Process for Translating Research to Practice

    The translation of research into practice is an important process to consider in many fields. With the increasing popularity of evidence-based policing, concerns about how to translate research into police practice have arisen. This article presents a framework outlining a structured way of thinking about translating police research into practice. Founded in implementation science and the “Knowledge to Action” model used in public health fields; this process includes four stages. These include: Phase I: ‘Does it Work?’ Research and Evaluation; Phase II: ‘What Works?’ Synthesis and Dissemination; Phase III: ‘How to Make it Work?’ Implementation and Evaluation; and Phase IV: ‘Make it Work!’ Institutionalization and Sustainability. 
    Both criminology and medical fields have recognized that research has not often translated effectively into policy and practice. In policing specifically, there are often barriers to implementation that must be overcome when attempting to translate research into practice. The Knowledge to Action process includes two cycles; the knowledge creation cycle, during which knowledge, tools, and/or products are developed and synthesized so that the most valid and relevant ones remain, and the action cycle, where the knowledge and tools developed in the knowledge creation cycle are tailored to the local environment, implemented, and sustained. This two-part cycle can be used to overcome common implementation barriers. 
    In the four-phase research to practice translation process described above, the first two phases correspond to the knowledge development cycle of the knowledge to action framework, and the second two correspond to the action cycle. Phase I produces findings through rigorous and original research studies. Methods and studies in phase one usually seek to identify, describe, and understand ongoing police practices as well as to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of current or newly developed policies practices or strategies. Even though research tests new and innovative ideas, it is important that they are realistic, with police department capabilities and sustainability kept in mind. Phase I includes direct collaboration between researchers and police. In this phase, researchers require participation from police agencies and individual police to complete surveys, interviews, focus groups, or to allow observation of practices and data sharing. Researchers take the lead in phase I, but it is important that they work to establish a working relationship with police and demonstrate how research can be beneficial to the agency. 
    Phase II includes a synthesis of findings from Phase I to establish “what works,” and the effective communication of findings and tools to police. rather than relying on anecdotal evidence from a single study, phase II involves the collection and synthesis of evidence to establish generalizations, and the effective communication of “what works” to police practitioners. Researchers conduct research on the research in phase II to rigorously establish “what works,” and they collaborate with practitioners. Practitioners lead their own efforts to establish best practices and communicate the research to other practitioners. 
    Phase III is the study of organizational implementation of evidence-based strategies; is involves the creation of models, mechanisms, and structures to implement the strategies that were found to be effective in phases I and II. The focus in phase III is on guidance for implementation and is it important that findings are translated into specific, practical products that can be used directly by police departments. Phase III requires research and police to work together to create meaningful permanent changes to organizational structure and processes. Researchers in phase III will continually facilitate connections to get findings published in the field, and police will continue to implement best practices and policies. 
    Finally, phase IV is focused on institutionalization and maintenance of evidence-based strategies by practitioners. Implementing evidence-based strategies is generally not sustainable and does not create wide-scale organizational change. Strong, consistent leadership with a clear message, standards for performance, and accountability standards is the key to being able to successfully implement organizational change. The cycle then circles back through a feedback loop where attempts to sustain knowledge and change are inform the first phase, and strategies are adapted, re-evaluated, and implemented. The role of researchers is more limited in phase IV because it is up to practitioners to implement and sustain practices. 
    The current translation of research to policing practice appears to be focused on phases I and II but parsing out phases III and IV allows more attention to be focused in those areas, and the gaps in implementation and translational science in policing to be closed. Translating processes are essential to make evidence-based policing work.

  • Other disciplines, such as medicine, can be models for effective translation of research to practice.
  • Both original research and its translation to practice should focus on testing and implementing realistic and sustainable strategies.
  • Translating research to police practice is a deliberate process with distinct phases that each require collaboration between researchers and police practitioners.
  • The four phased process can be used to help identify and fill gaps in current and future translation activities within evidence-based policing.

Santos, R. G. & Santos, R. B. (2019). A four-phase process for translating research into police practice. Police Practice & Research, 20(6), 585–602.