Can you Commercialize that which isn’t a Commodity?

The more I think about knowledge translation’s (KT) ascent in requirements of federal funding applications in Canada, the more I consider the possible Conservative machinations that may be behind it. It’s no secret that the Conservative government’s political influence continues to penetrate deep within Canada’s knowledge creation system, and so, could this be relevant to KT’s omnipresence in Canada? This week, I’ll be writing about the economics of knowledge translation, and how this is compatible with the ruling Canadian Right.

But wait; sure CIHR is pushing towards improvements in knowledge creation, but can we say that CIHR is politically motivated? Well, let’s look at their governance structure. According the CIHR Website (, the CIHR is governed by a council of 18 individuals, appointed by the federal cabinet. A cursory glance at their affiliations reveals that several have very frank relationships to health corporate entities, including Pfizer, Caprion Protenomics, and the Richard Ivy School of Business. Most interesting is that there is clearly an effort to create a semblance of impartiality – the deputy minister of health serves in an ex-facto role, and does not have a vote at the table. However, Michael Wilson, who held four cabinet posts under two Conservative Prime Ministers, and whose background is listed as Chairman of Barkley’s Capital Canada Inc., is a full voting member of the board (Canadian Institute of Health Research).

When one considers the key messages of the Conservative Party of Canada, things like productivity, economy, and commerce come to mind. Indeed, the translation of knowledge into commercialize-able formats seems to fit, and is even frankly discussed on the CIHR’s website (Canadian Institute of Health Research). Throughout the world, KT is perceived as an integral component of economic development, with extensive research done around which kinds of academic institutions suite which kinds of businesses, what is required for the process, and so on (Delfmann & Koster, 2012). Over the past two decades, the use of econometrics in governance and decision-making has globally taken centre stage. However, little research into the evidence informing this practice has been presented (Hansen & Muhlen-Schulte, 2012).

So, finally, is this a bad thing? Well, as so many things in KT, the answer isn’t black or white, but a shade of grey. When the discussion focuses on the economic gains of bringing new technologies to market, coordinated strategies for knowledge translation are lauded as important and integral to complex, high risk sectors like healthcare (Stone & Lane, 2012). On the other side of the coin is the soft innovation that occurs within healthcare. Politically motivated, commercialization focused KT can be very selective in what it chooses to translate. While it is well understood (inside the walls of the academy) that uprooting social inequities is integral to improving health, a politicized KT endeavour can undermine this message’s role out to implementation (Muntaner, Chung, Murphy, & Ng, 2012). Considering that the commercialization of information is an important stated goal of the CIHR (Canadian Institute of Health Research), what do we do when what we are trying to translate is a de-commodified good, like public health? (Muntaner, Chung, Murphy, & Ng, 2012).

I recognize, of course, that I am speaking from a biased perspective. The fact that the governance structure of the CIHR has been politicized isn’t necessarily conclusive of the fact that KT is a Conservative ploy. Nor have I presented conclusive evidence of selectivity in the KT process – although, to use an idiom: more research is needed. All the same, I find it important to critically question our assumptions about the politics of any fashion in health. Economic productivity measured by GDP, after all, shouldn’t be the goal of a national health research institute. It doesn’t translate to greater economic equality or, in itself improve health (Muntaner, Chung, Murphy, & Ng, 2012).


Canadian Institute of Health Research. (n.d.). Members of Governing Council. Retrieved November 19th, 2013, from CIHR-IRSC:

Delfmann, H., & Koster, S. (2012). Knowledge transfer between SMEs and higher education institutions; Differences between universities and colleges of higher education in the Netherlands. Industry & Higher Education , 26 (1), 31-42.

Hansen, H. K., & Muhlen-Schulte, A. (2012). The power of numbers in global governance. Journal of International Relations & Development , 15 (4), 455-465.

Muntaner, C., Chung, H., Murphy, K., & Ng, E. (2012). Barriers to Knowledge Production, Knowledge Translation, and Urban Health Policy Change: Ideological, Economic, and Political Considerations. Journal of Urban Health .

Stone, V., & Lane, J. (2012). Modeling technology innovation: How science, engineering, and industry methods can combine to generate beneficial socieconomic impacts. Implementation Science , 7 (1), 44-62.



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