Engaging Conversations with… Meridith Sones

September 16, 2014

Selfie with Kona
Meridith Sones isn’t afraid to embrace change and take on new challenges. As Knowledge Translation Manager for the Institute of Gender and Health (part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research), Meridith strives to break down the complex barriers of knowledge translation (how knowledge is synthesized, packaged, shared and exchanged in the real world) and make it more human, accessible and digestible. IGH is committed to funding and translating research that explores how sex and gender shape the health of men, women, girls, boys and gender diverse people.

In B’stro’s latest Engaging Conversation, Meridith shares her thoughts and leadership on the big dilemma that’s happening in health research right now—how the open access movement and uptake of social media are revolutionizing how evidence is published and shared, and how we measure research impact.

Name: Meridith Sones
Employer: Institute of Gender and Health, Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Location: Vancouver, BC
Twitter: @merisones

What is your job title?
Knowledge Translation Manager

What do you really do?
A big dilemma in health research is the perpetual gaps or “death valleys” between what we know and what we do. In between, you have the messy and at times mysterious process of knowledge translation – a blanket term used to cover everything from how research evidence is co-produced with the people who will use it, to how knowledge is synthesized, packaged, shared, exchanged, commercialized and applied in the real world. At the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, we’re specifically in the business of funding and translating research that explores how sex and gender shape the health of men, women, girls, boys and gender diverse people.

My job is to provide strategic leadership on all aspects of knowledge translation and communications at the institute. On any given day, I could be developing content for our website or next publication; crafting a promotional plan for a new funding opportunity; collaborating with our research community to increase the visibility and impact of their work; developing media lines and key messaging; planning a public event or training session; building partnerships with knowledge users; seizing opportunities for knowledge exchange with the policy community; editing a news release; evaluating our reach and impact; or repackaging complexity into compelling story lines.

What do you enjoy most?
The world of health research is incredibly complex. My favorite part of my job is taking that complexity and using a fresh, creative approach to make it more accessible and digestible.

What trends are you seeing in your industry right now?
Some major trends that come to mind on the knowledge translation side of health research are the open access movement and uptake of social media, both of which are completely revolutionizing how evidence is published and shared, and how we measure research impact. Then there are other movements revolutionizing how health research is conducted—like the trend toward more patient-oriented research, and efforts to address sex and gender bias in research designs, and big data… I could go on and on!

Are you encouraged by this or is it daunting; scary?
Traditionally it would take an expensive subscription to obtain peer-reviewed literature, but this is changing. The open access movement and social media are making research evidence more freely and quickly available to anyone, anywhere. The system isn’t perfect yet (and maybe I’m being dangerously optimistic) but even the most hardened cynic should be encouraged by this change and what it means for the potential reach and impact of health research. Health research is being forced to embrace a brave new world and I couldn’t be happier.

Misconceptions still exist though. Can you expand further on that?
One of our favourite past times at IGH is “mythbusting”. There are many misconceptions out there about sex, gender and health that we use science to debunk and challenge. We’ll do this in subtle ways (like the messaging in the video below) and more directly, like in our new “Science Fact or Science Fiction?” series. A simple but powerful misconception that we strive to address in the health research community is the misunderstanding that gender issues only apply to women’s health. Gender matters for everyone.

How do you overcome creative blocks?
I unplug. My best ideas usually come on my bike commute to and from work or when I ditch the device for pen and paper. In my experience, staring at a blank page holds some potential, while staring at a blank screen never leads anywhere (except maybe a deep, dark rabbit hole of DIY house projects on the Internet). I also like 99U’s 10 Creative Rituals You Should Steal (think “interesting people” funds, daily naps and brainstorming at the bar).

What was your most successful failure?
I was fresh out of undergrad and picked up a small contract to develop a community action guide on food security. The purpose of it was to raise awareness on how access to nutritious food shapes population health, and to provide communities with strategies for improving food security at the local level. I remember getting my first draft back from the editor on the project, who absolutely ripped my writing apart. I was mortified, but it was a professional blessing in disguise. The guide was supposed to inspire people who care about the health of their communities but know nothing about what food security means, why it matters and how to improve it. Meanwhile, I was attacking the project like an academic paper and sending the reader into a not-so-sweet, jargon-induced slumber in the process. It was a revelation: I had spent my academic years learning how to be verbose and would spend the rest of my professional life kicking the habit. It was my first lesson in the art of plain language and the importance of always writing for an audience.

Where do you or did you get your best business advice?
My current favourite is the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which is full of ideas and inspiration for those of us in the public and nonprofit sectors – or frankly anyone who cares about social change and likes to think BIG.

What business advice would you pass on?
It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission (wise words from the legendary scientist Grace Murray Hopper).

If you had a Pinterest-style motivational quote on your wall, what would it say?
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” —James Thurber

Fill in the blanks….

1. I should have gone to bed earlier yesterday.

2. I wish that I could surf before work.

3. The first thing I do when I get to work is lock up my bike and chug espresso.