Research Overview

Many claims – largely untested - have been made about the benefits of living in an ‘information age’ including the potential for health information – made widely accessible through the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) - to inform and ultimately ‘empower’ citizens to make better decisions that will improve their health and well-being.   

The main goal of my research is to answer the overarching question “does ‘information’ assist in making health-related decisions,” and, if so, “do these decisions lead to improved health and well-being for women?”  Broadly framed, my goal is to understand how, on the one hand, to critically develop and evaluate information resources in ways that are meaningful for women, while on the other, explore how and why women seek information, what they plan to do with it, and whether it ‘works’.  Importantly, I am also committed to developing ways to take the knowledge generated by this research and effectively communicate it to those who might use it in their daily decision-making, including policy-makers, those providing services to women (including health and social service providers, and information professionals), advocates, and women themselves.  This involves a parallel process of “doing” knowledge translation and exchange (KTE – see below), while also researching the effectiveness of different types of KTE strategies on uptake, use and impact of new knowledge by different audiences. My primary content area, as described below, is violence against women and children.

Brief Chronology

My post-PhD academic career began in 2004 with a postdoctoral fellowship, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-Ontario Women’s Health Council, at McMaster University (Department of Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences), followed by a tenure-track position at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information before moving to my current position in Western’s Faculty of Information & Media Studies (2007-present) where I’m now a tenured (2010) Full Professor (2016). The first five years of my appointment were supported by a CIHR New Investigator Award (Women’s Health), and from July 2014 to June 2016 I was the FIMS Faculty Scholar, an award designated by the University. 

It was during my post-doctoral work that I established many of the research partnerships that have evolved into long-term collaborations.  My approach to research is highly interdisciplinary and team-oriented, in part due to the nature of the studies I lead or otherwise participate in (large clinical trials, KT studies with policy partners, etc.).  This is reflected in the many co-authored publications found in my CV, and also in the size of the teams involved in my research grants.  Most of my work would not be possible without these collaborations, nor would it be as fulfilling.


Research Area 1: The health care response to violence against women and children

I have been studying family violence for over 15 years, with previous professional experience in related areas. I am motivated by principles of social justice and the need not only to find better ways to support women and children exposed to violence, but also to address the systemic and social structures that perpetuate violence and its harmful and ongoing consequences. My focus is on developing better evidence to support the health sector response to survivors of violence. Those exposed to violence are affected in a number of ways including a toll on their short- and long-term physical and mental health.

We know quite a lot about the risks for, and consequences of, violence and how it interacts with quality of life and well-being. We know less about what we should actually be doing to prevent violence and its consequences at the policy level and when providing direct service. I am strongly committed to developing and then mobilizing research knowledge so that it can be taken up in the “real world” – I develop and test knowledge mobilization processes so we can keep pushing ourselves to conduct relevant research and make sure it has the best chance of being used to make a difference. I founded a graduate program at the University of Western Ontario that has as main themes “knowledge translation” and “evidence-informed policy and practice”; this program develops highly qualified personnel in these areas, and I am privileged to supervise a number of students and post-doctoral fellows in cognate areas.

You can hear me describe my research in this area here.

Research Area 2: Knowledge Translation & Exchange

Effective knowledge translation and exchange (KTE) requires a better understanding of the contexts and constraints of both the producers and users of knowledge, but also what happens at this interface.  A key research stream has been developing and evaluating ways to translate research evidence into practice.  One of my main research questions, therefore, is: how have and will our research findings influence decision-making among the key stakeholders in the violence against women and children sector?  To achieve some of these ends, we have continued using techniques I developed in a project funded by the Ontario Women’s Health Council, Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, to synthesize research reports into brief, policy-relevant research summaries (published in Healthcare Policy).

With Prof. Anita Kothari, I co-lead Western's Lab for KT in Health.

Research Area 3: Women's health decision-making - an Information Science perspective

My third main research stream – highly integrated with the first two both conceptually as well as in some aspects of content - has focused on women’s health decision-making, including studies examining hormone therapy decisions, whether and how women who have experienced intimate partner violence use information provided in health care settings, and how rural women seek and use health information. 

Several themes have emerged from this work: 1) there is a huge amount of health information available, from many and diverse sources with often competing interests; 2) a growing expectation is that people will use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to access health information, but many may not have the literacies or social locations required to search for, assess and apply the right information for their situation; 3) people, and women in particular, want those who provide health information to care about their problem, and they seek out sources that do this – sometimes to the detriment of information quality; the types and roles of these ‘info(r)mediators’ was the topic of an edited book I published with my colleagues [see below]; 4) while many studies look at the utility of ICTs to improve delivery of information and in some cases assess whether knowledge improves, very few studies are designed to determine whether having information actually makes a difference in key health and well-being outcomes.

My research therefore asks the questions: 1) How do women - especially those with identified concerns, including exposure to violence - search for and use information?  What are the roles of ICTs and formal and informal ‘info(r)mediators’? How do these sources interact? What literacies are required for women to effectively search for, find, understand and use information?  How do various social locations and structural factors intersect to enable or prevent women from achieving their knowledge goals? 2) Does access to and use of health information improve women’s health and well-being? What woman-centred outcomes are appropriate to include in an analysis of the potential impact of health information?  


Methodologically, I am committed to selecting the research method that best answers the specific question(s) being asked. Often, selecting the best approach to a research question means multiple and/or mixed methods, and as indicated in my CV, I have used methods ranging from multi-site experimental trials to qualitative interviews, and believe as well in better utilization of secondary data analysis, including systematic evidence reviews and syntheses.  Recently, I’ve found that the case study approach, utilizing mixed methods to “surround” a question to understand it in depth as well as breadth, is particularly useful for my KTE research, where context plays an extremely important role in knowledge uptake and use.  


Current Projects

Preventing Violence Across the Lifespan (PreVAiL)

Preventing Violence Across the Lifespan (PreVAiL) Research Network [Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)  Institute for Gender and Health; $2M; 2009-17] [Wathen, Co-Principal Investigator (PI)] :: @PreVAiLResearch

PreVAiL is an international research collaboration of over 60 researchers and partners from Canada, the US, the UK, Asia, Europe and Australia whose goal is to bring together researchers and decision-maker partners to produce and share knowledge that will help children, women and men exposed to child maltreatment and intimate partner violence (IPV). PreVAiL has three main objectives: 1) to increase knowledge about the links between mental health impairment, gender and exposure to child maltreatment and IPV, both in Canada and internationally; 2) to develop interventions to prevent or reduce child maltreatment, IPV and related mental health problems; and 3) to develop and use proven methods of knowledge translation and exchange to ensure that our research findings reach those who make decisions in these areas. I lead the KTE Theme area, which brings together researchers and knowledge-user partners to develop and evaluate KTE strategies in the area of violence, gender and mental health.

VEGA (Violence, Evidence, Guidance, Action) Project

Pan-Canadian Public Health Guidance on Family Violence [Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), $4.47M 2015-2018] [Wathen, co-PI] :: @VEGA_Canada

This project is developing national, evidence-based public health guidance, curricula and tools for health and social service professionals. The guidance will fill a crucial gap – the lack of evidence-based and consistent knowledge, education and training available to health and allied social service professionals with respect to the health impacts of violence, and how best to respond to adults and children exposed to family violence across the lifespan. The 3-year project (2015-2018), funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, will: 

  1. produce foundational evidence-based guidance that integrates stakeholder input and provides the best available evidence on effective practices in responding to intimate partner violence (IPV), child maltreatment, and children’s exposure to IPV; 
  2. produce curricula and related tools and protocols based on principles of trauma- and violence-informed care and cultural safety, and integrate issues of equity with respect to race, ethnicity, culture, ability and gender; the curricula will be appropriate for adaptation and implementation by different provider groups and types of learners, in various settings; 
  3. develop metrics and indicators so that guidance and curriculum implementations can be evaluated; and 
  4. develop a knowledge mobilization strategy for ongoing communication with stakeholders. 


The Impact of Domestic Violence on Workers and Workplaces [Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), $198K, 2014-2016] [Wathen, co-PI]

DV@WorkNet is a SSHRC-funded international network of researchers, advocates, labour organizations and other partners interested in collaborating to generate knowledge on the impacts of domestic violence (DV) in the workplace. Its first project was a pan-Canadian survey, partnering with the Canadian Labour Congress, on the impact of DV on workers and workplaces.
Survey report:

Wathen C. N., MacGregor, J.C.D., MacQuarrie, B.J. (2015). The impact of domestic violence in the workplace: results from a pan-Canadian survey. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(7): e65-71. DOI: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000499 (free/open access) - click here.

Wathen C. N., MacGregor, J.C.D., MacQuarrie, B.J. (2016). The relationship between intimate partner violence, work, and health. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1-16. online January 19, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0886260515624236

MacGregor, J. C. D., Wathen, C. N., & MacQuarrie, B. J. (2016). Domestic violence in the Canadian workplace: Are co-workers aware? Safety and Health at Work.

MacGregor, J. C. D., Wathen, C. N., Olszowy, L., Saxton, M., MacQuarrie, B.J. (in press). Gender differences in workplace disclosure and supports for domestic violence: Results of a pan-Canadian survey. Violence and Victims.

EQUIP: Research to Equip Primary Healthcare for Equity

Equity-Oriented Primary Healthcare Interventions for Marginalized Populations: Addressing Structural Inequities and Structural Violence [CIHR, $1.975M, 2011-2016] [Wathen, co-PI]

EQUIP is a five-year CIHR-funded interdisciplinary research program designed to promote health equity for marginalized populations through innovative equity-oriented interventions.  The research questions are: Can providing training to health care providers about the impacts of violence, discrimination, and poverty, and support to their organizations, improve primary health care services, and make patients happier with their care, and healthier? Does this type of training and organizational support make health care providers more satisfied with their own practice, and the impact they are having on patients’ health and quality of life? What policies, practices and other aspects of clinic context influence the uptake of equity-oriented health care? Can equity-oriented primary health care indicators be identified and integrated into systems? Five primary health care clinics in Ontario and BC are participating.

See the protocol paper that describes the intervention here (open access):

Browne, A. J., Varcoe, C. M., Ford-Gilboe, M., & Wathen, C. N. on behalf of the EQUIP Team. (2015). EQUIP Healthcare: A multi-component intervention to enhance equity in primary health care settings. International Journal for Equity in Health, 14:152. DOI: 10.1186/s12939-015-0271-y.

iCAN Plan 4 Safety

Effectiveness of an internet-based decision aid in enhancing safety behaviors, reducing exposure to violence and improving mental health among women experiencing intimate partner violence [CIHR, $1.25M, 2012-2017] [Wathen, co-investigator]

iCAN Plan 4 Safety is a CIHR-funded project that involves working with community stakeholders to develop and test, using a randomized controlled trial, an internet-based safety decision aid for women experiencing IPV.

Western News:

Globe & Mail:  

Nurse-Family Partnership - Intimate Partner Violence Intervention Trial

[US-CDC, $1.167M, 2007-2012, continuation funding from PHAC, 2014-2016, $382K] [Wathen, co-I]

This project developed, and is completing an RCT evaluation of, an intervention for VAW in the context of nurse home visits. Building on this expanded intervention, the province of British Columbia invested over $20M in implementing the NFP in the province, including $5M for evaluation of the new NFP-IPV intervention.




Research Productivity Summary


Peer-Reviewed Articles = 79

Non-Refereed Articles in Journals = 6

Books = 2

Book Chapters = 10

Peer-Reviewed Presentations = 89

Invited Speaker = 32

Technical Papers & Reports = 18


as Principal or co-Principal Investigator = $9,600,545

as Co-Investigator/Collaborator = $15,241,953

Total Funding = $24,842,498


Google Scholar Metrics (July 2016) 

  • 3715 Citations
  • h-index = 26
  • i10-index = 44

To view updated metrics, click here