Performing arts as a method of sharing knowledge: The role of dance in KT strategy

Despite the CIHR’s mandate that knowledge translation (KT) be a necessary part of research funding, and thus requiring that researchers and scientists take an approach to their work that reflects KT values, the implementation of KT methods external to conference presentations and journal publications has been slow.  However, contemporary methods in KT have come to incorporate nonconventional representations of KT, as seen in the following example.

In pursuing a nonconventional KT strategy, Boydell and Jackson (2010) have pushed the boundaries of existing KT methods with the notion that the performing arts is not only able to, but also suitable for, sharing knowledge.  Using dance as a KT strategy, Boydell and Jackson aimed to disseminate research evidence and by extension educate target audiences about first-episode psychosis in youth and the difficulties associated with seeking help, as well as other barriers to treatment.

According to CIHR (2010), “Arts based research provides a platform from which to begin a dialogue with young people, families and the public, to move them toward new ways of understanding and knowing.  In representing the experiences of mental illness in a new evocative, illuminating and memorable way, viewers are challenged to engage with the work and consider the cultural stereotypes that surround those with mental illness.  The evocative representation of textual research results through dance can communicate moods as well as facts, which has the advantage of allowing the audience to engage in the phenomena in a deeper, more sensitive, open and meaningful way” (Boydell & Jackson, 2010, p. 6).

Under such terms, using dance to impart information has the potential to encourage dialogue among target audiences.  Further, it is of significance to consider the effect that performing arts may have on certain groups (e.g., youth) and such groups’ responses to the performing arts.  The roles that the performing arts could possibly play, as well as the benefits it could potentially have for KT strategy, are infinite.

It is important to note that although the use of performing arts as a method of imparting knowledge and encouraging dialogue among audiences may not be applicable to the multitude of shapes and sizes health research may take, it’s very nature has the tendency to be suitable to various venues, from conferences to film festivals and beyond, as well as the ability to be featured in both contemporary and traditional media.

An essential component of any KT strategy is evaluation, and indeed, Boydell and Jackson’s (2010) experiment with this particular KT method has been evaluated.  A number of methods were used to assess audience engagement and elicit dialogue, including: in-theatre observation of audience response, moderated post-performance large audience discussions, audience feedback in the form of ‘post-it’ notes, and researcher field notes.  Evaluations of the data collected from these processes appear to suggest that dance is an effective way to share research findings and to enhance awareness and engagement among audience groups.

Although there is limited research on the effectiveness of research-based dance (or other performing arts) as a knowledge translation strategy, such endeavors certainly appear to be fruitful.  KT efforts should certainly consider the possibility of using such methods to involve the community, and future research should address in increased detail the application of performing arts as a KT strategy in other health-related fields.  (For an interesting take on how theatre may be useful to KT efforts, see


CIHR. (2010). Research-based dance as a knowledge translation strategy. In Knowledge to action: An end-of-grant knowledge translation casebook. Retrieved from

CIHR. (2013). About knowledge translation. Retrieved from

Rossiter, K., Kontos, P., Colantonio, A., Gilbert, J., Gray, J., & Keightley, M. (2008). Staging data: Theatre as a tool for analysis and knowledge transfer in health research. Retrieved from


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