Research Overview

Gender-Based Violence: Generating and Mobilizing Knowledge to Effect Change

My primary research goal is to understand the interplay between gender (and other social identities and locations) and experiences of violence, with a specific focus on intimate partner violence against women and ways to reduce it and it's impacts on women, families, and society. In addition to generating new knowledge through a variety of research methods and processes, I work closely with partners of various kinds to ensure that the research has a pathway to policy, practice and the public. Using an integrated knowledge mobilization approach, a first question is always: "Is this a timely and relevant question, and are the right people involved to make sure it's asked, answered and shared to maximize impact?"

I also study the process of mobilizing knowledge in this "wicked" problem area. For example, asking "how does "evidence" interact with values and context to shape decisions?" "What do we mean by "evidence" in different decision-making contexts?". "How do we acknowledge and work within the "messiness" of real decision processes with imperfect knowledge?".  These and other questions problematize the entire "knowledge translation/mobilization" discourse, and try to recognize and value different forms of knowledge and knowledge processes for different tasks and contexts.

An Information Science Lens

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.   

Another 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?”  Broadly framed, my goal is to understand how, on the one hand, to critically develop and evaluate knowledge resources in ways that are meaningful, while on the other, explore how and why people 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 mobilization (KMob), while also researching the effectiveness of different types of KMob strategies on uptake, use and impact of new knowledge by different audiences. My primary content area, as described above, is violence against women/gender-based violence.

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), with cross-appointments in the Labatt Family School of Nursing, the Faculty of Education, and the Department of Women's Studies & Feminist Research. 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 a FIMS Western Faculty Scholar, an award designated by the University.  In 2019 I became the Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-Based Violence,

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, KMob 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 - an equity perspective

I have been studying violence against women for almost 20 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 their children, exposed to violence, but also to address the systemic and social structures that perpetuate violence and its harmful and ongoing consequences - this critical approach ensures that we examine the structures of society, from policies to practices, that may themselves be harmful and cause inequities. My focus is on developing better evidence to support the health and social service sector response to survivors of violence. Those experiencing 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 see and hear more from me about this here.

Research Area 2: Knowledge Mobilization

Effective knowledge mobilization (KMob) 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 of mine 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).

You can hear me speak briefly about my thinking around KMob here. For a slightly longer discussion, see our Fall 2017 Western University Royal Society Canada 150 Wave Event video here [I speak from ~1:22 to 1:43].

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 KMob research, where context plays an extremely important role in knowledge uptake and use.  

Research Productivity Summary


Peer-Reviewed Articles = >90

Non-Refereed Articles in Journals = 6

Books = 2

Book Chapters = 10

Peer-Reviewed Presentations = >100

Invited Speaker = >40

Technical Papers & Reports = ~20


as Principal or co-Principal Investigator = ~$12,000,000

as Co-Investigator/Collaborator = ~$17,000,000

Total Funding = ~$29M


Google Scholar Metrics (@September 2019) 

  • 5868 Citations

  • h-index = 35

  • i10-index = 64

To view updated metrics, click here


Current Projects

The Gender, Trauma & Violence Knowledge Incubator @ Western :: @GTVIncubator

The GTV Incubator, a core innovation space supported by my Canada Research Chair (2019-2026), is a collective of researchers, community service leaders, educators and trainees committed to gender, trauma and violence research, policy and practice. We develop, evaluate and mobilize knowledge to transform systems to trauma- and violence-informed care (TVIC) approaches to policy and practice. Our work has been cross-sectoral, including public health, primary health care, domestic violence services, social services, policing, education, and beyond. I am also working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Women & Gender Equality Canada and Justice Canada to embed TVIC thinking into policy and program development, and mobilizing knowledge on gender-based violence.

EQUIP: Research to Equip Healthcare for Equity :: @EQUIPHealthcare

Promoting Health Equity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous People in Emergency Rooms. [CIHR, $2.175M, 2016-2021] [Wathen, co-I & KMob Lead; C. Varcoe (NPI), A. Browne & V. Bungay, Co-PIs]

Equity-Oriented Primary Healthcare Interventions for Marginalized Populations: Addressing Structural Inequities and Structural Violence [CIHR, $1.975M, 2011-2018] [Wathen, co-PI & KMob Lead, with A. Browne (NPI), C. Varcoe & M. Ford-Gilboe]

EQUIP-Primary Health Care (EQUIP-PHC) was a  CIHR-funded interdisciplinary research program designed to promote health equity for marginalized populations through innovative equity-oriented interventions.  The research questions were: 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 participated.

EQUIP-PHC publications and foundational papers are available here.

The main findings paper showing the impact of EQUIP on key health outcomes is freely available here, or by clicking the image.

Ford-Gilboe, M., Wathen, N., Varcoe, C., Herbert, C., Jackson, B., Lavoie, J. G., . . . Browne, A. J. (2018). How equity-oriented health care affects health: Key mechanisms and implications for primary health care practice and policy. The Milbank Quarterly. doi:10.1111/1468-0009.12349

The EQUIP intervention has been adapted and is being tested (2017-2022) in Emergency Department settings in BC (EQUIP-ED), and adaptation is planned for mental health settings in Ontario (EQUIP-MH).

For practical tools and approaches to help providers and organizations "Equip for Equity", visit and see our "Equipping for Equity Modules" and Toolkit.

Related project:

Wylie, L., Ray, L. (co-PI). Educating for Equity: Building Culturally Safe Care through Indigenous Narratives. Canadian Institutes for Health Research: Project. 2019-2024. ($460,050). [Wathen, co-investigator] - see the announcement here.


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 began as 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:

We’ve created a series of infographics highlighting key findings from this work:

Ongoing work includes evidence reviews, as well as international survey replications.

You can hear me discuss the impact of some of our research here.

My Plan Canada/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 was a CIHR-funded project that worked with community stakeholders to develop and test, using a randomized controlled trial, an internet-based safety decision aid for women experiencing IPV. The open access trial protocol paper can be found here. The trial was completed in 2018 (paper forthcoming).

In 2019, we are undertaking an implementation & scale-up study, and will be mounting the final, publicly-available tool on the My Plan Platform:


Western News:

Globe & Mail:  

Past Research

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 and Public Health Agency of Canada, $445K; 2017-2019] [Wathen, Co-Principal Investigator (PI)] :: @PreVAiLResearch

PreVAiL, which wound down in 2019, was an international research collaboration of over 60 researchers and partners from Canada, the US, the UK, Asia, Europe and Australia whose goal was to bring together researchers and decision-maker partners to produce and share knowledge to help children, women and men exposed to child maltreatment and intimate partner violence (IPV). PreVAiL had 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. In PreVAiL's initial iteration, funded by CIHR, I led the knowledge mobilization (KMob) Theme area, which brought together researchers and knowledge-user partners to develop and evaluate KMob strategies in the area of violence, gender and mental health. In PreVAiL's second iteration, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, our focus was on positioning PreVAiL as a KMob "hub" for family violence research, with a specific focus on Canadian public policy.