Implementing stakeholder-informed research

Out of the Ivory Tower

In brief

In EENet’s efforts to expand the reach of research, we ask people who represent different perspectives in Ontario’s mental health and addiction system to review selected journal articles and give us their views on what the research means to them. 

This issue of Out of the Ivory Tower looks at “Implementing stakeholder-informed research in the substance abuse treatment sector: strategies used by Connections, a Canadian knowledge translation and exchange project”, which appeared in Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, Policy, vol. 9, no. 21. 

Below you will find Janel Coe’s perspective, as a person with lived experience in the realm of mental health, and Shanchoy Mahajan’s summary from the service provider perspective.
Please note that the opinions in the reviews are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of EENet or its members. 

If you have any feedback, questions, or comments, or if you’re interested in writing for Out of the Ivory Tower, please contact eenet [at] camh [dot] ca.  

Read it below or access the PDF hereOut of the Ivory Tower gives research some context from different stakeholder perspectives.


Henderson, J., Sword, W., Niccols, A., Dobbins, M. and The Connections Research Team. (2014). Implementing stakeholder-informed research in the substance abuse treatment sector: strategies used by Connections, a Canadian knowledge translation and exchange project. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, Policy, vol. 9, no. 21. Available here:



Researcher-stakeholder collaboration has been identified as critical to bridging research and health system change. While collaboration models vary, meaningful stakeholder involvement over time (“integrated knowledge translation”) is advocated to improve the relevance of research to knowledge users. This short report describes the integrated knowledge translation efforts of Connections, a knowledge translation and exchange project to improve services for women with substance abuse problems and their children, and implementation barriers and facilitators. 


Strategies of varying intensities were used to engage diverse stakeholders, including policy makers and people with lived experience, and executive directors, program managers, and service providers from Canadian addiction agencies serving women. Barriers to participation included individual (e.g., interest), organizational (e.g., funding), and system level (e.g., lack of centralized stakeholder database) barriers. Similarly, facilitators included individual (e.g., perceived relevance) and organizational (e.g., support) facilitators, as well as initiative characteristics (e.g., multiple involvement opportunities). Despite barriers, Connections’ stakeholder-informed research efforts proved essential for developing clinically relevant and feasible processes, measures, and implementation strategies. 


Stakeholder-researcher collaboration is possible and robust integrated knowledge translation efforts can be productive. Future work should emphasize developing and evaluating a range of strategies to address stakeholders’ knowledge translation needs and to facilitate sustained and meaningful involvement in research. 

About our reviewers

Janel Coe has an avid interest in mental health and addiction. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a Social Service Work Diploma. As a person who has had mental health challenges throughout the years, she is especially interested in the ways organizations are trying to improve the lives of people with mental health challenges, and is also curious about any new findings in this realm.

Shanchoy Mahajan is a literacy coordinator/practitioner in Toronto. She works with a diverse group of learners who require a variety of supports. Shanchoy notes that practitioners must have the right tools to develop effective activities and lesson plans for participants, including knowledge of existing research on adult learning models; current economic, employment, and immigration trends and policies; existing mental health and addiction resources; and developments. Collaboration is key to providing programs with this knowledge, and integrated knowledge translation (KT) strategies could be instrumental in this process. 

EENet asked our reviewers to answer questions based on their reading of the article. Here are their responses:

What was of most value to you in this article?  

Janel: Generally speaking, the most valuable thing to me from this article was the strong sense of collaboration between the researchers and various stakeholders (e.g., from executives to front-line staff). In the field of mental health and addiction, it’s important to work together in order to be on the same page. Additionally, I valued both the informal and formal approaches the researchers took to gathering information (e.g., individual consultations and formal surveys), as this could give a more holistic view of what is being studied/examined. 
Shanchoy: Efforts in the literacy field to build or enhance programs through collaboration between researchers and knowledge users at all levels is essential, but also very difficult without the necessary resources to facilitate knowledge exchange. It is crucial, during this time of funding cuts and redistribution, that service delivery is enhanced through knowledge flow and collaboration with all levels of policy-making, research, agency management and front-line service provision. Evidence supporting iKT strategies to improve collaborations is important to building sustainable partnerships. Building a knowledge portal or database is useful in facilitating knowledge flow and should become a common practice throughout the sector.

How do you envision incorporating this evidence into your life or work?  

Janel: While I am not a service provider, I am a person who has had mental health challenges.  This article has encouraged me to seek out opportunities within my community to collaborate with researchers in order to improve our understanding of mental health. For example, after reading the article I visited the CAMH website to seek out possible research trials as a participant. 

Shanchoy: The learners of adult literacy programs require a variety of supports to ensure their commitment and progress in their learning. It is current practice to collaborate with other social support programs to ensure that practitioners have the knowledge needed to provide effective services, including appropriate referrals. Literacy practitioners have a history of collaboration with researchers. Using integrated KT strategies may improve upon existing partnerships and increase the flow of knowledge between stakeholders, researchers, and front-line practitioners.

Do you foresee any challenges to incorporating this evidence into your life or work?  

Janel: No. Others may have challenges in incorporating this evidence due to lack of resources available. I found the researchers were very thorough in making sure all stakeholders had different ways of engaging in the subject (for example, access to conferences, travel costs covered, etc.). However, a lot of agencies that work in the realm of mental health and addictions may not normally have access to these types of resources, which could act as a barrier to incorporating findings into their work. 
Shanchoy: Lack of time, staff availability, organizational priorities, and resources are common barriers. Many programs are experiencing funding challenges while reporting requirements increase. Other challenges include bringing stakeholders, policymakers and researchers together to bridge gaps in understanding the needs and realities of service delivery at all levels of involvement, and to reflect on differences in attitudes between policy, practitioners, and program participants.

How do the findings presented in this article relate to your experiences? 

Janel: A couple of the findings confirmed what I already knew or thought. For example, as someone who has studied social services, I know that one of the most significant barriers is funding, which the researchers touched on. The researchers also emphasized the importance of implementation strategies. This confirms what I’ve already thought about mental health research in general: vital but never enough money. 
Shanchoy: I agree that multi-method strategies are necessary to overcome barriers and limitations to this process. I believe that studies analyzing gaps in knowledge and understanding of research, policies, practice, attitudes, and front-line service delivery contexts, will assist in developing strategies to overcome challenges to evidence-based practice. 

If you could ask a question or make a comment to the authors, what might you say? 

Janel: The authors briefly mentioned training 14 students. I’d be interested in knowing more about this. How did they train the students (e.g. was this through a student practicum?)? What did the students take away from this learning? How will they incorporate what they learned from the researchers into their own practices? 

Shanchoy: I hope that this research continues and that collaboration and knowledge translation and exchange become standard in all fields and programs.





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