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An arts-based knowledge translation (ABKT) planning framework for researchers

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  • 1 Queen’s University, Ontario, , Canada
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Arts-based knowledge translation (ABKT) is a process that uses diverse art genres (visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, multimedia including video and photography) to communicate research with the goal of catalysing dialogue, awareness, engagement, and advocacy to provide a foundation for social change on important societal issues. We propose a four-stage ABKT planning framework for researchers: (1) setting goals of ABKT by target audiences; (2) choosing art form, medium, dissemination strategies, and methods for collecting impact data; (3) building partnerships for co-production; and (4) assessing impact. The framework is derived from examples across sectors of the different art forms currently being used in ABKT, and discusses how researchers have attempted to evaluate the impact of their ABKT efforts. Ultimately, our goal is to provide a practical ABKT framework to assist researchers, but more work is needed to explore the four dimensions in practice.

Abstract

Arts-based knowledge translation (ABKT) is a process that uses diverse art genres (visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, multimedia including video and photography) to communicate research with the goal of catalysing dialogue, awareness, engagement, and advocacy to provide a foundation for social change on important societal issues. We propose a four-stage ABKT planning framework for researchers: (1) setting goals of ABKT by target audiences; (2) choosing art form, medium, dissemination strategies, and methods for collecting impact data; (3) building partnerships for co-production; and (4) assessing impact. The framework is derived from examples across sectors of the different art forms currently being used in ABKT, and discusses how researchers have attempted to evaluate the impact of their ABKT efforts. Ultimately, our goal is to provide a practical ABKT framework to assist researchers, but more work is needed to explore the four dimensions in practice.

In the quest to increase the influence of research in policymaking and practice environments, sectors are beginning to search for more innovative ways to communicate research and engage a range of diverse target audiences, especially those outside the ivory towers of academia, in communities and broader society. We argue that the arts are an important mechanism to translate research and to spark substantive conversations on important societal issues. Arts-based knowledge translation (ABKT) refers to the process of using artistic approaches to communicate research findings to target audiences and ‘reduce the knowledge-to-action gap’ (Archibald et al, 2014, 316). Researchers and practitioners across fields have explored several art forms in ABKT (for example, visual arts, dance, drama) and have used surveys, interviews, written feedback, discussion groups, and other informal person-to-person communication to gather responses to various ABKT efforts (Christensen, 2012; Colantonio et al, 2008; Cole and McIntyre, 2004; Norris, 2000; Parsons et al, 2013).

The goal of this article is to provide a framework to help researchers think through which art forms might be appropriate to their research translation goals, and what methods might assist them in tracing the impact of ABKT efforts. We have collated examples from research studies – primarily from our context of Canada, where ABKT has been developing a strong presence – to demonstrate how ABKT is currently being implemented and how impact data is gathered, in the hope that describing these examples will prove instructive for researchers to think about their own research projects. Our ABKT planning framework is organised in relation to four dimensions: (1) goals of ABKT with target audiences; (2) art form, medium, dissemination strategies, and methods for collecting impact data; (3) partnerships and coproduction; and (4) assessing impact. Prior to exploring distinctions between arts-based research and ABKT, we outline the purposes for developing the ABKT framework and the needs arising from the literature that it addresses.

Why create an ABKT planning framework for researchers?

The ABKT planning framework was developed to assist researchers interested in trying alternative approaches to knowledge translation. We created the framework for three reasons.

Researchers are struggling with how to go about planning KT efforts with non-academic audiences

With research funders around the globe increasingly requiring KT with non-academic audiences, researchers are grappling with how best to communicate their research with different audiences, and how to measure its uptake and impact (Tetroe et al, 2008; Wilsdon et al, 2015). Similarly, with high stakes research performance funding systems such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK spreading across international jurisdictions, translation and impact with non-academic audiences are important priorities in higher education (King’s College London and Digital Science, 2015; Watermeyer, 2014). There are very few tools to assist researchers in these efforts (Cooper et al, in press). A need has arisen for capacity-building tools to assist researchers in their efforts to communicate their work more broadly (Nutley et al, 2007; Tetroe et al, 2008). Our ABKT framework addresses this need by providing a strategic approach to think through different goals of KT, different art genres that might be utilised, how a researcher might create the requisite partnerships for ABKT, and preliminary impact indicators they might utilise to trace the influence of their KT efforts.

The planning framework exposes researchers to the range of arts mechanisms that might be employed to communicate their research more broadly

A second purpose of the ABKT tool is to provide an overview of the breadth of arts-based communication mechanisms that have been used to communicate empirical research that researchers might not have been aware of or have considered for research dissemination. By amassing a breadth of examples from Canada, and to a lesser extent other jurisdictions, we are providing ideas and models for researchers to draw on, replicate, and adapt for their own work. Our hope is that researchers will look up the studies for methods they find applicable to their work, to gain in-depth descriptions of how other researchers employed and measured ABKT efforts. Our ABKT framework is not about proving or assessing the value of the arts, it is about planning and assessing the impact of using the arts to communicate research findings: a subtle, but important, distinction.

Because using the arts to communicate research has the potential to increase its accessibility across diverse groups, languages, and cultures

Recent reviews of the REF have highlighted the importance of narrative and telling stories of impact in diverse ways (King’s College London and Digital Science 2015). ABKT methods are appealing in part because of the potential of art to act as a mode of storytelling that can cross cultures, individual abilities, and professional domains (for example, Boydell, 2011; Christensen, 2012). For instance, in international contexts KT efforts in AIDS education have often employed the arts (theatre, paintings, songs) to reach communities with different languages and low literacy levels (UNESCO, 2006). Even locally, the arts have the potential to convey research findings in new ways to a wide range of audiences. Engagement might be increased through these varied mechanisms, rather than trying to have stakeholders engage with academic publications and lengthy research reports. So, a third reason we created the ABKT framework was to challenge researchers to think creatively about the ways in which they might engage end-users. KT is now required for researchers in many jurisdictions, and our ABKT planning framework is meant to help researchers think through how they might introduce ABKT as one of the diverse mechanisms they employ in disseminating their work more widely to non-academic audiences.

The purpose of this article is to describe a planning framework for ABKT that addresses the capacity-building needs of researchers. Building on elements from the literature, we set out to accomplish four goals: (1) provide a distinction between arts-based research and ABKT; (2) to blend elements from art genres and KT literature into a planning framework; (3) to review work that supports aspects of the framework (and identify gaps in our current understanding); and (4) to consider the implications of ABKT efforts for researchers.

Arts-based research versus arts-based knowledge translation

Arts-based research has become a widely-adopted methodology for delving into the many facets of human experience. The uptake of these approaches has much to do with the many researchers who have devoted their efforts to defining, defending, and demonstrating various arts-based methodologies (for example, Barone and Eisner, 2012; Blaikie, 2013; Knowles and Cole, 2008a; Marshall, 2007; Springgay et al, 2005). Although it is admirable that many fields outside studio and performing arts (for example, health and social sciences) have expanded their ideas of what constitutes knowledge and research by using artistic means of representation, it is questionable whether many of their methodologies can truly be considered arts-based research. Tom Barone, a leading scholar in arts-based research, contends that an arts-based methodology differs from other forms of inquiry in that there are ‘aesthetic qualities (or design elements) within both the inquiry process and the research text’ (Barone, 2008, 29). In other words, for a research study to be considered arts-based research, the researchers should apply some form of art and artistic approach(es) throughout the research process that are evident in the final research products; the arts should not simply be ‘used as data for investigations… that utilize more traditional scientific, verbal, and mathematic descriptions and analyses’ (McNiff, 2008, 29). Table 1 describes some of the definitions from the literature.

Table 1:

Definitions of arts-based research versus arts-based knowledge translation

TermDefinition
Arts-based researchArts-based research is an approach to research that we define as a method designed to enlarge human understanding… the aim is to create an expressive form that will enable an individual to secure an empathetic participation in the lives of others and in the situations studied. (Barone and Eisner, 2012, 8–9)
… enhanced understanding [of phenomena] through the communication of subjective realities or personal truths that can occur only through works of art. (Barone, 2008, 29)
Arts-based research can be defined as the systematic use of the artistic process, the actual making of artistic expressions in all of the different forms of the arts, as a primary way of understanding and examining experience by both researchers and the people that they involve in their studies. (McNiff, 2008, 29)
An emerging qualitative research approach; it refers to the use of any art form (or combination thereof) in generating, interpreting, and or communicating knowledge. (Boydell et al, 2012, 3 citing Knowles and Cole, 2008b)
Arts-based health research (Boydell et al, 2012)1. A process to produce knowledge, and 2. A product to disseminate results. Arts-based research as a process refers to researcher and/or participants using an artistic format to develop, explore, analyze or collect data. Arts-based research as product indicates that the research results are communicated in some type of artistic format. There are variations of the above and many arts-based research projects are combinations of the two. (Boydell et al, 2012, 3)
Arts-based KT (ABKT)We distinguish arts-based KT from arts-based research, and define ABKT as a process that uses diverse art genres (visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, multi-media including video and photography) to communicate research with the goal of catalysing dialogue, awareness, engagement, and advocacy to provide a foundation for social change on important societal issues (homelessness, medical diseases and conditions, sexual orientation, historical learning, among others).

We acknowledge that ABKT does not necessarily include the arts in all steps of the research and, therefore, in some cases it may not constitute arts-based research. Our purpose in presenting the examples in this paper is to showcase to researchers the many ways the arts can be used to facilitate the coproduction of knowledge among various stakeholders in the knowledge translation (KT) process. Thus, the examples we provide may or may not use arts-based approaches throughout the entire research process, but all of them include some form of art as a medium for translating knowledge to stakeholders or educating the general public.

A framework for planning ABKT

The ABKT planning framework is derived from the literature describing the different ABKT strategies that researchers have been using and how they have attempted to measure the impact of this work. Four key steps underpin the ABKT planning framework: (1) identify goals in relation to target audiences; (2) explore art genres and mediums to decide what mechanisms, products, or performances you might use to disseminate your research; (3) build partnerships with artists, art brokers, and community members to navigate artistic genres and mediums that might be appropriate for the particular research topic; and (4) plan dissemination mechanisms and trace the impact on target audiences through a variety of mixed methods (Figure 1).

Figure 1:
Figure 1:

An arts-based knowledge translation (ABKT) planning framework for researchers

Citation: Evidence & Policy 15, 2; 10.1332/174426417X15006249072134

Each area of the framework has a key question for researchers to consider, as well as various options in each of the four areas (goals, art genre, partnerships, and impact) that might be appropriate for a particular project or topic.

Step 1: identify goals and target audiences

Key question: what are the goals of your ABKT efforts tailored for each target audience you hope to influence?

Setting explicit goals for KT efforts contributes to (a) the probability of success, and (b) tracing dissemination and impact (Barwick, 2011; Cooper, 2014; Kuruvilla, 2006; Lavis et al, 2003). KT literature across sectors has identified knowledge brokering (a term used to describe how research–practice–policy connections might be improved by intermediary efforts to facilitate interaction among researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and community members) as an important and underdeveloped area to improve research communication, uptake, and impact. The first dimension of the framework draws on the work of Cooper (2014) which explored brokering efforts across Canada, and is also informed by the examples of ABKT provided in the next section. Table 2 provides the possible brokering goals of ABKT as a mechanism for social change.

Table 2:

Identifying brokering goals of arts-based knowledge translation

ABKT brokering goalDescription
AwarenessIncreasing awareness of the empirical evidence on a topic or historical developments on a particular topic. Public awareness of issues is a critical step to galvanising change.
Debate and dialogueABKT can be used to create spaces for democratic debate and discussion of pressing societal issues.
AccessibilityIncreasing accessibility to research through the arts. There are many areas (such as HIV education within international development) in which language, literacy, or culture are barriers to reading research materials. An arts-based approach to KT can address accessibility issues in some cases.
EngagementIncreasing engagement with research content through making it appeal to more of our senses and tapping into social-emotional aspects of the human condition. (that is, empathetic participation).
Capacity building and implementation supportABKT efforts can be a catalyst to facilitate professional learning and skill development around a particular topic (for example mental health and medical conditions, among many others).
Advocacy and policy influenceABKT can be used for advocacy on a particular issue (domestic violence, homelessness, cancer) using research to stimulate policy priorities or change.
Partnership and co-productionFacilitating connections among diverse stakeholders, supporting collaboration, and co-producing diverse stakeholders’ views in order to convey plurality of perspectives on a topic.

Step 2: choose art genres, mediums, and methods for examining impact

Key question: what art genre and medium are appropriate for your topic, goal, and target audience?

After identifying potential goals of ABKT efforts, researchers next need to consider the diverse art genres and mediums that might be applicable to their specific contexts. One of the primary aims of this article is to provide a brief overview of examples from the literature as well as how researchers attempted to capture the impact of ABKT (Table 3 summarises these examples). Some examples may overlap with multiple art forms (for example, illustrated books can be categorised in both the visual arts and the creative writing categories) but have been placed in only one of the corresponding categories to avoid repetition. Furthermore, the examples provided in Table 3 are not meant to provide a systematic review of these methods but, rather, a practical ‘menu’ style selection of approaches to help guide researchers and practitioners interested in using ABKT.

Table 3:

Art genre, medium and examples from literature, dissemination strategies, and methods to collect impact data on ABKT

Art FormMedium (examples)Dissemination strategiesMethods to collect impact data on ABKT
Visual artIllustrated books, comics-Hard copy distributionIn-person discussion following readings
Hopkins et al, 2012 (Canada);-Public readings
Gerdner, 2008 (USA);
Govender and Reddy, 2011 (South Africa)
Quilting-Distributing photographs of the process and productIn-person communication
Atkinson et al, 2013 (Canada)-Showing the quilt to stakeholders and practitioners
Performing artsMusic-Music video (shared through social media, hard copy distribution)-Online communication (comment boards, e-mails)
Dell, 2011 (Canada)-Public hearings / viewings (conferences, fundraisers)-In-person communication
DanceLive performances-Group discussion post-performance
Bagley and Cancienne, 2001 (UK/USA);-In-theatre observation of audience responses
Boydell, 2011 (Canada)-Written responses from audience members
DramaLive performancesAudience questionnaires (Likert scales, open-ended questions)
Colantonio et al, 2008 (Canada);
Gray et al, 2000 (Canada);
Jonas-Simpson et al, 2012 (Canada);
Norris, 2000 (Canada);
Schneider et al, 2014 (UK)
Creative writingPoetry-Public exhibit of poems with accompanying imagery and artefactsComment guest book
Bruce et al, 2013 (Canada);-Links to online images / videos of the exhibit
Lapum et al, 2011 (Canada)
Short story / story booklet-Hard copy distribution-In-person discussion following public readings
Christensen, 2012 (Canada);-Public / group readings-Online communication
Hartling et al, 2010 (Canada)-Conferences-Focus groups
-Academic and online journals
Multi-mediaMixed media-Public exhibits and installations-Comment guest book / written responses
Cole and McIntyre, 2004 (Canada);-In-depth interviews with audience members and other stakeholders
Parsons et al, 2013 (Canada)
Video-Public screenings-In-person discussion following public screenings
Chaput, 2015 (Canada);-Hardcopy distribution-Questionnaires
Hampton et al, 2011 (Canada)
Photography-Public exhibits-Online comment boards
Levin et al, 2007 (USA);-Websites / web galleries
Wang and Pies, 2004 (USA)

Visual arts

Visual arts present a challenge in conveying specific meaning in ABKT due to the multidimensional nature of personal interpretation. However, if the aim of the research is not to educate per se but, rather, to shift thinking about a topic, it is possible that well-conceived imagery can achieve such a goal. The lack of ABKT literature dealing with visual arts as a stand-alone medium suggests that many researchers are not yet comfortable with such open-ended interpretation and the controversy surrounding the transfer of knowledge through, say, drawing or painting.

Studies using visual arts have focused more on the art-making process as a way for patients or participants to explore and express their perceptions and experiences (for example, Guillemin, 2004; Nowicka-Sauer, 2007). Govender and Reddy (2011) used drawing in this way to give voice to the experiences of HIV-positive children in South Africa. Through drawing, the children explored their shared experiences of HIV treatments, and their contributions were collected in a storyboard and book to teach other children about the importance of treatment adherence. In this case, words and dialogue were added to the pictures to more explicitly convey important meaning. The researchers did not mention whether or how the final book was shared with children in South Africa, as the study focused mainly on the creation of the book itself rather than on its dissemination. In terms of ABKT, a discussion of dissemination approaches is pertinent to the outcomes of the project and should be given consideration in studies of this nature. Atkinson et al (2013) describe how their collaborative quilt capturing the experiences of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder prevention workers was shared with participants and stakeholders by circulating it to various prevention programme sites. However, in projects that yield only one visual product, dissemination and impact are limited unless aspects of the project are otherwise shared online or through photographs.

Gerdner (2008) provides an example of more widespread ABKT. She translated research findings from an ethnographic study into an illustrated book that could be shared with children in a particular Hmong community where some of their grandparents suffered from dementia. When the book was completed, 1,000 copies were distributed to organisations (for example, schools, libraries, cultural centres) throughout the community. Local elementary schools and other community organisations held book readings, where the researchers gathered positive feedback from clinicians, librarians, principals, and scholars. However, the study lacks descriptions of the children’s reactions to the readings. In this case, given that the book was designed to communicate information to children, the educative value of the book seems important to the impact assessment. Children’s learning and their feelings about the story should have been a central component of the research study.

Performing arts

Drama

The potential for directness and immediate audience response is perhaps why health researchers have widely adopted drama as a preferred medium for ABKT (for example, Colantonio et al, 2008; Gray et al, 2000; Jonas-Simpson et al, 2012; Schneider et al, 2014). However, live theatre performances can be problematic for gathering audience feedback because the majority of viewers tend to exit the theatre / performance space shortly after the show (Colantonio et al, 2008). In these cases, surveys and questionnaires distributed before or after the performance seem to be an effective way to gather information from viewers. Using this approach, Colantonio et al (2008) managed to collect 283 responses from viewers who came to see their professionally staged play about the experiences of traumatic brain injury survivors. Their questionnaire featured five questions focusing on the learning that resulted from the play, the usefulness of theatre as a tool for KT, and the aesthetic qualities of the production. The questions were scored on a five-point Likert scale with space for open-ended comments. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of the responses indicated that ‘the play managed to impart new knowledge and/or reinforce existing knowledge’ (Colantonio et al, 2008, 183). Limitations to this method include people’s willingness and ability to ‘quantify and articulate their emotional responses’ (Colantonio et al, 2008, 183) and their previous exposure to the topic (that is, some people may have more existing knowledge than others, which would affect the outcomes of the assessment).

Norris (2000) describes a more interactive approach to the evaluation of impact in theatre approaches. He and his colleagues have used drama to ‘collect, analyze and disseminate research’ (Norris 2000, 47) on a range of social topics, such as violence in schools, drug addiction, and respect in the workplace. In addition to their live performances, they conduct workshops after each show to ‘enter into dialogue’ (Norris, 2000, 48) with their audience members, using the storyline of the play to stimulate discussion. They gather perspectives and then incorporate elements from those discussions into future performances. Because only a small number of individuals can likely participate in these group dialogues / assessments, the impact is not generalisable; however, such limitations seem less significant to the research goals than the process of generating information through the workshops and the use of the information thereafter.

Music and dance

Examples of music and dance in ABKT are very few, but they offer equally rich opportunities to engage with audiences. Dell (2011) translated the findings of a study on drug addiction into song and video to ‘communicate women’s healing stories to diverse audiences’ (2011, 11). The choice of music as a medium was a culturally significant and appropriate approach to telling the stories of Aboriginal women, as was the choice to employ a professional Cree singer / songwriter to lead the songwriting process. Instead of simply using live performance to disseminate the song, the research team and participants created a music video that could be shared online as well as at conferences and fundraisers, and could be distributed in hard copy format. Sharing the song and video online was crucial to receiving feedback from diverse audiences through comment boards on the various sites such as YouTube. Online commentary, though convenient, may not yield specific feedback, so researchers may consider conducting additional focus groups or discussions after public viewings.

The use of dance in ABKT requires researchers to ‘manag[e] reservations and tak[e] risks’ (Boydell, 2011, 14) more openly than in other art forms that allow for more literal translations, such as drama. Acknowledging the challenges that dance presents in translating knowledge within academia, Bagley and Cancienne (2001) chose to interpret data on the impact of school choice on families with children with special needs, using ‘literal and more obvious’ movements that could be easily discerned by audiences (2001, 225). Boydell (2011) notes that in her work using dance to communicate the experience of young persons with psychosis, she took more risks with abstract movement and allowed the professional choreographer full creative license to develop movements that conveyed emotion. In both cases, having a professional with experience in dance was key to the success of the project. Additionally, in both instances the researchers used post-performance discussions to gather audience feedback (with, additionally, a small written component in Boydell’s case), which seems an effective way to gauge immediate reactions (as with drama). We wonder whether the KT effort could be furthered by posting videos of the performances online, as was done with Dell’s (2011) music video. Although viewing a video would have less impact than seeing the dance in person, posting a video would help promote the use of dance in ABKT and allow for more discussion online.

Creative writing

Short stories and poetry based on research findings show promise as effective forms of ABKT because they can be mobilised to reach wider audiences in ways that artworks and live performances cannot. As part of her doctoral work on geographies of homelessness in the Northwest Territories, Christensen (2012) wrote a fictional short story entitled ‘The Komatik Lesson’ that reflected the biographical narratives of Aboriginal women who have dealt with homelessness. She chose this approach because of its potential as a culturally sensitive way to translate knowledge and impact the communities with which she was working. She first shared her work with groups of research collaborators, homeless women, and other community members, all of whom responded positively to the story. For example, Aboriginal women ‘expressed enthusiasm at seeing their shared experiences reflected back at them through the story’ (Christensen, 2012, 237). The story was then shared more widely through journals, websites, literary bloggers, and conference presentations. Feedback from friends, colleagues, and others stated that ‘the story facilitated a better understanding of the experiences of homelessness in the Northwest Territories’ (Christensen, 2012, 237). Although her method of impact assessment was, for the most part, informal, it was fitting for her target population and research context (that is, Aboriginal women and communities) and her impact goal, which was to ‘make an impression on people in a more immediate, engaging way’ (Christensen, 2012, 233). Live readings of the story were an appropriate strategy for achieving this goal, as they allowed her to interact with audiences in a more meaningful and direct way, rather than sending the story out to community establishments and inviting feedback through indirect communication.

Bruce et al (2013) describe the process of creating poetry from participant narratives to ‘shed light on the complex ways in which people experience and make sense of living with a life-threatening illness’ (2013, 25). Instead of having live readings, they opted to create an exhibit, which included the resulting poems, photographs, and items that represented the research process (for example, consent forms, brochures, recruitment ads). They left a comment book inviting viewers to share their thoughts on the exhibit. The article gives examples of written comments left by viewers that described the exhibit as ‘moving and powerful’ (Bruce et al, 2013, 26). Choosing the exhibit format allows for a higher volume of percipients, but live readings of the poems or audio clips could enhance meaningful engagement with the words.

Multimedia

Mixed media

Cole and McIntyre (2004) held a month-long public exhibit that highlighted the psychosocial dimensions of Alzheimer’s disease by way of a multimedia installation, which included notebooks and pens for viewers to leave their responses to the work. Obvious drawbacks to this kind of impact assessment are that it does not guarantee feedback, as many people may choose not to leave responses, and it may not always provide a diverse sample of viewers. However, as Cole and McIntyre note, the desired impact of these exhibits is often to simply ‘move’ people in some way. Those who are deeply affected may be compelled to leave a response, thus providing insight into how the exhibit has affected its audience and achieved the impact goal.

Parsons et al (2013) describe the process of using individual interviews to evaluate viewers’ responses to a multimedia art installation (audio and visual imagery) that showcased experiences of homelessness. The respondents consisted of seventeen audience members, including health and social service providers, people who had experienced homelessness, and members of the general public. The responses indicated that the exhibit was successful in raising awareness regarding health issues faced by homeless people and homelessness in general, and that the combination of visual images with audio of the homeless persons’ voices was particularly ‘powerful and effective’ (2013, 169) in evoking emotional responses. This approach to impact evaluation elicits rich qualitative data in terms of effectiveness, but it is also very time-consuming and limited to a small number of participants. Because art exhibits are generally meant to have an impact on large audiences, researchers might also provide online and/or written surveys that can reach more people, in addition to conducting in-depth interviews.

Video and photography

Digital technologies provide a highly participatory and empowering method of collecting and disseminating data (Packard, 2008). In using video and/or photography, researchers can give voice to participants and allow those voices to be heard in authentic and high-impact ways. Hampton et al (2011), for instance, used video to document the worldviews of Aboriginal elders on the topic of death and dying as well as perceived community healthcare needs. The use of video in their case allowed ‘Elders to share their words using the traditional method of transmitting knowledge orally and experientially’ (2011, 20), rather than disseminating the knowledge solely through research articles or other written mediums. The video and accompanying PowerPoint teaching presentation (created by the researchers to preface the video) were burned onto DVDs so that healthcare providers could order them. Similarly, Levin et al (2007) used an adapted Photovoice method that allowed people suffering from aphasia to represent their experiences with the aim of understanding ‘more about life before and after stroke’ (2007, 77). Participants learned the basics of photography and camera use in workshops and then had the opportunity to shoot their own pictures representing the theme of past, present, and future. The photographs were discussed at length in groups and were compiled on a website that conveyed the connections between the participants’ stories.

One of the practical advantages to using digital technologies in ABKT is that the products can be widely and easily disseminated both in hard copy and online, allowing researchers to gather impact data from diverse audiences using online comment boards and surveys. Because the format is already digital, there is little or no risk of decreasing the quality or meaning, which is a concern when digitising other art forms.

Step 3: building partnerships with artists and communities

Key question: who might be interested in partnering with you from communities including artists?

We argue that to do ABKT justice, researchers should consult and/or engage artists who have expertise in the chosen art genre and medium in the ABKT process. Just as researchers have a particular expertise in relation to their area, so too do artists and art brokers (such as curators) who work professionally within the arts. Consistent with the standards in arts-based research, we agree that ABKT should include competent artist and/or curator intermediaries to ensure artistic quality and integrity (Lafrenière and Cox, 2012; Rieger and Schultz, 2014). This aspect was crucial in the ABKT examples described in this article. Boydell provides a rich description of how bringing together artists and researchers enhanced the process and bridged the gap between arts and science:

The meetings held between dancers, musician, choreographer, and research team offered a lens into both worlds – dancers were able to ask their questions about the subject matter and the research team could see the ways in which a thematic concept from the study was integrated into the dance movements. (Boydell, 2011, 16)

In some cases, the primary researcher may be a practicing and competent artist and, therefore, possesses the skills needed to carry out the project. In Lapum et al (2011), the principal investigator was a poet, nurse, and arts-informed researcher and was able to create poems from patient narratives to be included in a multimedia installation on the experience of open-heart surgery. Still, given the nature of the exhibit, several other specialists were brought on to the team, including a design specialist, a disability activist and researcher, a cardiovascular surgeon, and an arts professor. Their multiple views and combined knowledge contributed greatly to the success of the project. Throughout the process of creation, it may be helpful to engage outside artists, professionals, and community members in critical discussion about the work to further guide the direction and quality of the piece(s).

Step 4: Tracing dissemination and impact of ABKT

Key question: what methods and impact indicators might inform your ABKT efforts in relation to your goals?

ABKT has been subjected to much criticism in terms of effectiveness, as ‘relatively few practitioners have systematically evaluated the impact of such methods’ (Parsons and Boydell, 2012, 171). Assessing impact, which is a complex process on its own, is further complicated by the many issues surrounding the evaluation of arts-based methods (Lafrenière and Cox, 2012). Many studies allude to the impact that ABKT has on audiences, but very few explicitly focus on determining what that impact is and how it might be assessed (Boydell et al, 2012).

In other kinds of research, impact might be assessed by looking at how research knowledge is put into practice and monitoring change (for example, a new medical treatment is shown to be highly effective and is then adopted by medical practitioners). In the realm of the arts, this type of impact occurs very rarely, creating problems for investigators who wish to assess the impact of ABKT. The first step in overcoming this barrier is to expand the meaning of ‘impact’ to encompass more than observable actions. Weiss (1979) argues that there are different models of research use (for example, political, tactical, problem-solving), depending on the purpose of the research and the needs of the stakeholders involved. Much of the work done in arts-based research falls into an enlightenment model, whereby influence is ‘gradual and cumulative’ (Nutley et al, 2007, 38), and leads to more conceptual and theoretical shifts in perspective rather than having a direct influence on policy or practice (Weiss, 1979). These ‘initial perspectival shifts’ (Parsons et al, 2013, 170) are central to initiating any sort of impact because they create the base upon which social change can occur. Nutley et al (2007) further suggest that research use exists on a continuum, ‘ranging from simply raising awareness of research findings, through … shifts [in] attitudes and ideas, to direct changes in policy and practice’ (2007, 51). From this perspective, ABKT may have a diverse range of impact on audiences.

Impact assessments of ABKT efforts should be linked specifically to (a) the original goals of the translation efforts with different audiences, and (b) the art genre and medium utilised. For instance, if the brokering goal (see Table 2) is to increase widespread accessibility to research information, researchers might make an online video and look for various reach indicators (see Table 4). A live performance may be more suitable for increasing audience engagement, and could be assessed through partnership and collaboration impact indicators. A variety of broader impact categories may be applicable to ABKT, and while we recognise that metrics and indicators can narrow perspectives and erode the underlying spirit of ABKT, we provide some potential metrics that might be used to assess ABKT efforts. Although we provide metrics, we argue not to conceive of impact solely in terms of metrics, but rather to view the value of ABKT in relation to the process of knowledge co-construction that occurs among researchers, participants, artists, and audiences that engage with ABKT. Table 4 summarises and adapts categories from Barwick (2011) that can be considered in relation to ABKT.

Table 4:

Possible categories and indicators to assess impact of ABKT initiatives.

Impact categoryIndicators (predominantly from Barwick, 2011)
Reach indicators: measure how many people a particular ABKT project, performance, or product has reached# resources distributed, # requested, Google Analytics data (# visitors, # downloads and so on), tracking data from social media
Partnership and collaboration indicators: measure processes of co-production and dissemination of ABKT with different partners and/or target audiences# products / performances developed or disseminated with partners, # and type of capacity building efforts, network growth, clear communication, engagement of different stakeholders
Usefulness indicators: measure whether a target audience found the ABKT products, performances, and so on usefulread, satisfied with, usefulness of, gained knowledge, changed view, # intend to use, # adapt information
Practice, programme or service change indicators: measures commitment to change, process measures and outcome measures where possible# commitment to change, observed change, reported change, documentation, feedback, process measures
Policy and advocacy indicators: measures influence and change in policy debate, formation, and implementationdocumentation, feedback, process measures, citations, involvement in policy process, media / social media coverage

Limitations of the framework

The framework presented here is intended as a planning tool for researchers interested in trying alternative approaches to KT. As such, it is not designed for any context in particular and does not guarantee observable changes in policy and practice. To add, it does not directly address power relations that may exist between researchers and those being researched or educated. Researchers who choose to adopt the ABKT framework must first consider preconceived notions of art and whether an arts-based approach is suitable for communicating with their intended audiences and communities.

ABKT methods are appealing because of the potential of art to act as a mode of storytelling that can promote learning across cultures, individual abilities, and professional domains (Rieger and Schultz, 2014). However, traditions of making, viewing, discussing, using, and understanding art differ from one place to the next. Limiting notions of what constitutes art and artistic knowledge can hinder the ABKT process if researchers do not first reflect on how they themselves understand art as compared with and in relation to the people and communities with which they work. By assuming outright that the arts speak the same way to different populations, researchers run the risk of unintentionally ‘privileging a methodological approach’ (Stephens and Trahar, 2012, 65) within contexts that may have limited exposure to or differing opinions about art.

Similarly, different disciplines and cultures may hold varying views of ‘trustworthy’ methodologies and evidence. Arts-based approaches can play a fruitful role in challenging common conceptions of research (for example, Norris, 2000) and giving voice to marginalised ways of knowing (for example, Hampton et al, 2011), but should be employed by researchers in a manner that is not condescending or belittling to the stakeholders involved.

Finally, we acknowledge that the examples presented in Table 3 were primarily carried out in Canadian contexts that may differ from other areas of the world in cultural, economical, political, and environmental ways. Our aim is simply to expose researchers to these ideas and methods in the hope that they can find something useful for their own contexts. We believe the wide range of ABKT initiatives that have been implemented across the country, particularly within the health sector, illuminate Canada’s potential as a leader and role model in ABKT. For instance, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has funded several projects exploring the possibilities and contributions of arts-based methods in health research and dissemination (for example, the on-going work of Dr Kate Tilleczek at the University of Prince Edward Island, director of the Young Lives Research Lab; and the work of Dr Katherine Boydell at the University of Toronto, founder of the Arts-Based Health Research Collaborative). There is also an increasing commitment across post-secondary institutions and research sectors to be more inclusive of different knowledge systems, resulting in more artistic approaches to research and dissemination (for example, the extensive list of arts-based PhD dissertations from the University of British Columbia).

Other examples from the UK, USA, and South Africa were also included to further diversify the range of art forms and approaches presented. For instance, we included two examples from the USA because of their emphasis on photography. The UK studies, on the other hand, were strong performance examples, and the study from South Africa was unique in that children were involved in actually making the research dissemination products. Surely there are many more examples to be found worldwide, but a discussion of examples from all parts of the globe is beyond the scope of this paper.

Implications and directions for future research

Several implications can be drawn from these examples for future work in ABKT. In any KT initiative, it is imperative to consider the stakeholders and intended audiences you wish to reach (Nutley et al, 2007). If an arts-based approach is deemed appropriate for the context, involving stakeholders from the start allows researchers to gain insight into their understanding of knowledge and learning and then choose appropriate art forms to speak to those populations, as in the case of Dell (2011). She chose music as a medium for ABKT because it has had a ‘significant historical role in communicating knowledge among Indigenous peoples …and continues to have an important role in the lives of Aboriginal peoples in Canada today’ (Dell, 2011, 12). Likewise, an illustrated book is appropriate for educating children (for example, Govender and Reddy, 2011), and theatre productions can convey specific meaning to medical audiences (for example, Colantonio et al, 2008). Thus far, theatre-based ABKT has been a preferred approach, particularly in health sciences, followed by multimedia art (for example, photography). More research is needed on the application and impact assessment of other art forms and mediums, such as visual art, music, and dance.

The ABKT literature revealed to us the importance of choosing an appropriate strategy for gathering impact data in relation to the art form and knowledge mobilisation goals. Although it is easy and efficient to use online forums to disseminate research widely and collect a variety of responses, as many have done in the examples provided, it is not always the best way to achieve KT goals. Researchers would do well to consider a variety of approaches in addition to online sites and journals, as Christensen (2012) did through live readings in communities, conference presentations, journals, and websites. In the case of Norris (2000), who used responses from post-performance discussions to inform future productions, the knowledge mobilisation process was understood as a ‘non-linear and interactive’ (Nutley et al, 2007, 278) process that does not simply start with data collection and end with impact assessment. The goal of this type of impact assessment is to develop ‘a better understanding of research use and research impact processes in order to enhance future impacts’ (Nutley et al, 2007, 273). Therefore, conducting workshops and discussion groups after the performance was an appropriate strategy to gather the kind of impact data they needed to meet their KT goals.

Despite the positive potential of the arts, as demonstrated through the examples discussed in this paper, the literature on ABKT – and more specifically the different strategies for gathering impact data – generally remain limited in all sectors. As we aimed to provide a breadth of art forms and strategies to choose from, the examples we selected vary in their descriptions of arts-based dissemination processes and impact assessments (some more thorough than others). The majority of examples of ABKT hail from studies in health, with few contributions from the social sciences. Two factors may partially explain this discrepancy: (1) the majority of KT interventions in the past have focused on healthcare practitioners and institutions (Archibald et al, 2014); and (2) the health sector has tended to adopt evidence-based policies and practices more quickly than other public sectors, such as education (Cooper, 2014; Nutley et al, 2007). Furthermore, the impact assessment strategies from the literature listed in Table 3 focus mainly on immediate impact and may not necessarily provide insight into long-term change. These strategies can potentially be used repeatedly over time to develop an understanding of lasting effects. Currently, the empirical evidence on behavioural or policy change resulting from ABKT is extremely sparse, prompting the need for more research in this area.

In future, given the wide range of approaches to choose from, researchers may further explore the potential of ABKT in different sectors using art forms that speak to the research area. For instance, a recent book publication by the UArctic Thematic Network on Communicating Arctic Research explores photography as a means to ‘introduc[e] innovative ways for communicating environmental change and rais[e] public awareness on environmental issues’ (Uarctic, 2016, para 1). It would be interesting to know how such a book is received by the public and whether it achieves the goal of raising awareness. Researchers may also further examine the ABKT process from the perspective of each specialist (artist, researcher, community member) on a given project to see how knowledge is constructed through such collaboration and, more specifically, how the contributions from each team member enhance the impact of the final product.

In the end, to promote social change, we need to employ a broad range of tools to translate research in ways that evoke emotion, represent the plurality of views that exist on a topic, and create space for democratic dialogue. Arts-based knowledge translation has the potential to transcend different topics and sectors in order to tap into the common characteristic we all share – our humanity. This ABKT framework provides an initial tool for researchers to think through ABKT efforts in relation to their goals, possible art genres, potential partners, and how they might trace the impact of their efforts. We encourage more research that examines the four dimensions of the framework in practice. And although we did not intend to present an exhaustive overview of the literature, we hope that the ABKT framework and article provide many different examples of how art genres and mediums are being employed to engage communities in research-based discussions about important societal issues.

References

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  • View in gallery

    An arts-based knowledge translation (ABKT) planning framework for researchers

  • Archibald, MM, Caine, V, Scott, SD, 2014, The development of a classification schema for arts-based approaches to knowledge translation, Worldviews of Evidence-Based Nursing 11, 5, 31624

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Atkinson, E, Job, J, Pei, J, Poth, C, O’Riordan, T, Taylor, L, 2013, Capturing the experiences of FASD prevention workers through quilting, First Peoples Child & Family Review 8, 1, 1229

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bagley, C, Cancienne, MB, 2001, Educational research and intertextual forms of (re)presentation: The case for dancing the data, Qualitative Inquiry 7, 2, 22137

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barone, TE, 2008, Arts-based research, in Given, LM (ed), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2933

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Barone, TE, Eisner, EW, 2012, Arts based research, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

  • Barwick, M, 2011, Knowledge translation planning template, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, www.melaniebarwick.com/training.php

  • Blaikie, F, 2013, Navigating conversion: An arts-based inquiry into the clothed body and identity, Visual Culture and Gender 8, 5769

  • Boydell, K, 2011, Using performative art to communicate research: Dancing experiences of psychosis, Canadian Theatre Review 146, 1217

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boydell, KM, Gladstone, BM, Volpe, T, Allemang, B, Stasiulis, E, 2012, The production and dissemination of knowledge: A scoping review of arts-based health research, Forum: Qualitative Social Research 13, 1, www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1711

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bruce, A, Schick Makaroff, KL, Sheilds, L, Beuthin, R, Molzahn, A, Shermak, S, 2013, Lessons learned about arts-based approaches for disseminating knowledge, Nurse Researcher 21, 1, 2328

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chaput, P, 2015, Planting stories: Feeding communities (video), Canada: Paul Chaput, www.plantingstories.ca/film

  • Christensen, J, 2012, Telling stories: Exploring research storytelling as a meaningful approach to knowledge mobilization with Indigenous research collaborators and diverse audiences in community-based participatory research, Canadian Geographer 56, 2, 23142

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Colantonio, A, Kontos, PC, Gilbert, JE, Rossiter, K, Gray, J, Keightley, ML, 2008, After the crash: Research-based theater for knowledge transfer, Continuing Education in the Health Professions 28, 3, 18085

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cole, AL, McIntyre, M, 2004, Research as aesthetic contemplation: The role of the audience in research interpretation, Educational Insights 9, 1, www.ccfi.educ.ubc.ca/publication/insights/v09n01/articles/cole.html

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cooper, A, 2014, Knowledge mobilisation in education across Canada: A cross-case analysis of 44 research brokering organizations, Evidence and Policy 10, 1, 2959

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cooper, A, Rodway, J, Read, R, in press, Knowledge mobilization practices of educational researchers across Canada, Canadian Journal for Higher Education

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dell, CA, 2011, Voices of healing: Using music to communicate research findings, in J. Bacsu, J, Macqueen Smith, F (eds), Innovations in knowledge translation: The SPHERU KT casebook, 914, www.spheru.ca/publications/files/SPHERU%20KT%20Casebook%20June%202011.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gerdner, LA, 2008, Translating research findings into a Hmong American children’s book to promote understanding of persons with Alzheimer’s disease, Hmong Studies Journal 9, 129

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Govender, EM, Reddy, S, 2011, Drawing the bigger picture: Giving voice to HIV positive children, in Theron, L, Mitchell, C, Smith, A, Stuart, J (eds), Picturing research: Drawing as a visual methodology, Rotterdam: Sense, 191202

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gray, R, Sinding, C, Ivonoffski, V, Fitch, M, Hampson, A, Greenberg, M, 2000, The use of research-based theatre in a project related to metastatic breast cancer, Health Expectations 3, 13744

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Guillemin, M, 2004, Embodying heart disease through drawings, Health 8, 2, 22339

  • Hampton, M, Hampton, J, Saul, G, Bourassa, C, Goodwill, K, McKenna, B, McKay-McNabb, K, Baydala, A, 2011, Sharing stories through video: Aboriginal elders speak about end of life, in Bacsu, J, Macqueen Smith, F (eds), Innovations in knowledge translation: The SPHERU KT casebook, 1922, www.spheru.ca/publications/files/SPHERU%20KT%20Casebook%20June%202011.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hartling, L, Scott, S, Pandya, R, Johnson, D, Bishop, T, Klassen, TP, 2010, Storytelling as a communication tool for health consumers: Development of an intervention for parents of children with croup – stories to communicate health information, BMC Pediatrics 10, 64, http://bmcpediatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2431-10-64

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hopkins, Z, Nahuelpan, A, Harris, RD, Muir, S, 2012, It takes a village, Courtenay, BC: Healthy Aboriginal Network, http://thehealthyaboriginal.net/portfolio-item/maternal-child-health-it-takes-a-village/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jonas-Simpson, C, Mitchell, GJ, Carson, J, Whyte, C, Dupuis, S, Gillies, J, 2012, Phenomenological shifts for healthcare professionals after experiencing a research-based drama on living with dementia, Advanced Nursing 68, 9, 194455

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • King’s College London and Digital Science, 2015, The nature, scale and beneficiaries of research impact: An initial analysis of Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 impact case studies, Bristol: HEFCE, www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/policy-institute/publications/Analysis-of-REF-impact.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Knowles, JG, Cole, AL, 2008a, Arts-informed research, in Given, LM (ed), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 3337

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Knowles, JG, Cole, AL (eds), 2008b, Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kuruvilla, S, Mays, N, Pleasant, A, Walt, G, 2006, Describing the impact of health research: A research impact framework, BMC Health Services Research 6, 13442

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lafrenière, D, Cox, SM, 2012, ‘If you can call it a poem’: Toward a framework for the assessment of arts-based works, Qualitative Research 13, 3, 31836

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lapum, J, Ruttonsha, P, Church, K, Yau, T, Mathews-David, A, 2011, Employing the arts in research as an analytical tool and dissemination method: Interpreting experience through the aesthetic, Qualitative Inquiry 18, 1, 100115

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lavis, JN, Robertson, D, Woodside, JM, McLeod, CB, Abelson, J, 2003, How can research organizations more effectively transfer research knowledge to decision makers? Milbank Quarterly 81, 2, 22148

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Levin, T, Scott, BM, Borders, B, Hart, K, Lee, J, Decanini, A, 2007, Aphasia talks: Photography as a means of communication, self-expression, and empowerment in persons with aphasia, Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation 14, 1, 7284

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Marshall, J, 2007, Image as insight: Visual images in practice-based research, Studies in Art Education 49, 1, 2341

  • McNiff, S, 2008, Arts-based research, in Knowles, JG, Cole, AL (eds), Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2940

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Norris, J, 2000, Drama as research: Realizing the potential of drama in education as a research methodology, Youth Theatre Journal 14, 4051

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nowicka-Sauer, K, 2007, Patients’ perspective: Lupus in patients’ drawings, Clinical Rheumatology 26, 152325

  • Nutley, SM, Walter, I, Davies, HTO, 2007, Using evidence: How research can inform public services, Bristol: Policy Press

  • Packard, J, 2008, ‘I’m gonna show you what it’s really like out here’: The power and limitation of participatory visual methods, Visual Studies 23, 1, 6377

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Parsons, JA, Boydell, KM, 2012, Arts-based research and knowledge translation: Some key concerns for health-care professionals, Interprofessional Care 26, 3, 17072

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  • 1 Queen’s University, Ontario, , Canada

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