Publication Detail

Lenton, S. (2011). Knowledge translation at the political level – bridging the policy research to policy practice gap. In Banister, E., Leadbeater, B. and Marshall, A. (eds.) Knowledge Translation in Context: Indigenous, Policy, and Community Settings. University of Toronto Press. pp. 105-125. [CH141] View web page

This chapter is concerned with the translation of policy relevant research into policy practice, specifically legislative change. I describe my experience as a drug policy researcher involved in the translation of research findings into changes to cannabis law in one Australian state, Western Australia (WA). This involved the conduct of research, research reviews, knowledge translation, and collaboration with policymakers and legislators in the introduction of a system of prohibition with civil penalties for minor cannabis offences. Often termed decriminalization, this entails legal changes that alter the status of a cannabis offence from a crime to that of a civil offence. The changes maintain the illegality of the act (in this case, the possession, use, and cultivation of small amounts of cannabis) but allow for civil penalties (fines and infringement notices) rather than more serious criminal penalties (a criminal record or the possibility of a custodial sentence). Having a framework of the policy change process can be helpful in understanding and guiding the knowledge translation (KT) process involved in government policy and legislative change. I provide an overview of Kingdon’s (1984, 1995) well-cited model. The example of WA’s cannabis law changes demonstrates a number of challenges for translating research into public policy; the chapter addresses a number of issues regarding KT at this level. The need for having a lengthy time frame and using a range of strategies for disseminating research findings, along with the importance of establishing and maintaining long-standing relationships in KT are discussed. Although mass media is only one of the vehicles for research dissemination when trying to affect change in government policy and legislation, it is a very useful tool in bringing research findings to the attention of policymakers. At its best, research can be a means of giving voice to the unheard in the community. Nevertheless, researchers must face the dilemma of whether to stay outside or work within government structures, and whether they should take on the role of advocate or seek others to disseminate research findings. Considering one’s audience is central to all KT and is particularly salient when trying to inform politicians, senior bureaucrats, and other policymakers. However, some researchers may believe that KT is not a legitimate academic activity. I argue that academic researchers should be engaged in KT and provide examples of measures that can support this activity within universities.

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