Knowledge Synthesis - Tips for Success

Developed in consultation with previous members of the Knowledge Synthesis Grant merit review committee.

Please note: This is intended as a guidance document only. Please view the current competition for up-to-date information and requirements.

Funding opportunity objectives

  • To increase uptake/application of synthesized knowledge in decision making by supporting partnerships between researchers and knowledge users to produce scoping reviews and syntheses that respond to information needs of knowledge users in all areas of health
  • To extend the benefits of knowledge synthesis to new kinds of questions relevant to knowledge users and areas of research that have not traditionally been synthesized

Before you get started, we recommend familiarizing yourself with CIHR's definition of Knowledge Translation (KT)(including integrated and end-of-grant KT) and CIHR's KT learning resources. Resources that may be of particular assistance for this funding opportunity include CIHR's:

1. Concept

1.1 Quality of the Idea

Be clear about what your overall goal and research questions are and remain consistent throughout the proposal.

Emphasize how this question is of importance to the Knowledge Users in your application, including how it has been shaped by these knowledge users and responds to their needs. Ensure that the knowledge users participating in your project are the most appropriate to your research question (for example, if your synthesis focuses on a policy issue, the appropriate policy maker should be involved).

Be sure to justify the need for the synthesis by presenting the state of the knowledge on the topic and highlighting the knowledge gap your synthesis will address. Emphasize how your synthesis will strengthen the body of evidence on the topic and how addressing this gap is important for the health of Canadians.

1.2 Importance of the Idea

Your description of outcomes should answer the “so what?” question. It is recommended that you commit to well-defined deliverables that are substantive and relevant to specific programs or issues. Illustrate how your project will provide substantive and sustainable advancement of health outcomes, practice, programs and/or policy related to the study context.

Another key element to address when presenting the importance of your idea is how your knowledge user partners will make use of the study findings. Demonstrating that your partners have a “plan” for the use of the results shows increased likelihood that your study will have significance. Although most proposals indicate that the knowledge user partners are committed to using the study findings, fewer actually detail how the knowledge will be used. Including this extra information helps to demonstrate that the researcher(s) understand the knowledge users' needs and context.

Although your project is intended to respond to the needs of specific knowledge users, your findings can have even greater significance depending on the extent to which the results are transferable to other contexts. If other audiences could benefit from the expected outcomes of your study, highlight and expand on the transferability of your synthesis results. On the other hand, if you anticipate that your results will not be transferable and generalizable, it is best to acknowledge this and explain why.

2. Feasibility

2.1 Approach

Ensure that your methodology clearly addresses your research objectives. Be specific about your proposed approach and how you will ensure the validity of findings – don't assume that reviewers will be familiar with the selected methodology. Justify why you've chosen this approach. Tell yourself that a reviewer may disagree with your methodology and attempt to convince them that the approach your team has selected is the most appropriate to address your research question.

Indicate your search strategies (databases, consultations with experts, manual searches, etc.), the parameters of your searches (languages, timeframe, etc.) as well as the types of literature you will be including (primary studies, previous reviews, guidelines, grey literature, etc.). Convince reviewers of the rigour of your methodology by providing examples of initial searches, search terms, trees, abstracted data, coding, verification of coding, quality of data sources etc., when and where appropriate. Discuss the strengths and limitations of your selected methods. If you have opted to exclude specific information or searches, justify why this is appropriate given your topic.

When describing your research approach, remember to indicate when and how the knowledge users will be involved throughout the process (e.g. in defining the research question, informing the research plan, interpreting the findings, informing the end-of-grant KT plan). Be realistic with the level of engagement that is feasible for different types of knowledge users. This type of description is important for demonstrating to reviewers how knowledge users will be meaningfully engaged in the design of your approach.

An important but often overlooked element is the end-of-grant KT plan; this is something you should keep in mind throughout the development of your proposal. End-of-grant KT refers to any activity aimed at diffusing, disseminating or applying the results of a research project, and can involve a variety of methods. There are two broad goals typical of end-of-grant KT activities: raising awareness and promoting action. Whether goals are modest or ambitious, they must be appropriate to the nature of the research findings and the target audience. You should clearly state and justify the proposed KT goals.

Identifying your target audience upfront is crucial to successful end-of-grant KT. Ask yourself: “Who else, besides the knowledge users listed as participants, would be interested in learning about or should know about the results of this research?”. Next, it is critical to select the most appropriate KT strategy for sharing information with your target audience. The KT activities chosen should draw on evidence about what media/formats are most effective for that particular group of knowledge users and should be tailored to their individual needs. For example, if your research has policy implications and your results warrant it, preparing a policy brief could be an effective way of getting the message across to your audience. If your audience consists of patients or healthcare provider groups, you may want to consider workshops targeted towards these groups.

Explain why you selected your end-of-grant KT strategy. Is it evidence-based? Have other groups been successful in disseminating research results to a similar audience using this strategy? Does your team possess the expertise and resources specific to your planned end-of-grant KT activities? If not, include a plan to involve collaborators for this element of your project.

2.2 Expertise, Experience and Resources

We recommend that you document the expertise of each team member, clearly presenting their role in the project, their strengths (track record) and how they will be able to complete their part of the work. Your team should have the required skills for each area of the project. It is strongly recommended that each team includes an expert in the content area(s) covered by the synthesis, an expert in synthesis methods and an information scientist or librarian. Think about whether your team is lacking any group or person who should be involved in the project (e.g., multidisciplinary team should include a range of expertise, reflecting the nature of the synthesis). If any expertise is missing, provide details on how you plan to collaborate with individuals outside the research team to inform the project.

Be sure you have the required expertise on your team for your methodology or hire a consultant to assist. It is important that appropriate team composition be clearly addressed to ensure that the appropriate complement of expertise, experience and resources are available to deliver on the objectives of the project. Ensure that each member's time commitment is reasonable given their workload and schedule, and specify all resources available to your team.  This includes carefully planning your budget, making sure that the allocation of resources is realistic and that all activities are sufficiently budgeted for, including the end-of-grant KT activities. This information will help demonstrate that this is a “doable” study from both a scientific and practical perspective.

Discuss whether the partners have worked together before, how the issue/gap was identified, why the knowledge user partners are interested in participating (what's in it for them?) and how they intend to effect change. Be sure to include details about the knowledge users, including their role in the project; evidence that they understand and have agreed to fulfill their role, and that they are willing to use the results of the study (if warranted); and justification that they are the right knowledge user(s) to inform the project and act on the findings.

Evidence of an on-going commitment from the knowledge user's organization is ideal; financial or in-kind support is a good sign of engagement and commitment. Examples of support could include analytical services, software and access to a specific population. These elements can be embedded within the proposal and/or detailed in the Letters of Support written by the knowledge user. These letters are important and need to show true integrated KT-style collaboration. It is highly recommended that knowledge users provide letters of support that include specific details about their role and expectations, rather than generic “cookie-cutter” text. The letters should detail the amount of time they will be committing to the project, any in-kind or financial contributions, their degree of involvement in the project as well as how they intend to make use of the conclusions stemming from the proposed synthesis. For guidance on preparing effective letters, please consult our Guide to Writing Letters of Support. Very strong integrated KT projects demonstrate an established relationship with the participating knowledge users, one that hopefully precedes and will outlast the project.

Finalizing your proposal

When your proposal is complete, we recommend that you revise, revise, revise! Once again, ensure that the information required by reviewers to assess the application is presented clearly and concisely and can be interpreted with ease. Ask researcher and knowledge user colleagues to read your application and provide feedback. Last but not least: proof-read!!

Don't hesitate to contact CIHR KT staff ( with any questions. It would be our pleasure to assist you.

We wish you success with the preparation of your application!

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