Applying Knowledge Transfer Principles A Case Study

We are presently conducting a multiscale research study designed to increase our understanding of natural fire regimes in boreal Ontario and provide better guidance on how to emulate this form of natural disturbance through forest management. Knowledge transfer is being integrated into the study both to enhance the applicability of the research and to ensure that the intended audiences are aware of the knowledge as it becomes available. In this section, we briefly illustrate how this knowledge transfer is being accomplished within the context of the larger research project. Given that many examples of successful transfer of landscape ecological knowledge exist in Ontario, we based our choice of this example entirely on our familiarity with the project.

Following the researcher's initial concept or idea, research projects commonly progress through a series of stages: experimental design, implementation, analysis of results, and reporting the results. In some cases, and especially so for landscape ecological projects, developing applications of the knowledge and providing training in those applications follows the reporting stage. Engaging specific audiences at various stages throughout the study increases awareness not only of the project but also of the intended outcomes. We are using an integrated approach based on concurrent research and transfer of knowledge to the intended audiences (the potential users of study results) based on an ongoing discovery of their needs at various stages of the study.

6.4.1. Brief Description of the Study

This study addresses the characteristics of fire regimes at multiple scales: characteristics of the fire regime at an ecoregional scale, of fire events at a subregional scale, and of subfire events at a stand scale. In other words, we ask the following question: What patterns do fires create in a forested landscape at different spatiotemporal scales? Our study emphasizes an understanding of how and why these natural patterns vary in both time and space so that resource managers can better emulate these patterns through their management decisions. The knowledge gained by the study will be used to revise specfic forest policies and practices related to the broader policy of emulating patterns of natural forest disturbance (OMNR 2002).

6.4.2. Audience

The intended audiences for the natural fire regime study are decisionmakers, policymakers, and practitioners in boreal Ontario. For the purposes of our case study, we define these audiences as follows:

• Decisionmakers are those with the authority to decide research priorities and control funding. They require an understanding of the rationale for the study and how it fits conceptually with other organizational policies, directions, and priorities. Decisionmakers will also be interested in the general findings of the study and how these could be used in policy and practice.

• Policymakers are those who incorporate research results into resource management policies and guides. They require an understanding of the linkages and relevance of the study to specific policies, how the knowledge is being developed, where the new knowledge will be integrated into extant or new policies, the knowledge gaps that the study will and will not address, and their implications, as well as the eventual applicability of the results.

• Practitioners are those who will implement the policies and guides that result from the study in forest management planning and operations. They require an understanding of how the research results can assist them in solving management problems and are most interested in the tools developed to help them implement the results.

An overview of how these audiences are being engaged at various stages of our study is provided in this section to illustrate both the mechanisms being used to accomplish the transfer and the benefits of ongoing engagement with the intended audiences. At the time of writing, we have completed the study design and have begun the implementation stage. Therefore, we will describe knowledge transfer efforts with respect to what we did during the design stage, what we are doing during the implementation stage, and what we will do during subsequent stages. Table 6.4 summarizes our overall approach.

6.4.3. Designing the study

During the study design phase, the intended outcomes of knowledge transfer were awareness and engagement. To accomplish these outcomes, even before all the study details had been developed we presented an overview of the background and rationale for the study, the proposed approach, and an indication of how the findings will benefit the organization to decisionmakers and used their feedback to refine our study proposals.

Policymakers are especially interested in influencing how the research is conducted. To satisfy this need, we included several policymakers as formal study advisors; they reviewed our study proposals to critique the scope, goals, methods, and time frames of the research. Their involvement in the project was through more

Table 6.4. Overview of the knowledge transfer stages, audiences, objectives, and possible methods used at various stages of an ongoing research project on natural fire regimes in boreal Ontario

Research project stage Transfer stage


Transfer objective and content Transfer method



Analysis of results

Awareness Early engagement Incorporating user ideas

Incorporating user ideas

Maintaining engagement

Maintaining engagement Sharing preliminary results

Decisionmakers Policymakers, Practitioners


Policymakers, Practitioners

Concepts, Rationale Concepts, Rationale, Methods


Concepts, Methods, Outcomes

Overview presentation on the approach Technical presentation on the research design In-person discussions Joint field visits Analysis of knowledge gaps Review of research proposal Technical presentation on methods In-person discussions Joint field visits Technical workshops Technical presentation on early results In-person discussions

Disseminate findings

Develop applications

Maintaining engagement Sharing final results

Incorporating user ideas Moving toward implementation

Policymakers, Practitioners

Policymakers, Practitioners Decisionmakers

Concepts, Outcomes, Applications

Application tools

Outcomes, Applications

Technical presentation on findings and applications In-person discussions Training workshops

Overview presentation on general findings and potential uses s —

detailed technical presentations and discussions than those aimed at the decisionmakers, and this engagement allowed us to incorporate their ideas and perspectives into the study design. As a result, policymakers understand what specific uncertainties in current policies are being addressed by this research, and how.

The practitioners we contacted included foresters, biologists, resource technicians, and planners. Initially, we also informed them of the study rationale and approaches through an overview presentation and discussions, and subsequently involved them in several field visits to potential research sites. During these visits, field foresters and biologists provided feedback on the proposed study design and offered relevant local data and information that could be used to enhance the proposed study. These small group discussions also identified additional questions that should be investigated during the study.

In summary, we engaged more than 10 different audiences, ranging from deci-sionmakers to policymakers and practitioners, to provide an overview of the study rationale, approaches, methods, and time frames by means of presentations, meetings, and field visits. This approach ensured that many individuals belonging to various groups of knowledge users became aware of the study, accepted the proposed approaches, and understood the value of and the need for this research. These activities thus represented early knowledge transfer, and provided a user-review of the research in parallel with traditional peer review of the methods by fellow researchers.

6.4.4. Implementing the Study

During the study implementation phase, our transfer focus is on the practitioners who will be involved in discussions about the research methods and applications of the results. For example, one aspect of our study uses high-resolution aerial photography to map patterns of fire residuals (patches and trees remaining in burned areas). We are illustrating the data collection process and the objective methods of error analysis to ensure that errors and limitations of the data are clear and acceptable to those who will be applying the results. In addition, their involvement in this stage of the study is stimulating interest in the early results, and is providing opportunities for feedback. As the study progresses, we will ensure continuity in engagement with this audience through interim presentations, field visits, and sharing of the interim study results. This will help us to familiarize our audience with new technologies being used in the research project and to discuss potential challenges in applying the expected results in the field.

6.4.5. Sharing Results

We plan to transfer interim study results to policymakers and practitioners who were involved during the study design and implementation phases. Policymakers will begin thinking about how these results may fit with existing policies or what policy revisions may be justified based on our findings, while practitioners can start incorporating results into their planning and operational practice. Preliminary results are best shared through presentations and discussions that review the study rationale and methods once more so that intended applications (and any associated limitations) are clear. Questions and ideas generated during these sessions can stimulate further data analyses and help us to refine our interpretations of the results. For researchers, this step may reveal which aspects of the results will be most difficult to communicate and transfer during implementation.

6.4.6. Disseminating Findings

Once final results are available, we will disseminate them to a broader audience. Even though awareness and understanding of the concepts and approaches remains important, the transfer goal will shift toward ensuring that the new knowledge becomes embedded in new or revised policies and practices. This step will be accomplished in concert with policymakers and practitioners through technical presentations and discussions, in addition to the standard publication and distribution of reports and journal papers. Transfer initiatives and products will again include a review of the study rationale and embedded concepts, but with the focus changing from the approach to the outcomes and potential applications of results.

6.4.7. Developing Applications

The complex information that results from such a study can be built into existing applications or used to develop new applications that practitioners can use to support their planning or operational practice. This will involve working with regional planners to develop tools and associated training workshops. Training workshops for users increase their comfort with the tools, provide an opportunity to address user concerns about the tools and their application, and increase awareness of the embedded landscape ecological concepts. Once again, incorporating ideas generated by our audience will increase the likelihood that the tools and their applications will be accepted.

Once the final outcomes and applications are developed, we will reengage the decisionmakers to present the general findings and potential uses of the knowledge. This step serves to reinforce the relevance of the study, creates awareness of how and where the results are being or may be used, shows linkages to other organizational needs, and relates the results to future research needs. This keeps decisionmakers informed of relevant advances and closes the knowledge transfer loop.

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