Skip to content

What is Translational Research?

Many definitions have been developed for translational research in different disciplines. However, the basic idea is that translational research is a systems-based effort to facilitate the application of research knowledge into practical implementation focused on improved human health and well-being.

Ideas, Concepts, and Guiding Elements

The idea of translational research originated in medical and health sciences. The guiding premise of translational research grew in response to the need to bridge the gap between the development of scientific knowledge and the conversion of scientific evidence in practices and policies incorporating scientific discoveries.

The concept of translational research began to emerge in the early 1990s, and literature on translational research in biomedical journals grew exponentially from 2000 to present.[1] Translational science emerged to address a persistent gap between knowledge acquired through research and the application of that evidence among practitioners. Some studies estimated that it takes an average of 20 years for evidence to translate broadly into practice.[2]  Beginning in the early 2000s, scholarship emerged on translational research in child welfare and social work.[3]

McMillan[4] provides a useful model for translational research in child welfare with three guiding elements:

  1. Systematization of evidence-based practice through training and other supports in everyday casework and supervision.
  2. Measuring equity effectiveness for particular populations to guide an improved understanding of how evidence-based practice helps close outcome gaps for populations, especially those disadvantaged in social work outcomes.
  3. Measuring local translation of research on factors of extent and quality of reach, efficacy, adoption, implementation, and maintenance (RE-AIM).


[1] Grzywacz, J. G. & Allen, J. W. (2017). Adapting the ideas of translational science for translational family science. Family Relations, 66(4), 568-583. Van der Laan, A. & Boenink, M. (2015). Beyond bench and bedside: Disentangling the concept of translational research. Health Care Analysis, 23, 32-49.
[2] Palinkas, L. A. & Soydan, H. (2012). New horizons of translational research and research translation in social work. Research on Social Work Practice, 22(1), 85-92.
[3] Brekke, J. S., Ell, K., & Palinkas, L. A. (2007). Translational science at the National Institute of Mental Health: Can social work take its rightful place? Research on Social Work Practice, 17(1), 123-133.
[4] McMillin, S. E. (2014). Translating social work research for social justice: Focusing translational research on equity rather than the market. Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, 11, 148-156.

Cookie Settings