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Building theories of knowledge translation interventions: Use the entire menu of constructs

Jamie C Brehaut12* and Kevin W Eva3

Author Affiliations

1 Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Clinical Epidemiology Program, The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus, 501 Smyth Road, Centre for Practice Changing Research, Box 201B, Ottawa, ON K1H 8L6, Canada

2 Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON K1H 8M5, Canada

3 Centre for Health Education Scholarship, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V5Z 4E3, Canada

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Implementation Science 2012, 7:114  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-7-114

Published: 22 November 2012



In the ongoing effort to develop and advance the science of knowledge translation (KT), an important question has emerged around how theory should inform the development of KT interventions.


Efforts to employ theory to better understand and improve KT interventions have until recently mostly involved examining whether existing theories can be usefully applied to the KT context in question. In contrast to this general theory application approach, we propose a ‘menu of constructs’ approach, where individual constructs from any number of theories may be used to construct a new theory. By considering the entire menu of available constructs, rather than limiting choice to the broader level of theories, we can leverage knowledge from theories that would never on their own provide a complete picture of a KT intervention, but that nevertheless describe components or mechanisms relevant to it. We can also avoid being forced to adopt every construct from a particular theory in a one-size-fits-all manner, and instead tailor theory application efforts to the specifics of the situation. Using audit and feedback as an example KT intervention strategy, we describe a variety of constructs (two modes of reasoning, cognitive dissonance, feed forward, desirable difficulties and cognitive load, communities of practice, and adaptive expertise) from cognitive and educational psychology that make concrete suggestions about ways to improve this class of intervention.


The ‘menu of constructs’ notion suggests an approach whereby a wider range of theoretical constructs, including constructs from cognitive theories with scope that makes the immediate application to the new context challenging, may be employed to facilitate development of more effective KT interventions.

Theory; Audit and feedback; Knowledge translation; Constructs; Domains; Cognitive psychology; Education