Arizona State University ISTB4 Foyer

Design for Knowledge Transfer

It takes 15 years to transform a discovery into an approved therapy; it takes another 15 years to make it a routine clinical practice. We aim to accelerate this process by using facilities to catalyse change. How? By removing the organisational, cultural and physical barriers that prevent people from coming together and sharing knowledge.

Facilities designed for translational health must involve the integration of clinical care, research and development and education. This integration requires a different approach to developing health and science facilities at the network, campus, building and workspace scale. But through thoughtful design, facilities can support change at the grassroots level by making facilities conducive to behavior that supports the outcome desired from the organisation.

This is critical because when people come together, life-changing connections are made — connections not just among people, but among departments, ideas and space that lead to innovation.

We’ve been gathering evidence on this topic for a decade and identified the following nine transformative ideas to help remove barriers and enable the organisational and cultural changes that lead to the successful transfer of knowledge at all levels. And we’ve included a look at some facilities where these ideas are being tested.

Making the Right Connections

Translation happens when connections are made among the right people. Space that is designed to be a destination — to attract people from their clinical and research workplaces — fosters unplanned interaction that can lead to new partnerships, and, ultimately, to new ideas.


Proximity Matters

Research at Harvard University has shown that proximity is important not only to the quantity of collaboration, but also to the quality of collaborations, even in today’s world of technology.


Drive Movement

Yes, proximity matters. But simply locating a basic science lab next to a clinic does not guarantee that the researcher interacts with the clinician. Innovation occurs through ideas transferred between groups, and not through collaboration within a group.


Vertical Spine & Vertical Integration

Creating destination points and gatherings areas in a high-rise building requires an understanding of how far people will go to access a destination (the answer depends on the uniqueness of the destination). Clear sight lines to adjacent floors and strategically distributed sought-after destinations can create a vibrant — yet vertical — spine.

Vertical integration and visibility creates physical awareness. “Being on a different floor is like being in a different world,” describes organisational psychology and management expert Thomas Allen, MIT Sloan School of Management.



Horizontal Integration

Creating a strong horizontal link and strategically locating destination points and gatherings areas — such as retail outlets, dining venues, libraries and outdoor plazas — along this path of circulation promotes interaction among folks from education, healthcare and research groups and creates the trans-disciplinary base necessary for translation.


Transform Workspace

Finding the right balance between team space and individual space is crucial. Providing people with the time and space to think is essential, but so is exploring ideas with people who have different points of view. This is what we call transfer of knowledge, and how a good idea is translated into a real-life solution. The balance is shifting toward teams.


Diverse Networks

Traditionally, the core network for translation is Healthcare + Research + Education. But, these aren’t the only critical connections. To complete a cycle, lots of other partnerships and groups can become part of the network.


Improve Processes

Translational activities span from primary care clinical settings, through academic health sciences institutions, to corporate R+D programs, with the ultimate goal of accelerating new health approaches to the community. Unfortunately, gaps typically exist in the process leading from discovery to therapy and therapy to broader use. Bridging these gaps allows new scientific discoveries to be brought to patients — faster — to benefit each patient personally as well as to the greater patient population.


Director of Translational Health Sciences