KNOWLEDGE MOBILIZATION FOR OLDER ADULTS IN THE COMMUNITY
EVERYBODY IS GETTING OLDER: Reliable knowledge about aging is crucial for everyone, not just for older adults or for those who pursue careers in gerontology. People of all ages need to learn about the processes of aging since everyone ages, every family has aging members and every community has aging citizens. The aging demographic structure of Canada has been identified as one of the major issues confronting Canada today and is projected to reduce tax revenues by at least $20 billion, increase federal government spending on public pensions by $12 billion and provincial spending on social services and health care by an estimated $16 billion, if the age pyramid expected for 2020 were suddenly applied today (Fortin, 2006).
THE CHALLENGE: Against this backdrop of a burgeoning and diverse older population, Canada faces some daunting challenges:
(1) a gap between evidence-based research and actual practice in gerontology;
(2) a startling lack of formal gerontology educational programs in Canada;
(3) a severe shortage of students and professionals who specialize in gerontology;
(4) a serious lack of team-based, interdisciplinary care for older adults, the most cost-effective formula;
(5) the need to appropriately respond to an aging, multicultural, population about which little is known.
KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER/MOBILIZATION: Knowledge transfer, which emerged in the 1990s to bridge the “know – do gap,” became a partial answer to this problem although the field is very new in the social sciences compared to the health sciences. One of the main reasons knowledge transfer seems attractive in Canada, is the unbridled growth of an aging population that requires immediate attention predicated on the assumption that knowledge of the core issues of aging can help prevent and solve problems if the information is easy to understand and access. Knowledge transfer makes sense because it is likely to be cost-efficient, makes use of existing research and can happen at a faster pace than waiting to change the behaviours of whole generations of citizens, students, practitioners and policymakers.
Conceptually, while knowledge transfer seems obvious and has caught fire in the social sciences, what is less obvious is the lack of research about the effectiveness of knowledge mobilization, especially in the field of gerontology. We do not know if evidence-based research is actually used, how it is applied, under what conditions, for and with whom, and with what outcomes (Greenlaugh et al., 2004; Lavis et al., 2003; Mitton et al., 2007; Straus et al., 2010; Van Eerd et al, 2011; Vingilis et al., 2003).
NICE SOCIAL POCKET TOOLS: With a paucity of research on the effectiveness of knowledge mobilization in general, and in gerontology specifically, the mandate for the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE) was to create a knowledge transfer network and disseminate information about aging. Using the Cochrane and Campbell guidelines for determining what constitutes evidence, the interdisciplinary collaboration developed evidence-based pocket social pocket tools drawn from existing research.
The use of the Internet was seen to be an efficient way for knowledge mobilization since it is fast, flexible, not constrained by time and distance and has the potential to reach many people whether at work or at home (Duffy, 2000, Estabrooks et al., 2003; Jadad & Enkin 2000, Jadad et al. 2000; Norris 1999). This type of access to evidence has great potential, especially for older adults who are likely to be at home, their caregivers and the beleaguered professionals who work with them. Challenges were identified, however, which included an overwhelming array of online information, much of which is not evidence-based, easy to understand or even relevant (Jadad et al. 2000; Savolainen, 2011). Recognizing potential of the Internet, and its problems, NICE developed applications for each of the paper tools in order to provide high quality information about aging.
As is the case with the paper pocket tools, there has been no evaluation of the use of the applications as a form of knowledge mobilization or comparisons with the use of the card pocket tools. This is not unusual since there are very few knowledge transfer tools available in the field of aging in either paper or in web technologies except in the health domain but even there, knowledge mobilization is limited (Boström et al., in press; Squires et al., 2011b; Van Eerd et al., 2011).
KNOWLEDGE MOBLIZATION PARTNERSHIP FOR OLDER ADULTS (KMP-OA): Given the tenuousness of the current research in knowledge translation in aging, the KMP-OA Partnership is involving stakeholders and partners, especially older adults in the process of knowledge exchange and it’s evaluation to ultimately enhance care for and by older adults themselves. This research traverses completely new terrain in the field of aging and technology in the social sciences with the aim of evaluating knowledge mobilization through the use of pocket tools, delivered on paper or digitally.