Strategies for Knowledge Translation Intermediaries to Support and Contribute to Learning Health Systems

Authors: Brooks S, Thomson D, Zimmermann G, and Hartling L

Presenters: Stephanie Brooks

Institution: University of Alberta



The Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit (AbSPORU) is a research and knowledge translation (KT) intermediary established to support patient-oriented research and implementation. The integrated nature of Alberta’s health system has offered AbSPORU a number of avenues to support implementation of evidence-based care. In the first phase of AbSPORU (2014-2021), we were mandated to establish implementation support services by building relationships with health system partners. Aligned with the growing interest in learning health systems (LHSs) our mandate for Phase 2 (2021-2025) has expanded from working with health systems to contributing to LHSs. Thus, we must conceptualize what an LHS in Alberta looks like, what LHS processes and initiatives are already underway, and in what ways AbSPORU can contribute. The steps we are taking to plan our expanded role are providing insights into opportunities for intermediaries generally to support structures and processes in LHSs.


We are developing strategies to support Alberta’s LHS using three methods. First, we have conducted a literature review for various terms describing LHS structural components, goals, processes and models of LHSs. Second, we are conducting a social network analysis of if/how organizations that support implementation in Alberta collaborate with one another. Third, we are bringing AbSPORU leadership together to review the results of the literature review and align our conceptualization of Alberta’s LHS. Leaders are also taking inventory of existing AbSPORU initiatives that contribute to Alberta’s LHS. These activities will provide critical knowledge of how evidence currently moves from research to practice in the Alberta context. In turn, these activities are providing the foundation for us to develop a strategy to continue strengthening our supports and processes in Alberta’s LHS.


LHSs offer a variety of opportunities for intermediaries to support and study health care implementation, delivery, and improvement. The literature review highlighted opportunities to support LHSs through provision of social, technological, intellectual, and scientific supports and facilitation of embedded research. Our social network analysis will map the organizations, processes, and structures that currently enable implementation and what gaps still exist. AbSPORU will use this knowledge to assess how existing Unit initiatives are already contributing to Alberta’s LHS and what additional services we can provide to further strengthen it. The resulting contribution strategy, and how it can be adapted for other intermediaries, will be presented.


By mapping existing intermediary services and health system implementation supports to LHS constructs, AbSPORU is identifying numerous opportunities to facilitate and accelerate knowledge translation in an LHS. Examples of ways intermediaries can support LHSs include, but are not limited to, facilitating priority setting processes, organizing embedded research, and building KT capacity in researchers, as knowledge providers, and health system and policy teams, as knowledge receptors. 


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