Using Documentary as a Method of Knowledge Translation to Reach the “Sandwich Generation”

Project Summary

Documentaries are one way to learn about things that affect our health. However, busy parents also may not have time to watch a full-length documentary and may prefer other ways to learn. The aim of our project was to determine what works, for whom, how, and in what circumstances to facilitate uptake of health-related research evidence among “the sandwich generation.”
Parents who are ‘sandwiched’ between the demands of caregiving for children and aging parents have limited time to engage with health information. Textual information from books and other print media may not be very effective or acceptable for this target audience.

In this study, we explored the best ways to share pieces of information from a documentary, Let Them Eat Dirt, that provides detailed information about the effect of germs on children.

During documentary filming and production, we explored documentary formats and delivery preferences. Through individual interviews with parents of young children, we asked about:

  • short (1-2 minute) video clips versus a full 60 minute film
  • “supporting material” that delivered key messages
  • the types of health information parents needed to make informed decisions.

Once the documentary was released, we then shared a link to watch it and supporting materials.

After participants engaged with this content, we conducted follow-up interviews, conducted a focus group, and selectively recruited additional participants to diversify our sample. Some things we asked about were:

  • Watch time
  • Preferred supporting material
  • Effects of the documentary and supporting material

We also created the “Parent Advisory Group”, active since December 2019, to engage our patient partners, after our three founding patient partners had to step away to attend to other demands. This has been effective in facilitating discussions about the project, interpreting data, and co-designing strategies for knowledge dissemination.

The advisory has also had the benefit of being a ‘peer-based knowledge exchange setting’, where parents of young children can ask questions and raise new ideas. Feedback from the group indicates this has been particularly valuable during the social isolation of the pandemic.

Project Findings

The results of our project suggest that documentary is an effective method of educating parents.

What works? Short formats, passively disseminated, with ‘aha’ moments.

In what circumstances? ‘On demand’ formats that can be viewed on mobile devices.

To what effect? Entertaining documentaries can support two core “Knowledge Translation” outcomes: knowledge and behaviour intentions.
It also supports an understudied, patient-oriented “Knowledge Translation” outcome: entertainment. If viewers felt they were escaping into an entertaining story, it made the educational elements more enjoyable and easier to remember. These results were observed both pre-COVID-19 and during the first year of pandemic conditions.

We also noted that, after engaging with the documentary, participants frequently asked, “what next?” 
The aim of Let Them Eat Dirt was to provide knowledge about microbes and child health, but information alone did not satisfy parents’ needs.

To make informed choices, patients not only need, but also prefer to have evidence plus evidence-informed ‘how-to’ actions—in other words, not only information, but also recommendations and strategies.


Nov 17, 2020: “Developing Knowledge Translation Videos.” Women’s Health Research Cluster, UBC.

Nov 20, 2019: “Panel: Using film and video to share knowledge with the public; lessons learned.” Putting Patients First 2019: Working Together Across the Research Cycle, Vancouver.

March 12, 2019: “Patient-Centred Knowledge Translation: What It Means and How We Get There.” Providence Health Care Knowledge Translation Community of Practice, St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, BC.

Jan 30, 2019: “Using Documentary as a Method of Knowledge Translation to Reach the ‘Sandwich Generation.’” Centre for Health Outcomes and Evaluation Sciences (CHÉOS) Work in Progress Seminar, St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, BC.


Aug 20, 2018: “Using documentary as a method of knowledge translation to reach the ‘sandwich generation.’” ECHO KT Research Lab, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.

This project is part of the Knowledge Translation and Implementation Science Cluster.


Dr. Sarah Munro, PI
Dr. B. Brett Finlay
Dr. Stephanie Glegg
Annelise Larson
Parent Advisory Group
Rivkah Beth Medow
Julie Sou
Elizabeth Wilcox
Dr. Wendy V. Norman
Theodora Lamb
Jai Richards
Nicole White