KMbeing

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb): Multiple Contributions & Multi-Production Of New Knowledge

International Students As A Knowledge Mobilization Perspective

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Accepting international students offers universities and our local communities an opportunity to create benefit – not just financially – but also from a knowledge mobilization perspective.

While the underlying economic value of international students contributes to improving financial and graduate enrollment struggles for universities, there is also broader value and benefit that international students bring as part of knowledge mobilization efforts. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE):

  • Canada ranks as the world’s 7th most popular destination for international students.
  • International student enrollment grew from 159,426 in 2003 to over 290,000 in 2013 – an 84% increase.
  • International students comprise 8% of the post-secondary student population in Canada.
  • Canada derives $8B annually from international student expenditures including tuition and living expenses.
  • The presence of international students created over 83,000 jobs and generated over than $291M in government revenue (2009).

These numbers stress the value of international students by financial benefits gained; however, the importance of the development of knowledge mobilization networks also draws on these numbers as international students exchange knowledge from their own cultures to our own – and in turn, bring back knowledge to exchange further around the world.

As an example, York University is Canada’s third largest university with approximately 55,000 students, 7,000 faculty and staff, and 260,000 alumni worldwide – with international students representing over 150 countries from around the world. York even has its own unit – York International – specifically designed to welcome and address the needs of international students studying at York. The Faculty of Graduate Studies at York is particularly focused on encouraging international graduate students. Such a breadth of knowledge networking opportunities from York alone provides valuable international perspectives that help shape and influence the lives of others on a global scale to make the research being done by international students – particularly graduate students – not only useful to our Canadian society but also to our greater society around the world.

Our domestic and foreign policy-makers can benefit from knowledge exchange opportunities that arise from potential, future world leaders through knowledge mobilization efforts being done by and for international students within our Canadian universities. The opportunities for Canadian universities to conduct research with broader impact is enhanced by incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies – particularly for international graduate students – by encouraging these students to research locally while thinking globally.

Knowledge mobilization is inherently about creating broader networks of knowledge exchange to make the world a better place. Drawing on the knowledge and skills of international students can create the potential for helping to overcome many of the wicked problems that all of us face on our planet. There are opportunities for benefit beyond our own borders that can contribute to a genuine shift in addressing socio-economic challenges when international students who have received a graduate degree in Canada return to their own countries around the world.

Although there is a definite financial benefit for struggling universities, obviously there are further advantages in exchanging knowledge on a broader, global-scale through knowledge mobilization. International students who study in Canada create ties and build trust and become future representatives in their home countries. They can bring back to their home countries the Canadian values of freedom, respect for cultural differences and a commitment to social justice. Welcoming international students to study in Canada and learn from these values – while also providing Canadian university students, staff and faculty an opportunity to learn from the values of other countries through knowledge exchange can transform our world. Seeing the value of universities investing in international students goes well beyond financial opportunities to long-term knowledge mobilization opportunities as the ultimate global community/campus collaboration.

 

Active Listening As A Knowledge Mobilization Skill

Active Listening

In our office at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University listening is one of the most important skills we can have to fully understand the concerns of our graduate students, staff and faculty, while properly supporting them in an academic/research environment. It seems that all of us can become so focused on our work that we can sometimes switch our hearing on and off. It can sometimes be frustrating the number of times some of us interrupt a person speaking before we can actually fully acknowledge what’s being said.

The unfortunate thing is that although we think we may be listening to what’s actually being said, sometimes it’s not always the case.

Several years ago I left a career in the airline industry as a flight attendant to embark on a career in university administration. As an In-Charge Flight Attendant one of the first things I was taught was to listen very carefully. Particularly in the event of any emergency situation, listening skills are crucial for dealing with any safety and security issues to effectively communicate important information to passengers and crew. As my grandmother used to say to me, “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that order”. Although I learned to use my listening and communication skills daily, in reality – I admit – I sometimes fail to hear everything said to me. We don’t take in completely everything that is being said to us – and this is rather concerning.

Listening continues to be a major part of my day as I now work in a university setting – and rightly should be for anyone in any setting. We use listening to gain understanding, to exchange knowledge, and learn. If the important parts of understanding what is being said to us aren’t understood then it’s a problem. And if we don’t really listen to understand we’re missing out on important and often missed details.

Being an active listener – especially in the field of knowledge mobilization – will do a number of helpful things for you. It will improve the efficiency of your understanding, the clarity of your speaking and knowledge translation, as well as increase the cooperation of people involved in the conversation. You will avoid more misunderstanding, and improve rapport with a number of key players in your knowledge mobilization network – researchers, intermediaries and research users such as policy makers – and of course it will help improve your overall ability to effectively communicate.

To enhance your knowledge mobilization skills, you need to practice active listening. Active listening is making a conscious effort to listen carefully to not only the words being said but the meaning behind what’s being communicated as well. It’s not as easy as it sounds and requires continual practice.

Active listening as a general skill for any person – and as a knowledge mobilization skill for researchers, knowledge brokers, community partners and policy-makers requires all to remain very focused on what is being said by anyone in the research process. We need to pay attention to the stereotypes of power and politics, the marginalization of the often un-listened-to voices, and ideas of elitist knowledge sources – while also being able to form counter-arguments that can lead to the development of new knowledge. The moment we stop concentrating fully on every partner in the knowledge mobilization partnership we’ re no longer actively listening.

Knowledge mobilization is about communicating knowledge (particularly research knowledge) through listening and dialogue – and turning knowledge into action. Part of that action is paying complete attention to all research partners. We need to give each partner within the research process our undivided attention – and continue to acknowledge what is being said to continuously transform our knowledge within society. This also includes looking for all non-verbal communication as well as the words being said. Throughout the research process, the community-engagement process, the knowledge translation and exchange process, and the policy-making process all partners need to continue to show that they are listening – not just passively listening – actively listening. This is very powerful in continuing to develop and convey knowledge.

The other side of listening for better knowledge development is to give feedback. Our job as listeners is to clearly understand what is being said. Our job as knowledge mobilizers is to also check for understanding. We do this by asking questions and reflecting back what we think is being said. We need to ask questions. Researchers are usually very good at this; community-partners are sometimes hesitant to do so due to those ideas of elitist knowledge sources; and policy-makers sometimes forget to ask further questions. One of the easiest ways of asking questions and reflecting back to any speaker is to simply ask “what do you mean when you say…?” or  “ it sounds like what you’re saying is…” Summarize the knowledge you think is being conveyed and get them to correct your understanding if necessary.

Most importantly – don’t interrupt until an exchanged thought is complete. Don’t say things like, “no, no, no, no…” with hand gestures or body-language that summarily dismisses what another person is attempting to communicate. Interrupting is not only rude – it also wastes time and risks frustrating the individuals speaking to you. Such rude interruptions limit the conversation – and hence limit the potential for effective knowledge mobilization.

Included in giving feedback and not interrupting is the ability to make only appropriate responses. Active listening as a knowledge mobilization skill requires respect and accurate understanding. For more on listening and knowledge brokers please see Phipps & Morton (2013). We add nothing to the conversation by arguing inappropriately or attacking a point of view. Taking the time to not interrupt also provides an opportunity to critically think about what’s being said and how best to respond without a knee-jerk reaction.

This doesn’t mean we have to sugar-coat everything thing we say in response. It simply means being open and honest in our responses – while also being respectful in our opinions. We can convey what we mean and exchange our knowledge in a manner that is tactful and diplomatic – not by demeaning or talking-down to someone.

Active listening in everyday life and as a knowledge mobilization skill takes much practice, concentration and determination – but is worth the effort to turn knowledge exchange into an action for greater social benefit.

As a researcher, research partner or policy-maker, if you practice active listening as a knowledge mobilization skill and continue to remind yourself to include this in all of your communication with others, not only will your understanding of others improve – you’ll also be amazed at how much more you actually increase your knowledge to make the world a better place, and isn’t that the point?

Point Your PhD Beyond The Academy

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I recently attended a meeting to discuss recommendations from York University’s Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) – an attempt to measure and quantify the state of the university with a focus on quality education and sustainability, similar to other institutional “pulse-checks” being done by several other universities. The many challenges within the past few decades have created financial and graduate enrolment struggles for universities now requiring evidence-based reform.

One of the surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) views to still be expressed at the meeting was that the role of the university in terms of graduate education is to somehow ensure there’s a career in the academy after finishing a PhD. University faculty have long considered tenure to be their right – something they deserve as dedicated researchers and hardworking teaching professionals – a right that is also enshrined in faculty collective agreements. Yet a new generation of graduate students are finding it not so easy to get on the tenure “track” due to greater competition and sometimes misguided expectations of “success” post-graduation.

Is it any wonder with this type of “old-school” thinking the expectations of graduate students remain similar to these? Fortunately, the voices expressing this view at the meeting were very few, but the fact that they were still expressed is concerning.

We must continue to tell our graduate students that there is still value in getting a PhD and using it beyond academia – as this value can be applied to so many other career choices outside the academy.

Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower, edited by Cynthia Robbins Roth is a valuable example of the many career paths available after finishing a PhD – and highly recommended reading for current PhD students, regardless of academic discipline. The publication of this book is more than a decade old but shows that this is not just a current problem – it remains a current reality.  Another great source is Non-Academic Career Options for PhDs in the Humanities and Social Sciences in assisting graduate students to think beyond an academic career post-graduation.

The Globe and Mail recently published a further insightful piece titled Faculty jobs are rare, but Canada still needs its PhDs – showing the value of a graduate degree. The editorial states “universities need to ensure graduate students are well trained in their specific disciplines. But universities also need to ensure students recognize and can make use of all the transferable skills they acquire along the way, so that students can succeed regardless of their ultimate career path.”

Supporting students is “the bottom line” of any university. Student learning opportunities and research contributions depend of course on the goals of specific professional development efforts of the university – particularly at the graduate level. In addition to these goals, knowledge mobilization efforts may result in important unintended outcomes and benefits – such as greater network opportunities to extend their research during and beyond their academic program, as well as meeting potential employers leading to post-doctoral or other non-academic employment opportunities. Indeed, according to York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, 25% of the 44 knowledge mobilization graduate student interns supported by York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit were hired by the internship partner.

So what can we do to help graduate students get a job outside of academia when they finish their degree? First off – step into the new university paradigm and let go of the “old-school” academic thinking.

Graduate students, eager on completing their Masters or PhDs, need to be made aware that they must become team players and better communicators, and develop knowledge mobilization strategies into their current research.

Another factor discussed at the recent meeting was the often too flexible deadlines in academia that can reinforce a culture of indifference to the value of time and a certain lack of realism that doesn’t work outside of academia. Getting graduate students to finish their degrees within the usual timeframes is not only important for finally obtaining the degree but also for teaching the value of maintaining a deadline.

The pressure to get results and publish is intense in academia. Graduate students need to be supported by supervisors who instill a sense of properly managing projects over time-frames with specific deadlines – while also learning to network and develop knowledge mobilization strategies.

I have enormous respect for the work our faculty and graduate students do. I admire their dedication, creativity, intelligence and resilience. They tend towards developing communications skills and internal academic networks because they often work together in groups at the university – but they are still often geared towards academic-style communication.

To be sure, some aspects of graduate work is challenging and needs a high degree of commitment, creativity, enthusiasm and support. These are also the skills and attitudes required for any career – both academic and non-academic. Making research useful to society is what knowledge mobilization is all about. We need to start thinking about post-graduate careers in terms of adapting the skills acquired in graduate school for a variety of pathways to make the research and education useful to society beyond the academy.

Knowledge mobilization involves much more than merely translating knowledge. It’s also about the effective learning of communication skills to network knowledge. In the workplace telling someone a fact is not enough; effective communication not only involves good speaking but also active and diplomatic listening skills as well. Graduate students must learn to use their knowledge to network with effective communication skills. Graduate students do not usually have such skills because they get used to dealing with people who think the same way they do within their own disciplines.

Everything about graduate studies is designed to generate more academics – not people who can also use their research skills to work in other career settings. If universities do their jobs well, by the time graduate students graduate they become very good academics – which means they are likely to be less adept and adaptable to other career settings despite the transferable nature of the skills they have gained during grad school.

According to a Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario 2013 report “about two-thirds (65 per cent) of Ontario PhDs pursued their degree with the intention of becoming a university professor, and the proportion is even higher in the humanities at 86 per cent.”

The reality of comparing the number of Ontario doctoral graduations with recent tenure-track and non-tenure track academic postings is sobering:

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The report states that “according to Statistics Canada research, the decline in the availability of tenured or tenure-stream positions across Canada was even more pronounced for professors under the age of 35. In 1980-1981, one-third of professors under age 35 (35 per cent) held a full-time tenured or tenure-track position; 25 years later, this was true for only 12 per cent of professors in that age category.”

This means (even 25 years later) that graduate students need to think about moving outside of the academy into external careers and be prepared to transfer academic/research skills to other sectors.

This doesn’t mean there’s less value in getting a PhD or that you shouldn’t pursue a PhD – as argued by the above-mentioned Globe and Mail article, and also by York University PhD Candidate, Melanie Fullick in another thought-provoking Globe and Mail article.

Developing long-term strategies for post-graduate career paths involves commitment and greater cooperation from all bodies of the university – staff, students, faculty, deans, vice-presidents, and governing councils; and most importantly from the university president. It’s about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations to provide varying capacities to inform and educate graduate students to think about careers beyond the walls of the university, and move beyond the continuing “old-school” thinking to a new university paradigm of the value of graduate studies in a variety of career sectors.

Using Storytelling As A Knowledge Mobilization Strategy

Storytelling

When people think about knowledge mobilization they often don’t think about storytelling. Storytelling can be seen as unsubstantiated fabrications or even devious. So how can storytelling play a part in making research useful to society? When the framework of narrative is used to convey research knowledge to research-user audiences.

Research suggests that storytelling is easier for a broader audience to comprehend – and more engaging. So why not use it as part of a knowledge mobilization strategy.

Knowledge requires action to be useful. Knowledge can be shared for benefit or harm. When knowledge is shared for benefit – particularly to broader audiences through storytelling – it becomes more useful. Active and engaging knowledge sharing for social benefit is more likely to create greater understanding between various sectors of society – and greater understanding leads to a more peaceful and civil society.

The challenge for researchers is to decide when and how storytelling can effectively be applied to help communicate their research to non-experts as part of knowledge mobilization efforts. Most people have an understanding of how to tell a story. However, many researchers disregard the power of narrative as a knowledge translation tool.

Sharing knowledge and being open to the knowledge of others (for both researchers and research-users) and listening to the knowledge of others to exchange knowledge on a regular basis is more likely to ensure that common ground can be found between differing views of knowledge – because the world is full of differing views. Having differing views isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that we need to try to continue to find common ground. Knowledge and practice develop together.

Storytelling has a certain structure that describes the cause-and-effect relationships between actions at a particular time that impact particular characters. Using narrative as a knowledge mobilization tool to convey research to a broader research-user audience does not depend on the content being conveyed – unlike the often narrowly-focused scientific communication that most researchers take.

A great example of the effective use of narratives as part of a knowledge mobilization strategy and social innovation platform comes from the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI). Thanks to the Norlien Foundation, the Government of Alberta and other community stakeholders, AFWI is using video narratives to convey research being done to achieve better health and wellness outcomes for children and families. The work of AFWI focuses on the link between early childhood experiences and mental and physical health outcomes throughout life – knowing from neuroscience that what happens in early childhood can subsequently affect health and wellness outcomes later in life.

AFWI follows the early interdisciplinary work of The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child in the U.S. that engaged neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians to present synthesized knowledge into working papers for use by non-expert audiences. Through a narrative project called “The Core Story of…” short storytelling videos were created to explain the science behind various research touching on early experiences, brain plasticity, children’s mental health, and the concept of toxic stress.

Videos include The Core Story of Brain Development that explains the science to non-expert, broader public audiences. Using a metaphor of the requirement for a strong foundation for a house, The Core Story of Brain Development narrative video explains the importance of creating a strong foundation for brain architecture in the early years of childhood development. A second metaphor of a serve and return in tennis was also included to stress the importance of a serve and return of interaction and mirroring engagement between infant and parent/caregiver for healthy brain development.

I think of another great storyteller, Peter Levesque, President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization who also uses story telling as a KMb tool. Peter points to digital storytelling as “one of the MOST important forms of knowledge mobilization available to community-based organizations and citizens”. Peter uses a specific example of Aboriginal storytelling combined with digital technology as an effective method for understanding context, and conveying these stories through social media.

Additional examples of using social media for great and effective digital storytelling can be found at MindYourMind and HomelessHub who use both YouTube and Twitter as knowledge mobilization tools.

Although such elaborate and more professional knowledge mobilization tools for social innovation have great research impact – such larger-scale storytelling projects are not always necessary for effective knowledge mobilization storytelling. Even more simplified versions of storytelling can have broader impact as I have shown in a few of my KMbeing blogs.

Research represents a meaningful unit of knowledge and can be difficult to translate from scientific evidence into other messages understood by the general public. In contrast, narrative forms can be more easily understood as research knowledge translation tools because storytelling derives meaning from the ongoing cause-and-effect relationship between actions at a particular time that, again, impact particular characters – and are therefore can create opportunities of greater understanding for broader research-user audiences.

As a knowledge mobilization blogger and as someone who strongly believes in the power of social media for knowledge mobilization, I see the combination of storytelling by researchers using social media to convey context as an essential knowledge mobilization tool. If you’re a researcher, how well are you incorporating this storytelling tool into your knowledge mobilization strategy?

Knowledge Mobilization Post With The Most 2014

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It’s amazing to think that I will now be officially a staff member at the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) at York University!  After months of doing contract work this past year – starting out the year preparing for and supporting the 2014 Knowledge Mobilization Forum, doing temp work collecting and entering initial data for York’s Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR), and doing contract work for FGS – 2014 was a year of making great strides in a career path I’ve long been working towards. Time has gone by so fast and yet I await, with great expectation, continuing to contribute to the important FGS work supporting our graduate students at York.

But first, as I do every year on my KMbeing knowledge mobilization blog, I want to reflect back on the 2014 “post with the most” – as I’ve done with year-end blog posts for several years in a row.

One might think that after writing this blog for almost 5 years – exploring and sharing my thoughts on, and participation in the world of knowledge mobilization – with a more permanent career path, it might be time to focus my energies elsewhere. Not so!

This past year working at FGS, I’ve been focusing some of my recent KMb blog writing on how graduate students can adopt knowledge mobilization strategies into their research. I’ll continue to do so. I’ve also been working to incorporate KMb thinking into FGS programming by setting up meetings with FGS staff and York knowledge brokers to explore more collaboration between FGS and York’s KMb Unit.

Every year I gain more life experience and more knowledge – and firmly believe in the importance of exchanging our knowledge to make the world a better place. But what has also been accumulating up to this point since I started working on campus is insight into the aspirations of our grad students and the importance of instilling in them how we can exchange our knowledge to make the world a better place now and in the future.

While thinking about the New Year ahead and the new career path I’m focused on, I want to review this past year (as many of us do) to reflect on all the incredible new colleagues and contributions I’ve made throughout 2014.

I finally feel like the career path I’ve been working on for the past decade (with a few starts and stops along the way) is starting to feel like I’m home. I feel like I have such a great fit at FGS with the people and the academic environment for the first time in such a long time.  FGS feels like home – and although I’m sure some of my co-workers who’ve been around York for several years will be tempted to say “wait until the honeymoon period is over” – I’ve already “cut my teeth” on the fast-pace and high-pressure environment that assists our grad students to achieve great success.

I’m looking forward to continuing my FGS work in 2015 being a full-time member of the FGS team – and I’ll still be putting my knowledge mobilization experience to good use to continue writing my blog – perhaps with a little more focus on motivating grad students to think about and adopt knowledge mobilization initiatives into their research.

But now a look back at the post with the most for 2014 – and expectations of a phenomenal year 2015 will be!

The most popular 2014 KMbeing blog post is A New University Paradigm in which I challenge universities to rethink how research is being done by establishing knowledge mobilization units within universities and combine them with research services and industry liaison offices to engage with both community partnerships and business innovation opportunities. There were almost 18-thousand views from 151 countries.

Again, I applaud all who made the wider dissemination of this blog possible using Twitter while recognizing the importance of getting researchers to use social media and knowledge mobilization as part of the research process.

 Thanks again to all my followers who have made this year and the KMbeing blog so successful – and thanks to new followers! I look forward to continuing to mobilize knowledge with you all in 2015!

 

 

Rethinking The “Old-School” Graduate Degree

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Universities have become more challenged in their approach to the expectations and greater competition in their own institutions and with other universities. The many challenges within the past few decades have created financial struggles for universities requiring evidence-based reform such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK or a Program Prioritization Process (PPP) such as Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) in Canada. There has been increased pressure on universities for financial income and resources along with increased pressure from government granting agencies that expect a valuable public and/or private return of investment for providing research funding. How this plays out in relation to graduate degree programs means that some universities are now examining a substantial decrease in graduate student enrolment.

Rethinking the value of traditional graduate degrees and the types of research being done cannot be ignored in this development as there is a continuing gap between “old-school” research paradigms and an emerging paradigm-shift in the demand for quality research that also provides social benefit.

Universities see themselves to be in a risky situation as a result of economic pressures combined with this increasing demand for community-engaged scholarship to provide social benefit. In a climate of uncertain funding and a greater demand for valuable research, understanding how knowledge mobilization (KMb) can bring opportunities to improve research, create social and economic innovation and affect government policy needs to be considered.

While graduate programs that struggle to attract students might have been retained in the past, there is increasing evidence that this is no longer the case within some universities. Graduate student numbers drop as universities seek to compete with one another for different revenue streams.

Does this mean that we have to simply drop these graduate programs or can we infuse a new sense of value into them by rethinking how the research within these programs is being done?

Do struggling graduate programs need to reduce entry standards to attract more students or is there another way to attract top quality students by articulating the value of receiving a graduate degree while also creating benefit to society?

The role of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into the types of graduate research cannot be ignored. Not doing so continues to have serious implications for universities. York University is an example of how incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into faculty research contributes to an increase in receiving large-scale funding to do more research. By integrating a knowledge mobilization unit within the university structure and specifically creating a senior research officer position to support large-scale grant applications initially increased large-scale funding by 300% per year – and over 8 years (from 2006-2014) has supported successful community-engaged scholarship grant applications that has secured over $43-million dollars. Since this funding is engaged with community it therefore is intended to create social benefit. Since a large portion of these grant budgets are for graduate students they also get to participate in this engaged scholarship.

KMb grant support

As a further example, York University holds 62.5% more SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) grant awards that contain a knowledge mobilization component than other major Canadian universities.

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So why not extend knowledge mobilization strategies beyond just faculty research to include graduate student research?

Having a strong enrolment base may be good for graduate programs – having a strong research base with a knowledge mobilization strategy is good for increasing funding – including funding for graduate programs. In turn, increased funding for graduate programs can contribute to increased graduate student enrolment.

Universities that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into faculty research to create social benefit are becoming very different from other universities who still place emphasis on research for research sake only. The old paradigm of doing research for research sake only, going through the grant application process for funding, having it peer-reviewed only to have the research sit on a shelf with no practical application is changing.

A helpful and colorful example of this comes from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health who not only have developed a very useful knowledge mobilization toolkit that any researcher can use (including university faculty and graduate student researchers) – but also a humorous animated video demonstrating “old-school” thinking versus emerging thinking in the demand for action from research. It’s about “what you do with what you’ve learned” thanks to the Knowledge Ninja.

Universities that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into graduate student research – not just faculty research – to create social benefit become very different from other universities who still place emphasis on vocation, training and education only as a means to just simply getting a graduate degree. Perhaps it’s also a way for universities to become more attractive to prospective graduate students who want to study at universities who can create community engagement opportunities through their research – and ultimately social benefit while getting their graduate degree.

York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit is collaborating with the Faculty of Graduate Studies to explore specialized training and support services for graduate students. This includes training in clear language writing and social media and serving as brokers of research collaborations for graduate students.

The combination of market forces and government policies has put higher education on a more competitive path that reduces opportunities for graduate students. Those universities who ignore community-engagement as part of reform strategies as part of a new university paradigm will be those still struggling to achieve reforms and fulfill public accountability and support over the next decade.

Some of the best training and preparation we can offer graduate student researchers is to make their research useful to society. It’s time the graduate student path includes a knowledge mobilization strategy in the pursuit of a graduate degree to rethink the value of traditional graduate degrees and the types of research being done.

What’s The Difference Between Knowledge Mobilization/Translation & Strategic Communications?

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My knowledge mobilization colleagues Melanie Barwick, David Phipps, Michael Johnny, Rossana Corandioli and I have just published an article looking at the differences and similarities between Knowledge Mobilization/Translation and Strategic Communications. There is considerable overlap in the roles and activities of these two professional fields causing some tension between professionals working in these areas. We found the boundaries between the two professions created some ambiguity – so we started a dialogue around defining these roles and exploring synergies for greater clarity which lead to some interesting findings in our paper.

Please link to the article here and hope you enjoy!

Getting Graduate Students To Think About Knowledge Mobilization As Part Of Their Research

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For almost a year now I have been working at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University and have come in contact with many Masters and PhD students, some of their supervisors, faculty members, Grad Program Directors and Assistants, and others who help our grad students with the process of their research. Apart from my own personal research experience working in a Health Psychology Lab – garnering a deeper understanding of the research process from literature review, to grant applications to peer-review publications, as well as working in York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, I see eager grad students still working toward an end point and counting the days to the home stretch of simply doing research as a means of degree completion rather than somehow making their research useful beyond the degree process.

The final thesis or dissertation defence is the culmination of years of labour but hopefully not simply the end of putting all of that research to good use.

It may seem obvious, most academic pursuits towards a graduate degree are not simply to achieve the degree itself but towards greater accomplishment. On the surface, some students realize the research they do will have some value beyond their own individual academic interests. Yet, in my own experience (particularly in the field of knowledge mobilization), today’s research pursuits – including those of graduate students – need to be carefully thought out to include how such research may have practical applications and are useful beyond the academy to society in general.

As I wrote about in an earlier blog, graduate students must now see themselves as boundary spanners undertaking research that has the potential to cross over several disciplines. On the one hand, it may simply be traditional academic research in the pursuit of a graduate degree. On the other, it may create engagement with community stakeholders, business entrepreneurs, and policy makers.

York University grad student Bart Danko is a recent and outstanding example of a student presenting his research with broader social and economic impact. Bart has not only pursued his interests in the interdisciplinary subjects of Environmental Studies and Law through York’s unique MES/JD program (the only program of its kind in Canada), he has also harnessed the power of social media by creating a film and website about his research. Like Bart, current and future students need to become more collaborative and networked in the knowledge and innovation society in which we now live by presenting research in broader and technological ways. It’s what is referred to as doing research with collective impact over isolated impact.

It may seem a daunting challenge to think about and involve a broader field of stakeholders in the grad research process, especially trying to reconcile how to bring together sectors who speak different languages and may use the research in different contexts. Couple that with the necessity of explaining to these various stakeholders composed of community, business and government organizations or agencies why this research makes sense, what it’s saying, and how this research is useful to society.

This is where knowledge mobilization and institutional knowledge brokers come in.

Planning your graduate research is already a daunting task.

Graduate students need to starting thinking about pursuing research interests that may also overlap with something not necessarily “in your field” that may have both an academic and applied purpose. Yet I would argue most graduate students have never even heard of a knowledge broker and what they do for making community/university connections.

Knowledge brokers can distill multiple sources from multiple areas into compelling and clear reasons for making graduate research useful to society. Knowledge brokers can build a case quickly and persuasively and learn to incorporate interdisciplinary and multi-sector voices into a coherent conversation about creating value in the research process – not just about the value in receiving the degree itself. Knowledge brokers can help community stakeholders learn to get the gist of the research quickly and be able to distill the applications in a way that will be understandable even to someone who is totally unfamiliar with a research topic.

Most importantly, knowledge brokers help to create a quality product working as a liaison between researcher and community interests: making research useful to society. In an age of an academic research paradigm shift, graduate students must now learn to think about community engagement over and over again, week after week from research to research.

Not only are current graduate student researchers expected to hone their ability to think, research, analyze, and write – core skills that have always been required to complete a thesis or dissertation – graduate research students can now be expected to start thinking about knowledge mobilization to make their research useful beyond the academy. And with the use of knowledge brokers, I would argue, in a far more effective manner than they would ever be able to do were they to keep to a more traditional academia-only research path.

If graduate student researchers stay in a traditionally-defined academic mode, research will be confined to papers for grant applications and scholarly publications with little more than the personal value – (dare I say) even more selfish value of a degree only for the sake of getting a degree. While the university creates space and rightly celebrates traditional scholarship, those grad students who take time, particularly those in the social sciences can create broader application value of their research results. Working with other researchers and community members to work out new ideas and think about interesting questions that may not be directly related to your field of research, taking the time to wonder about other areas beyond the university, and having the flexibility to work with other stakeholders to pursue broader research application can have extremely rewarding results as well as that of the goal of receiving your degree.

Not only will this broader type of thinking and research enhance your ability to complete your thesis or dissertation in a timely and comprehensive fashion, it will allow you to connect your research beyond the academy by linking to and enabling social benefit.

Knowledge mobilization teaches researchers to research broadly, looking at seemingly unrelated areas.
I doubt that former York University graduate student Tanya Gulliver initially thought that her research about heat and vulnerable citizens would lead to Toronto adopting Canada’s first heat registry without the use of York University’s knowledge brokers and Knowledge Mobilization Unit. It was because Tanya broadened her graduate research as part of a community-university research project with Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre using knowledge mobilization methods. The impact of this collaborative, graduate student research was covered by The Toronto Star. More often than not, academic disciplines do not talk to one another from the research silos that continue to exist. As a result, researchers miss important and potentially relevant opportunities for collaboration and research impact beyond the university.

To me, as a participant in the graduate student life-cycle and as a knowledge mobilization blogger, this is standard practice in wanting to push researchers – now particularly graduate students – to think about their research in broader terms. Whenever I write a new blog post I look for ways to include anything that may potentially be helpful to graduate students and help facilitate dialogue in areas that most graduate students wouldn’t normally cross into – such as community/university engagement. I don’t feel compelled to tell grad students to stay within traditional academic boundaries and want graduate students to see the potential they have to be boundary spanners. I want to help graduate students (and other researchers) to make their research useful to society through knowledge mobilization.

Academia as a whole is starting to embrace knowledge mobilization and knowledge brokers more into the research process. Particularly in Canada, these include developing institutional knowledge mobilization capacity with designated knowledge brokers with great success.

It’s a shame it’s taking a bit longer elsewhere – and it’s counterproductive in creating broader value and social benefit. Instead of merely acknowledging the benefits of greater community-university engagement, particularly for graduate students, wouldn’t it make sense for academia to embrace it further – and embrace it more enthusiastically as adding greater value to the graduate student experience? Like York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies did with the Graduate Professional Skills Launch that included a knowledge mobilization workshop.

I would argue that the best thing academia can do for its graduate students is to encourage such pursuits to the greatest extent possible. In fact, I’d go a step further – provide students with opportunities to connect with knowledge brokers and community stakeholders, as York University and other members of the ResearchImpact network have done. It gets graduate student thinking and engaging beyond their own traditional research process.

In following this strategy, we can teach our graduate students skills that will make the process of thesis or dissertation research more fulfilling knowing there is also an aspect of value for improving society and not just for getting a degree in higher education.

Researchers who cross disciplines and involve community in the research process through institutional knowledge brokers are still rare – particularly in graduate studies. But don’t we need this type of valuable broader research to keep graduate studies thriving? Some of the greatest and brightest graduate students have been those who bring fresh thinking and perspectives from a variety of disciplines and from other sectors. Such graduate students (and grad supervisors) are less likely to be narrowly-focused and constrained by lines of thinking that are discipline-specific, and more likely to be open to connections with the use of knowledge brokers that are not always obvious to many academics.

The single best training and preparation we can offer graduate student researchers is make their research useful to society. Perhaps in the future, the graduate student path will include knowledge mobilization strategies as the rule rather than the exception in the pursuit of a graduate degree.

Scaling Up Knowledge Mobilization Globally

peace

For the past decade I have been involved with people developing and working in the field of knowledge mobilization (KMb). I started this blog to provide greater understanding of why KMb is important in connecting diverse knowledge from a variety of disciplines, social sectors – both community and university – and even from various countries to make the world a better place. I intend to continue doing this. But I’ve been having concerns this past week – given the recent so-called terrorist attacks in Quebec and Ottawa. Homegrown terrorism and self-radicalization are now words more Canadians are becoming familiar with.

Under Canada’s Criminal Code, terrorism is defined as a violent act committed “in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of “intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.”

In this I see the “dark side” of knowledge exchange for terrorism that is not connected with the reasons for knowledge exchange as I understand it. There is an important difference between knowledge exchange for radicalization and knowledge exchange for mobilization.

Radicalization has to do with knowledge exchange that brings about insecurity and danger – with knowledge that people acquire to intimidate, create fear and do terrorist acts. It results from social and political structures that do not guarantee human rights.

Knowledge mobilization has to do with knowledge exchange for goodwill or social benefit. It results from worthy attempts to create more useful and constructive knowledge in trying to overcome wicked problems and make the world a better place. It begins within our own communities and hopefully finds ways to scale up the benefits and impacts of knowledge exchange to effect positive change for greater worldwide benefit.

Can knowledge mobilization make a difference in the realization of human rights?

This is a question about our own personal commitments to human rights. Throughout my years in contributing to knowledge mobilization I have yearned for it to make the world a better place. I have hoped that my contributions might bring attention to how we can exchange knowledge to address the plight of the poor or the homeless, to the voices and knowledge of everyday people and so contribute to justice – not just in my own community but beyond.

In the world of research, knowledge mobilization is about making research useful to society. What about making research useful to all of our humanity?

Does knowledge mobilization actually offer something useful to poor or homeless people? Does knowledge mobilization actually help them? From a local perspective, I like to think so when I see the valuable efforts of organizations like The Homeless Hub or the United Way York Region that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into the work they do.

Many years ago I spent time working in a soup kitchen helping the poor, the homeless and the hungry. Yet over twenty-five years later there are still poor, homeless and hungry people. It makes me think of the biblical passage “there will never cease to be poor people.” While I don’t claim to be a religious person (I consider myself a humanist), I believe in justice for the poor and homeless by challenging the structures of our society that continue to deprive them of that justice and ignore human rights. I do believe that knowledge mobilization can make a difference, but in fact I also understand that knowledge mobilization can only offer a means of bringing extremes of ideologies, objectives or causes and knowledge closer together in attempts to work more cooperatively together.

My deeper concern is that current knowledge mobilization efforts only serve to relieve the more immediate and local socio-economic pressures rather than bring about more fundamental global changes. As a Canadian, in light of the closer-to-home radicalization that is occurring among our youth, it makes me realize that creating knowledge exchange more broadly worldwide can also influence some to adopt more radical belief systems instead of the type of knowledge exchange that brings more cooperative humanitarian efforts and approaches worldwide.

Are knowledge mobilization efforts making research useful and visible to society only in our local environments by creating the illusion of effective knowledge to action with strictly local impact? Have we created a culture of knowledge exchange only in social circles that bring change and benefit locally yet have normalized for us the destitution in developing and war-torn countries?

I was reminded of this with the recent Canadian media frenzy around homegrown terrorism and self- radicalization. Is the reason why some of our radicalized youth are willing to leave the safety and security of a country like Canada to fight in radicalized wars because we’re not doing enough to mobilize knowledge worldwide? What can bring us closer together in understanding and addressing the fundamental issues that affect all of us on this planet as collective human beings if not knowledge exchange?

How many of us promoting knowledge mobilization efforts – researchers, practitioners, clinicians, community organizers, business leaders, policy makers – end up feeling that our participation fulfills our local responsibilities to the poor, homeless, and those with mental health issues? We do our work in knowledge mobilization for a while, we see local social changes and benefits and it makes us feel good and we gain a sense of satisfaction. But in the process we risk forgetting about the greater global needs that continue to contribute to these wicked problems – even now in our own backyard – in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental reason why we do knowledge mobilization. It’s not just about making research useful to our own society – how about making research useful to all of humanity? How about exchanging knowledge to eliminate radicalized thinking? Is this even possible? Sadly, it takes an openness to want to exchange knowledge for this to happen.

People who incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into their work do so as a response to local problems to help ensure that people in our communities have a voice and can exchange knowledge to create social benefit and policy change in the here and now. Perhaps it’s time we consider these strategies as appropriate solutions to greater worldwide problems. We can tout the fact that community-university knowledge exchange has replaced an ivory-tower entitlement to knowledge that has slowly toppled many of our knowledge silos but it doesn’t camouflage our greater worldwide problems. We still require even broader thinking and knowledge mobilization approaches if we are to eliminate radicalized forms of knowledge and create more cooperative knowledge to action worldwide.

If we are only busy mobilizing knowledge in our local systems who is going to do the time-consuming work of knowledge mobilization for social benefit for our human system?

It’s working with a variety of global stakeholders through knowledge mobilization in conjunction with policy makers that will motivate governments to act together locally, nationally and internationally to guarantee rights, to create or oversee programs that assure everyone adequate access to what they need on a broader scale. Government leaders need to take a more open approach to work together – not a more divided and oppositional approach – only this will bring about a complete human system change – if it’s even possible.

And what of knowledge mobilizers who work diligently on creating greater knowledge exchange? Knowledge exchange is necessary to create greater understanding, but sometimes knowledge exchange may cause harm if not done with openness.

We hear much talk these days about knowledge mobilization as a tool for dealing with social ills – working with policy makers to provide services to the needy. But while local knowledge mobilization strategies may play a role locally they cannot be a substitute for greater worldwide knowledge mobilization strategies.

As for local organizations providing for all the needs of the poor, the chances are even more remote. The magnitude of the problem requires something beyond any local actions. However, a recent report on homelessness in Canada by researcher Stephen Gaetz suggests that $46 more per Canadian per year can vastly cut homelessness in this country. Could this type of thinking be scaled up worldwide to address homelessness or even other social issues?

Perhaps, but I suggest the fundamental problem for the poor in our country and in our world is not homelessness or other wicked problems themselves – rather the problem is injustice. In promoting knowledge mobilization as cooperative efforts of knowledge exchange in our institutions and communities to create local policy change we think that distributing enough food, creating enough shelters or producing enough homes in our communities – that is, if we just treat the symptoms in our own communities we will have solved “the problem.” The problem is we haven’t solved the problem worldwide.

Unfortunately, injustice is deep-rooted in every society. It is the inevitable result of the structures within our communities – social, economic, political and religious that reinforce inequality and lead to extremism and radicalization. These are the structures that keep wicked problems alive.

Local knowledge mobilization strategies do little to change the wider social and political systems that sustain injustice. Even if we perceive the need for systemic change worldwide, we can do little beyond a few cooperative borders.
Knowledge exchange for social benefit within our own communities offends almost no one. Seeking justice beyond our own borders offends many.

I’m not suggesting we abandon knowledge mobilization efforts. In addition to establishing justice within our communities, broader knowledge mobilization efforts are both necessary in our own communities and a requirement within the broader global community. We need to start thinking about ways for knowledge mobilization strategies within organizations to support those who work for justice worldwide.

We must continue to engage with policymakers to think beyond our own borders to create worldwide knowledge mobilization efforts.

Working for justice worldwide is not an easy task. There are no quick fixes and the most common reason for abandoning efforts is discouragement due to a lack of openness from others who are radicalized in their thinking. But we have little choice. Within an unjust world there are limitations to knowledge exchange. We need to continue in our attempts to join others in every part of this planet in the struggle for justice for everyone. It is a fundamental requirement of our humanity.

Knowledge Mobilization With Brains & Heart & Thinking & Action

D&G Pic

Over the past decade I have attended several events that helped promote knowledge mobilization (KMb), the role of knowledge brokers, social innovation and the use of social media for KMb. I have joined my husband the Executive Director, Research and Innovation Services at York University, Dr. David Phipps at most of these events – David is my life partner and KMb partner. David and I, along with Krista Jensen, York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Officer collaborated and co-authored a book chapter “Applying Social Sciences Research for Public Benefit Using Knowledge Mobilization and Social Media“.

We have also co-authored A Field Note Describing the Development and Dissemination of Clear Language Research Summaries for University-Based Knowledge Mobilization with Krista and Michael Johnny, Manager, Knowledge Mobilization at York University. It’s always a great honour to work with David, Krista and Michael.

David has also written several other collaborative works, including with some of knowledge mobilization’s foremost experts in research utilization, Sarah Morton and Sandra Nutley. Nutley is also co-author of Using Evidence: How research can inform public services – considered a must-read for any knowledge broker.

David and I have often been referred to as a KMb “power-couple” – combining more of the practical application of KMb (David) with the theoretical of KMb (me). David is the more specific action “do-er” of knowledge brokering – while my approach is the more theoretical “think-er” – in our attempts to create social benefit through KMb to make the world a better place. Our at-home KMb conversations can sometimes be intense and intellectual and are probably rather different from the usual topics of most couples! Although I do not specifically have a paying career as a researcher or knowledge broker, I do work in an academic/research environment at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University and do my part in promoting the KMb community through contract work and this KMbeing blog.

As many of my dedicated KMbeing blog followers know, my approach to knowledge mobilization is stressing the importance of including community-individual voices. We all have individual knowledge to share to make the world a better place regardless of credentialism or social status, and you don’t have to attend such professional events or publish papers to do your part in creating social benefit.

This is done by the promotion of worldwide knowledge sharing by embracing social media tools – such as Twitter – for social collaboration and innovation. It’s specifically the type of social media tool like Twitter that enables knowledge sharing to happen at the speed of a Tweet.

My hope and intention is to continue to change the culture of knowledge mobilization to become much more strongly motivated to include all of the different voices of individual knowledge with the use of social media. Through the use of tools – such as Twitter and blogging (including my own KMbeing blog) – there is the possibility of changing values for all individuals worldwide to create a more harmonious world. When we start to see sharing our own individual knowledge with various countries, cultures and diverse individuals through social media as an opportunity for social benefit we can begin to break down the barriers that stop new knowledge for social benefit from occurring. When we begin to share individual knowledge and ideas with other countries and cultures to overcome worldwide social problems through the use of social media tools we do begin to make the world a better place for everyone.

We have seen the effects of a social media revolution that is – in my belief – a sign of what we can achieve by sharing our knowledge for worldwide social benefit through social media. I’m not a paid scientist or knowledge broker but I am interested in getting people all over the world involved in sharing individual knowledge to make the world a better place. We now live in a world where one can find online forums and other social media tools where we can share our individual knowledge in new ways that allow people to build a global village of social innovation and Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) for social benefit. We can also help a new generation of graduate student researchers to think about incorporating KMb strategies into their research and use social media for knowledge exchange.

The worldwide culture of knowledge can be changed – even if you’re not a scientist or researcher – by being open to individual knowledge sharing through social media for worldwide social benefit. It’s my belief that the single most important thing we can do in knowledge sharing is continue to create general awareness among world populations by using social media tools for Knowledge Mobilization to create worldwide social benefit. It’s through that general awareness in our own individual knowledge communities that can inevitably lead all countries and cultures in the right direction – and it begins by simply talking to your friends and acquaintances in sharing your own knowledge and being open to the knowledge of others.

Just begin by asking them what knowledge they have to make the world a better place. Begin by raising awareness of the value of individual knowledge mobilization to create change for social benefit beyond the more formal world of granting agencies, funders, universities or government policy-makers. This can be done by learning to use social media tools such as Twitter for knowledge mobilization.

Not all of us have an opportunity or need to participate in more formal or professional KMb events.  You can influence social benefit with your own individual knowledge by addressing some of the fundamental questions that can make the world a better place by sharing your individual knowledge with others and being open to the knowledge of others. We all have knowledge voices to share to make the world a better place. We all can begin to embrace the kinds of knowledge sharing which leads to new methods of addressing social problems (often referred to as wicked problems) and accelerate the process of social benefit worldwide by individual knowledge mobilization.

My hope is that we will embrace such individual knowledge mobilization for social benefit – with both brains and heart, with both thinking and action - and really see this as an opportunity to reinvent our ideas of knowledge to ultimately make the world a better place for everyone.

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