blueprint research was used by the HSA practioners in a number of ways. As mentioned, the categories of knowledge use that were tracked were divided into conceptual, political, and instrumental use. In general, “conceptual use” is usually determined when research findings are used to gradually change and frame the understanding of an issue; “political use” when research is used to justify a course of action that has already been decided on; and “instrumental use” when the research findings are used to design a new policy, program, or procedure. In this study, examples of conceptual use could include receptivity on the part of the HSA consultants to the Blueprint’s process, agreement from the HSA consultants that its principles were compatible with the models they used, or commitment from the HSA executive to go ahead with the adoption of the Blueprint. Examples of political use could include the consultants using the Blueprint as moral weight to persuade their executive to allow them to change their consulting model to be more intensive. Examples of instrumental uses could include the creation of a specific tool that used the principles of the Blueprint, a significant enhancement to an existing tool, the adoption of the Blueprint principles within documentation, the creation of a policy to change the model of consulting to more closely reflect the principles of intensive engagement, the agreement to use a participatory approach with their client workplaces, or the adoption of a more participative approach to ergonomic practice. Some of these predicted outcomes were achieved, some were not, and others that were not predicted were achieved.
Conceptual Use of the Research Six of the HSAs demonstrated conceptual use of the knowledge (industrial-, service-, pulp-and-paper-, and electrical-and-utilities-based HSAs as well as the Workers Centre and Occupational Health Clinics). Other groups expressed interest but did not find it directly relevant to their work (workers compensation board, Ministry of Labour, and health- and construction-based HSAs). Receptivity to the Blueprint was expressed by the engaged dialogues, questions that were asked, and the conceptual links that were made from the document to the practitioners’ experiences. They did find that the principles
within the Blueprint were compatible with their own models. The executivelevel meetings led to commitments that the associations would go ahead with adopting some of the ideas from the Blueprint. Some of the HSAs discussed how the Blueprint could fit into their larger mandate, especially the need to try to evaluate upstream indicators of safety climate. Some of the comments were: “Our evaluation has focused on lagging indicators, but these indicators, such as lost-time injuries, are open to gross manipulation. We need leading indicators since they are more useful. We could use the Blueprint’s progress indicators for that.” Alternatively, they saw the Blueprint as a tool that could help them in their role as change agents. “This helps us understand how companies make change. Smaller companies may not realize that they have a problem and this could be a guideline.” Some were open to the idea of trying out the process as a pilot for one company or one project. “We need to make sure that we get the biggest bang for our buck,” they said. Yet others saw the potential of using the research as a tool to aid policy change: “Could this become the basis for new ergonomics legislation?” they asked. In the groups, ergonomists and consultants discussed how they could successfully “pitch” the Blueprint’s new ideas to the companies they worked with. This varied from the idea of proposing it to a company’s management or JHSC or the possibility of persuading these companies to give it a larger policy role. One said, “The whole project would be daunting for most company executives, but perhaps there are bits and pieces they could use.” Alternatively, another said, “I can see it as an educational tool for a company’s JHSC”; “but how would you extend the mandate of the JHSC to include this? We would need to have some guidelines for companies.”
Political Use of the Research An interesting outcome of any knowledge transfer project is to note how research can be used by workplace parties to achieve already-formulated objectives or to justify a course of action that has already been decided on. In the study, there were at least three instances of political use of the research during the duration of the project. One group of ergonomists (workers compensation board) objected to the model of consulting that their organization had prescribed for them. They had transitory engagements with workplaces, responding as “fire fighters” to crises. They wanted a more intensive engagement with their clients, and saw the research as a way of bolstering this argument to management.
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Another group of HSA consultants (electrical and utilities-based) wanted to use the research as a catalyst for change within their own organization. They wanted their own association to become more participative and consultative, as well as more evidence based in their practices, and saw the Blueprint as a way to move their organization in that direction. Yet a third (health based) hoped to use the Blueprint as a way to incorporate more evidence-based research within their work. It is interesting that this impetus was coming from the consultants and not from management. The consultants saw a potential liaison with the Institute as a way to be more involved with research, an action that would not only enhance their consulting skills but that could potentially be a way to advance their careers.
Instrumental Use of the Research Four of the HSA groups (industrial-, electrical-and-utilities-, and servicebased, and the occupational health clinics) requested that the researcher and the knowledge associate have meetings with their executive to move the project forward. These meetings took place, and “instrumental” use of the research was achieved with these four, whereby these HSAs have decided to incorporate the principles, some of the audit tools, or the entirety of the Blueprint within their existing policies or procedures. The ergonomists at the manufacturing-based HSA have adopted many of the Blueprint’s evaluation checklists, and the participatory process is now emphasized in a number of places in a newly created document. This melding of the Blueprint into an existing document took place in a full-day meeting with the ergonomists, the researcher, and the knowledge broker. Each line of the amalgamated document was discussed and rewritten to satisfy the group. The ergonomist within the electrical-and-utilities-based HSA will be piloting the Blueprint model within the organization itself, focusing on office ergonomics. She has established an internal ergonomics change team, has conducted basic ergonomics training with them, has created a binder with the Blueprint’s checklists, and has piloted each phase of the Blueprint’s process. This HSA is taking the Blueprint process out to a number of client workplaces. The ergonomists from the occupational health clinics chose not to directly include the Blueprint since their ergonomics handbook was already in the printing stage, but they have included it as a reference within the appendix of this newly updated handbook and have incorporated the key messages of the Blueprint into a regular presentation on establishing participatory ergonomics committees. The service-sector-based HSA is taking on the task of adapting the Blueprint to make it useful to small businesses (those with fewer than twenty
employees). This will be quite a major accomplishment since the Blueprint’s research was based on work conducted at medium and large companies. This work is continuing.
Long-Term Alliances This strategy was successful in creating strong ties between the Institute and the HSAs. This is validated by the fact that the Institute’s relationship with the HSAs has acquired a life beyond the Blueprint. The relationship has acted as a catalyst for further collaborations and the establishing of long-term alliances. There is now a constant flow of information and assistance between the researchers and members of the practitioner associations, often through e-mails and telephone calls. The practitioner associations have offered the researchers documentation, assessment tools, guidelines, policies, and contacts with client workplaces. In turn, the practitioners have turned to the researchers for information and advice and for help on analyzing their data from client workplaces. The manufacturing-, electrical-andutilities, and service-sector-based HSAs and the occupational health clinics are now collaborating as partners in a large-scale workplace intervention research study. The healthcare-based HSA is collaborating with the Institute on a province-wide evaluation of the implementation of new technology. The construction-based HSA is also proposing further involvement as a research partner. The strategy of how the Institute will interact with the HSAs has changed a bit. The Institute now brings representatives from a number of HSAs together on research projects. Moreover, a newly initiated project to adapt the principles of the Blueprint to small workplaces will involve at least three of the HSAs.
Discussion Barriers to Adoption There were barriers to the adoption of the Blueprint that emerged as the consultants and ergonomists engaged in “sense making” of the new ideas that were being proposed and explored the feasibility of adopting the research into their associations’ consulting models and the way they did business. Confusion was sometimes apparent as the consultants tried to absorb the new information. Some were unwilling to make any changes to their practice. For example, “Just because you know where the problems are, does not mean
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that you will be able to make change,” said one. The complexity of the research overwhelmed others: “Are we meant to focus on the internal circle, the external circle, the research, or what?” Another barrier was that the Blueprint implicitly proposed a change in the HSAs’ consulting model. It advocated a more intensive and sustained involvement with companies. This idea was rejected by those who saw their role as immediate problem solvers. Many of the HSAs target companies with high injury rates; they see their role as either advocates of immediate change or as the channel for the Ministry of Labour’s enforcement role. They are seldom at a workplace for longer than a couple of hours and seldom engage the management or executive of the company. Changing this pattern did not suit them. Related to this change was that the more intensive process was seen as prohibitively expensive, especially in a time of restraint. It would be costly to the HSAs to adopt a more intensive consulting model. “This takes time and resources, both of which we have been told we have in short supply. We have no obligation to make such a commitment, so why should we do it?” was one manager’s response when the idea was proposed to him. Moreover, it would be costly for the workplaces. Many of the HSA consultants did not believe that their client workplaces would be willing to set aside the needed time or the resources. They held the opinion that client workplaces saw ergonomic change as an unnecessary expense. They strongly advocated for an economic/business case to be part of the research. Some of the comments that emerged were: If we took on your model we could only do this with one company in a year! Even if we got this going, it would be really problematic keeping it going. This seems like a good process, but how is it to be implemented? When times get tough, [the companies] cut safety first. This will cost money. You would need a whole attitude change.
Third, some of the associations were going through intensive restructuring, and adopting new ideas, especially those generated outside of the organization, was all but impossible. There is always the possibility that if the research had been proposed a year earlier or a year later, it would have been more feasible to incorporate its principles; getting the timing right is very important with the adoption of new ideas (Rogers 1995). Finally, there was an issue around ownership and intellectual territory. When one group of ergonomists wanted to adopt the research into their
organization’s existing document on ergonomics, they predicted problems. As one of the ergonomists said: “This can be a hot potato. We have run with it, but we are not sure whether the consultants [who wrote their original document] will be terribly happy with what we have done. It is a question of proprietal ownership. They see the whole document, including the ergonomics piece, as really theirs.”
Using Networking as a Model for Knowledge Transfer Networking can be seen to be an effective tool of knowledge transfer. This process created “strong ties” between the Institute and the HSAs. The strong ties are demonstrated by multiple contacts made with key people; group dialogue sessions that built trust and confidence; the atmosphere of respect and cooperation that was established; the continuous exchange of resources, information, activities, and learning through the group sessions; follow-up working groups; and conversations with management. Some of the most important lessons that can be learned for knowledge transfer from networking are that (1) a network is not an end in itself. It is created and maintained by facilitating the flow of information, services, resources, or products; (2) one cannot say that one “has” a network. A network is a dynamic entity and needs constant nurturing through intensive and sustained interactions; (3) someone to help bridge the research and practitioner communities is useful. The role of the knowledge transfer associate was useful in linking the Institute with the HSAs and facilitating the exchange of resources, information, and activities; (4) identifying a champion within a node is useful. Making a strong link with this core person, who has strong links within their own node, will facilitate network building and the exchange between nodes; (5) network analysis can help identify gaps. This helped to prioritize the activities; (6) one can evaluate the effectiveness of a network through such process outcomes as the number of contacts, number of shared projects, and number of exchanges and through criteria of knowledge use such as conceptual, instrumental, and political use of research knowledge. Naturally, a number of questions still have been left unanswered, such as were the right people at the table and was this the right number of meetings to hold. This was a sustained, intensive engagement that is supported in the literature (Cousins and Leithwood 1993; Huberman 1994; Kramer, Cole, and Leithwood 2003). Yet this networking strategy was devised in part to minimize resource investment. So the question that still needs to be asked is whether goodwill, reciprocity, knowledge use, and long-term alliances could have been achieved with fewer meetings involving fewer or different people.
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Notably, a recent systematic review of the research on participative ergonomics has also identified that there is a lack of information on the level of participation. The review noted that the studies did not have sufficiently strong designs for the reviewers to determine what intensity of participation was optimal and has recommended that future research should formally document the level of, extent of, and proportion of those involved “in order to provide much needed measures of intensity” (Cole et al. 2005, 40). Unfortunately, this study also brought no resolution to this question, and it is left dangling for future research.
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DESRE M. KRAMER is Manager: Research & Knowledge Transfer for the Centre of Research Expertise in Musculoskeletal Disorders, University of Waterloo. She is an Adjunct Scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, and Adjunct Professor at the School of Public and Occupational Health, Ryerson University, Toronto. RICHARD P. WELLS is director of the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders and Disabilities, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, University of Waterloo, and an adjunct scientist at the Institute for Work & Health.