Research Spotlight: Storytelling as a tool for knowledge translation between researchers and government


Dr. Sarah Munro, Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UBC, is the Principal Investigator on the project Storytelling as a tool for knowledge translation between researchers and government. The project will explore the characteristics of knowledge translation that make the most impact on policy change for family planning.

Upon completing the CART-Mifepristone Study, Dr. Munro was surprised to see how quickly changes took place to make medical abortion accessible in Canada.

“One of the things we kept hearing from our policy-maker partners was how important it is to hear stories from healthcare providers,” Dr. Munro recalls. Stories can be used to reaffirm evidence, or to help bring abstract ideas back down to a human level.

“There’s an opportunity to use stories from the public – from constituents – to really influence policy makers and demonstrate that this isn’t just about improving access to abortion and contraception because of research evidence, but because this is what the public wants.”

In line with the project’s social advocacy lens, Kate Wahl, a PhD student in Reproductive and Developmental Sciences at UBC and Co-Investigator on the project, suggests this work could also illuminate ways for researchers to help support patient-centered health policies.

“We’re hearing a lot about patient-centred care, and this extends to the process of patient-centered policy. [As researchers,] how can we build and help support health policies that really centre the patient? I think story can be a really powerful way to achieve that.”

Kate explains that the project team will interview policy makers to better understand which elements of story resonate, and the types of stories that are carried throughout the policy making process. These learnings will guide how the team collects stories from patients and the public.

Their hope for the project is to help advance implementation science for reproductive health, and to create a resource for engaging policy makers in their knowledge translation activities.

“This [research] isn’t specific to family planning,” says Dr. Munro. “I think that what we’re looking at is an example in family planning that’s going to be applicable to anybody — any researcher – that’s interested in how to make an impact in policy.”

The project is being supported by a collaboration between Options for Sexual Health, Dalhousie University, the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, BC Ministry of Health, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, and Perinatal Services .

Click here to learn more about the 2019 Women’s Health Research Institute Catalyst Grant recipients.

Follow Kate and Dr. Munro on Twitter.