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From what we know to what we do: enhancing absorptive capacity in translational health research
  1. Graeme Currie,
  2. Tina Kiefer,
  3. Dimitrios Spyridonidis
  1. Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Graeme Currie, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK; graeme.currie{at}


Background Globally, evidence about what works is slow to translate into frontline healthcare delivery. As a response, government policy has focused on translational health initiatives, such as the National Institute for Health Research funded Applied Research Collaborations in England. Concepts from organisation science prove useful to support such translational initiatives. We critique the application of two organisation science concepts linked to the broad domain of what is commonly termed ‘knowledge mobilisation’ in healthcare settings, specifically ‘knowledge brokers’ and ‘absorptive capacity’, to provide lessons for leaders of translational initiatives.

Results The presence of knowledge brokers to ‘move from what we know to what we do’ in healthcare delivery appears necessary but insufficient to have a system level effect. To embed knowledge brokers in the wider healthcare system so they draw on various sources of evidence to discharge their role with greatest effect, we encourage leaders of translational health research initiatives to take account of the concept of absorptive capacity (ACAP) from the organisation science literature. Leaders should focus on enhancing ACAP though development of ‘co-ordination capabilities’. Such co-ordination capability should aim not just to acquire different types of evidence, but to ensure that all types of evidence are used to develop, implement and scale up healthcare delivery that best benefits patients. Specific co-ordination capabilities that support translation of evidence are: clinician involvement in research and its implementation; patient and public involvement in research and its implementation; business intelligence structures and processes at organisational and system level.

Conclusion Attention to the dimensions and antecedents of ACAP, alongside the implementation of the knowledge brokering solution, in translational health research initiatives, is likely to better ensure the latter’s success.

  • translational medical research
  • knowledge
  • organisations
  • leadership

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  • Contributors GC planned the study and GC, DS and TK collaborated in the reporting of the study. GC and TK undertook fieldwork and developed a tool for measuring absorptive capacity within NIHR CLAHRC WM, which underpins the manuscript. Meanwhile, DS undertook parallel fieldwork within NIHR CLAHRC NDL. GC is the guarantor for content.

  • Funding National Institute of Health Research, Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (no grant number).

  • Disclaimer The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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