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Disseminating early years research: an illustrative case study

Siobhan O’Connor (Department of Psychology, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland)
Sinead McGilloway (Department of Psychology, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland)
Grainne Hickey (Department of Psychology, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland)
Melanie Barwick (The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 6 January 2021

Issue publication date: 17 February 2021




This paper aims to outline a knowledge translation (KT) case study undertaken as part of a multi-component research programme aimed at evaluating new parenting supports in the earliest years. The study aimed to: explore the influencing factors relating to research use in an early years context; and to use the findings, at least in part, to execute an integrated KT plan – to promote stakeholder engagement, greater research visibility and to enhance the understanding of findings emerging from the research programme.


A mixed-methods study was embedded within a large-scale, longitudinal research programme. In the present study, a national survey (n = 162) was administered to stakeholders working with children and families throughout Ireland. A series of one-to-one interviews were also undertaken (n = 37) to amplify the survey findings. Also, one focus group was carried out with parents (n = 8) and one with members of the research team (n = 3). Several dissemination strategies were concurrently developed, executed and evaluated, based partly on survey and interview findings and guided by the knowledge translation planning template (Barwick, 2008; 2013; 2019).


The main factors influencing the dissemination of evidence, as identified by the stakeholders – were: a lack of resources; an under-developed understanding of research use and dissemination; insufficient collaboration and communication; and conflicting stakeholder priorities. Despite these challenges, the research programme was found to benefit from a multi-component KT plan to achieve the outlined dissemination goals.

Practical implications

The KT planning process allowed the research team to be more accountable, introspective and to work more efficiently. This helped increase the likelihood of more targeted and successful dissemination of the research findings, delivering a better return on research investment.


This is the first study of its kind (to our knowledge) to provide important insights for stakeholders in Ireland and elsewhere about how to improve the dissemination process. Effective KT planning can ultimately help to bridge the research-policy-practice gap and enable the effective translation of high-quality evidence in the early years’ sector to enhance outcomes for families in the shorter and longer-term.



Authors acknowledge with thanks the funding and support provided for this study by the Health Research Board. Authors extend their warmest thanks to the participants in the surveys, interviews and focus groups who kindly agreed to take part in this study.


O’Connor, S., McGilloway, S., Hickey, G. and Barwick, M. (2021), "Disseminating early years research: an illustrative case study", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 56-73.



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