Using complexity and network concepts to inform healthcare knowledge translation

Alison Kitson, Alan Brook, Gill Harvey, Zoe Jordan, Rhianon Marshall, Rebekah O'Shea, David Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Many representations of the movement of healthcare knowledge through society exist, and multiple models tor the translation of evidence into policy and practice have been articulated. Most are linear or cyclical and very few come close to reflecting the dense and intricate relationships, systems and politics of organizations and the processes required to enact sustainable improvements. We illustrate how using complexity and network concepts can better inform knowledge translation (KT) and argue that changing the way we think and talk about KT could enhance the creation and movement of knowledge throughout those systems needing to develop and utilise it. From our theoretical refinement, we propose that KT is a complex network composed of five interdependent sub-networks, or clusters, of key processes (problem identification [PI], knowledge creation [KC], knowledge synthesis [KS], implementation [I], and evaluation [E]) that interact dynamically in different ways at different times across one or more sectors (community; health; government; education; research tor example). We call this the KT Complexity Network, defined as a network that optimises the effective, appropriate and timely creation and movement of knowledge to those who need it in order to improve what they do. Activation within and throughout any one of these processes and systems depends upon the agents promoting the change, successfully working across and between multiple systems and clusters. The case is presented tor moving to a way of thinking about KT using complexity and network concepts. This extends the thinking that is developing around integrated KT approaches. There are a number of policy and practice implications that need to be considered in light of this shift in thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-243
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Health Policy and Management
Issue number3
Early online date10 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Complex adaptive systems (CASs)
  • Complexity
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Implementation science
  • Integrated knowledge translation
  • Knowledge translation (KT)
  • Networks


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