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Syst Rev. 2019 Nov 7;8(1):266. doi: 10.1186/s13643-019-1161-y.

Systematic review of the use of process evaluations in knowledge translation research.

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Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
School of Nursing, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
University of Alberta Libraries, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.



Experimental designs for evaluating knowledge translation (KT) interventions can provide strong estimates of effectiveness but offer limited insight into how the intervention worked. Consequently, process evaluations have been used to explore the causal mechanisms at work; however, there are limited standards to guide this work. This study synthesizes current evidence of KT process evaluations to provide future methodological recommendations.


Peer-reviewed search strategies were developed by a health research librarian. Studies had to be in English, published since 1996, and were not excluded based on design. Studies had to (1) be a process evaluation of a KT intervention study in primary health, (2) be a primary research study, and (3) include a licensed healthcare professional delivering or receiving the intervention. A two-step, two-person hybrid screening approach was used for study inclusion with inter-rater reliability ranging from 94 to 95%. Data on study design, data collection, theoretical influences, and approaches used to evaluate the KT intervention, analysis, and outcomes were extracted by two reviewers. Methodological quality was assessed with the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool (MMAT).


Of the 20,968 articles screened, 226 studies fit our inclusion criteria. The majority of process evaluations used qualitative forms of data collection (43.4%) and individual interviews as the predominant data collection method. 72.1% of studies evaluated barriers and/or facilitators to implementation. 59.7% of process evaluations were stand-alone evaluations. The timing of data collection varied widely with post-intervention data collection being the most frequent (46.0%). Only 38.1% of the studies were informed by theory. Furthermore, 38.9% of studies had MMAT scores of 50 or less indicating poor methodological quality.


There is widespread acceptance that the generalizability of quantitative trials of KT interventions would be significantly enhanced through complementary process evaluations. However, this systematic review found that process evaluations are of mixed quality and lack theoretical guidance. Most process evaluation data collection occurred post-intervention undermining the ability to evaluate the process of implementation. Strong science and methodological guidance is needed to underpin and guide the design and execution of process evaluations in KT science.


This study is not registered with PROSPERO.


Health interventions; KT interventions; Knowledge translation; Process evaluation; Research use; Systematic review

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