KMbeing

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

Knowledge Mobilization With Brains & Heart & Thinking & Action

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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.

Getting Closer To Understanding The Value Of Knowledge Mobilization In Research

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One of the more interesting developments within research over the past decade has been the growing interest of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into the research process. Historically, when researchers have embarked on their research journeys they’ve typically asked questions with the intention of finding answers mostly focused on expanding our knowledge base – with little consideration for the practical applications of that knowledge and the potential impacts leading to social innovation for the broader community.

Why the growing interest in knowledge mobilization? Because it makes research useful to society – something everyone can relate to in our everyday life experiences. All of us can recall situations when we’ve had a problem with something and have not been able to find a solution through the usual methods of problem solving. We might seek out “expert” knowledge through “expert” research; however, even if we are fortunate enough to find answers, the knowledge may not be applicable to our own situations in a way that addresses our own needs and includes our own knowledge contributions and experiences.

Sometimes questions are not easily resolved without providing content related to our own contexts. Often what people are asking for when they pose questions are conversations with others to “make sense” out of issues by sharing their own knowledge (or lack thereof) and their own contexts. Connecting individuals through knowledge mobilization enables people to share their knowledge, collaborate on problems, and create new knowledge from various perspectives. Beyond simply answering a research question, this type of knowledge exchange allows us to contribute personal experiences and share valuable insights that are often not formally recognized or captured through the historical research process.

Exchanging knowledge in context around a particular research question can be a powerful means of transforming the research process for social benefit. The knowledge collectively gained and inclusively exchanged between community and academia (as one example) can be more valuable to society than simply having a researcher complete a random-sample survey on the general public for the purpose of simply writing a peer-reviewed research paper that remains limited in public access and perhaps only cited as a reference for future papers.

As more universities and research institutions invest in social collaboration and community knowledge exchange many of them have incorporated (or soon will include) actual knowledge mobilization units – with designated knowledge brokers – within the structure of the institution. Research methods that incorporate knowledge mobilization and community-university engagement develop better and more practical knowledge in the long run.

While it seems straightforward that broader knowledge exchange creates greater opportunities for the practical application of research findings, the community-university networking dynamics are also context-specific. Such differences can be better understood if universities/research institutions implement knowledge brokers as part of the research process. Knowledge brokers work with a number of different people: researchers (both community-based and university-based), community organizers, business leaders and entrepreneurs, funders (both private and public) along with institutional and government policy makers. Knowledge brokers facilitate the multi-directional flows of communication in a structured way. However, there are some who still question the need for knowledge brokers.

A comment on one of my recent KMbeing blog posts by Senior Researcher Sharon Mickan from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford states:

“I would also see knowledge brokering as a process that can be done by researchers or clinicians who work across both (my emphasis) environments; the key is a detailed understanding of the context in which the research will be used and a recognition that change can only be led by someone respected and informed within the organisation.”

I appreciate Sharon’s comment; however, it is precisely this persistent dichotomous view of working across both environments that misses the point of the value and complexity of knowledge brokering. We have long ago abandoned the “two communities” theory to research use and have embraced co-production as the most robust form of knowledge mobilization. Bridging implies we maintain the silos of research and practice/policy. Knowledge brokers help to break down the silos and create shared spaces of collaboration. It’s not simply about being able to “bridge” one side of university to the other side with community. The value of utilizing knowledge brokers as opposed to researchers or clinicians simply engaging community themselves is that community can also include a variety of stakeholders already mentioned – such as business leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and funding agencies along with institutional and government policy makers.

Don’t get me wrong. If you have researchers or clinicians with the skills of trained knowledge brokers who can work as intermediaries with a variety of people to help them get to know each other and encourage various sectors to think broadly and interact on an ongoing basis in order to learn from others’ experiences as part of the evidence-informed research process – go for it. Yet, I think it detracts from the already focused-work required by researchers and clinicians to do their own work effectively. Knowledge brokers act as a type of conduit for knowledge exchange offered by the various stakeholders from sometimes a broad range of sectors. Typically a knowledge broker offers added value to the research process by an increasingly professionalized skill-set not commonly found among researchers and clinicians themselves.

I also agree with Sharon that change can only be led by someone respected and informed. Evidence has clearly shown that respected leadership is among the determinants of successful research utilization. However, researchers and clinicians who still think that only researchers and clinicians can be respected and informed in the research process are elitist at worse and uniformed at best.

Knowledge exchange is a powerful form of social collaboration – predicated upon broader community participation. Knowledge exchange in the research process creates an invitation for community partners to actively participate in the research process with the help of knowledge brokers who can mediate the different contexts. Such community-university interaction provides the opportunity to reinforce identities as context-specific experts while expanding a mutual identity as collaborators in the research process.

Since knowledge exchange is an ongoing social process, collaborative multi-disciplinary and multi-sector contributions over time weave together a network of people connected by common research interests even though they might have differing backgrounds and views. These types of knowledge networks create value in their own right. With community-university engagement there is greater influence together on issues that affect the broader community and can encourage policy makers to implement change. From a systems perspective, the research process acts as a social process that can mobilize networks, enable social roles to emerge, and allow for creation of social capital.

However, establishing a research process that facilitates knowledge mobilization should not be positioned as some type of panacea. There’s no assurance that community partners or researchers will share what they know, or that the results of research will always be perfect. There’s also no assurance that policy makers or practitioners will listen, or that policy and/or practice changes will happen quickly. It does not guarantee broader effects that lead to better levels of community-university engagement elsewhere. Alone, it’s unlikely to transform some researchers who have a more historic view of the research process or cause dramatic cultural change. Knowledge mobilization is just one way of how social collaboration platforms can mediate within the research process. There are also a host of academic, organizational, leadership, communication, and governance changes and related practices that need to be designed and championed effectively to influence researcher participation to deliver more practical and effective outcomes and impacts of research.

We’re not quite there yet, but the past decade of knowledge mobilization development has shown we’re getting closer.

 

Evidence-Informed Research versus “Best” Evidence Research

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The use of evidence in policy making is not simply uncovering the “best” evidence and presenting it to policymakers as part of the knowledge mobilization (KMb) process. “Best” evidence is a subjective term. Being evidence-informed provides a broader understanding of how the application of research evidence is context specific. “Best” in one case may not be “best” in another.

Evidence depends on the various methods in which research is developed in order to inform decisions that lead to policy in various contexts. KMb is making research useful to society. It may be useful in one context while not so useful in another – yet it is the process of KMb that helps us find this out in different contexts. Improving the quality of life through research processes means drawing on various fields through knowledge mobilization and evaluation, as well as having a thorough understanding of the context in which evidence is going to be applied.

KMb brings together people from community, academic/research institutions, business/industry and government decision-makers interested in aspects of evidence-informed research through knowledge brokering in order to share experiences, broaden networks and discuss issues of common interest to find solutions. One way of doing this is applying research (especially in the social sciences) for public benefit using KMb and social media.

Researchers who draw from the experience of implementing an evidence-informed approach in collaboration with wider stakeholders from community, industry and policymakers create effective lessons learned through KMb. The disciplinary research alignment matters less than the fact that these sectors are brought together by a shared interest in the interface between research, community needs and policy – through the workings of knowledge brokering. There is a great deal of cross-learning; networks are built and strengthened, experiences are shared, and various stakeholders are able to benefit from lessons learned from work in other sectors. Research becomes more evidence-informed through greater collaboration.

The goal of KMb-infused research then leads to more evidence-informed policymaking.

The goal of KMb-infused research is to learn from past experiences and create greater opportunities to implement a more evidence-informed approach to policymaking.

The goal of KMb-infused research is to find ways to improve the integration of evidence-informed approaches to policy that address the main concerns and priorities in different contexts.

Policy often deals with social issues that are complicated by several barriers in seeking often entangled and long-term issues. This is why there is a need to involve a wide range of players by establishing networks and partnerships as an important part of the process of policy development and application. Such barriers include a lack of understanding of the process of knowledge mobilization and often a lack of funding for KMb to improve evidence-informed policy. Because there is often also a lack of understanding among various stakeholders of what researchers are working on, the needs of researchers and who to approach – the use of knowledge brokers to make these connections can help make research more evidence-informed.

More evidence-informed research has greater impact by developing close and ongoing collaboration by mixing researchers with business/industry specialists, community partners and policy makers on the same committees, for example – who are prepared for a long-term commitment – as it often takes time to define research questions that will generate greater evidence-informed research leading to solutions of more effective policy development and change.

There is tremendous research potential and capacity when researchers are interested in collaboration with multi-sector partners. However, as mentioned, this sort of relationship-building requires time to develop communities of interest and trust among all sectors to maximize available expertise and ensure effective communication in the research process. This means finding and using knowledge brokers who understand different worlds and who are able to convene, translate and mediate as necessary.

Knowledge brokers work with a number of different people to allow them to discuss a number of issues in a structured way. Knowledge brokers help people in the research-to-policy-making process get to know each other, and are the glue over time that encourages various sectors to think broadly and interact with a variety of people on an ongoing basis in order to learn from others’ experience as part of the evidence-informed research process.

Dealing with a wide variety of stakeholders, knowledge brokers involve each sector meaningfully to effectively incorporate all viewpoints – that are sometimes less and sometimes more controversial, sometimes more open and sometimes less open. Knowledge brokers involve various stakeholders in the action of developing evidence-informed research – not just talk about it – by holding face-to-face multi-sector meetings that are important and useful to the evidence-informed research process. Knowledge brokers help various stakeholders think about top-down, bottom-up, side-to-side and cross-sector types of action by researchers, communities, regions and governments as co-creators of knowledge among stakeholders. It’s not just about transferring knowledge from one to the other but mobilizing knowledge as part of a broader evidence-informed research process.

Knowledge brokers help researchers know the questions being asked from many sides to understand where the knowledge gaps are. Knowledge brokers help break down the elitist and also insecure barriers that often divide academics, community, business/industry and government.

Knowledge brokers are context-identifiers who are able to help build networks to stimulate knowledge flow that can lead to greater evidence-informed research and policy making.

Researchers need to move beyond seeking “best” evidence and start thinking more about evidence-informed research that includes the use of knowledge brokers to broaden the research base with a variety of stakeholders. Thinking about being evidence-informed at the beginning of the research process that is context-specific develops research that, paradoxically, can have greater impact. By including knowledge brokers to broaden the research base with multi-sector partners creates a type of ripple-effect that broadens research knowledge beyond any one context as multi-sector partners begin to share their knowledge more widely across other sectors – almost as a type of cross-pollination of knowledge. This is when research has greater impact and becomes more widely useful to society. Various methods in which research is developed in order to inform decisions leads to policy in various contexts. In turn, policy that is evidence-informed can then affect further policy on a wider-scale – though originally context-specific – to perhaps create a broader, worldwide change.

Building A Knowledge Mobilization Strategy In The Research Process

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I was recently involved in a professional skills development day for graduate students, hosted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. After a session titled Building a Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Strategy presented by Michael Johnny, Manager of the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University, I spoke with several grad students who had only vaguely heard of KMb. It seemed as if a light-bulb had suddenly brightened their thinking after the session as they began to understand and got excited about how to develop KMb strategies in their own research. One grad student confessed she had no idea that the KMb Unit existed at the university and it was available as a valuable research resource. It also never occurred to her to think of her research with a community engagement perspective.

This got me thinking about what are still the obstacles to building a knowledge mobilization strategy within the research process and how we can instill in future researchers the value of incorporating KMb strategies into research for social benefit.

Thankfully, many community-based and university-based research is now focused on incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies to improve the research process. Over the past decade as the field of KMb has emerged, a range of factors – including a need to improve community/university relations with greater community engagement and broader evidence-informed practice has led to a desire to deliver research with more inclusive collaboration and larger impact.

In many cases, knowledge mobilization has meant adopting new research methods that involve a variety of stakeholders – such as knowledge brokers, community organizations, business associates and policy-makers – as intermediaries, research partners, social innovators and receptors. Historical research methods have a limiting pathway to impact and some university/research institutions are still struggling to develop research with an integrated KMb approach.

Incorporating KMb into research methods is not always easy and takes time. There are many stakeholders to involve, a full range of needs to meet – including institutional demands – and often multifaceted academic and cultural concerns to take into consideration.

Knowledge mobilization is about institutional, cultural and strategic practices that must be considered to improve the research process within universities and communities. Universities and research institutions are now confronted with how to best develop and integrate successful KMb strategies – not only for faculty but also for student researchers as well. As mentioned, developing an effective KMb strategy takes time – which can be problematic when thinking about how best to incorporate such a strategy specific to the life cycle of a graduate student.

Problems incorporating a KMb strategy into the research process can include:

  • Varied research projects may not align with community engagement
  • A lack of interdisciplinary coordination and collaboration among researchers – sometimes due to internal politics and beliefs
  • Little understanding or knowledge of the value of KMb
  • A more competitive rather than cooperative view among researchers that excludes various stakeholders
  • No clear strategic research plan that incorporates KMb strategies at the outset of a research project
  • Poor quality of research with the use of out-of-date research methodologies
  • A lack of recognition and support for KMb strategies from academic leaders
  • Limited institutional and financial resources to establish KMb Units and knowledge brokers within the organization
  • Difficulty in changing work practices of faculty and students as well as staff within academia and community organizations

Universities and other research institutions can be very complex and competitive environments in which to develop and deliver evidence-based research with a focus on broader solutions and impact for real-world problems. The list of problems mentioned above need to be overcome when planning KMb strategies within the research process.

Most importantly, successful KMb strategies need to be supported by strong institutional leadership and are only successful if they are actually implemented by researchers and staff with active participation throughout the university/research institution. The challenge to gain sufficient implementation is by ensuring a broader understanding of KMb and establishing support services within the university/research institution. Without such critical support institutional research remains limited and of little value outside the institution.

This creates a considerable change in thinking about research projects. In practice it means that research projects must be carefully designed to incorporate KMb strategies from the outset to ensure the involvement of a variety of stakeholders to create the broadest impact and social benefit.

This includes:

  • Thinking about the value factors of the research for all stakeholders
  • Clear communication to all stakeholders about the purpose and benefits of the research project
  • Building momentum by including other researchers and community partners throughout the entire research process – including input and recognition in the publication and implementation of research findings

It’s not simply enough to improve KMb strategies within a handful of research projects within the university/institution. While this will deliver greater benefit from certain research projects it will not create the required cultural change within the institution or assist with gaining adoption by institutional leadership. While these may be valuable research projects it may be difficult to demonstrate the social benefit to university/institution management as a return on investment unless they can demonstrate how such research projects can also gain create opportunities for funding.

This is why inclusion and interaction with community, business and government stakeholders in the research process is essential as a vital link to also demonstrate social benefit within and beyond the institution as part of a return on investment. Delivering clear impact by incorporating KMb strategies into research projects involves identifying from the outset concrete social needs that must be met. This provides meaningful measurement of the research projects and value for the university/institution – and for society.

Research projects can target issues that are visible within society with solutions that are valuable to society. There is no single research project that will address and resolve all social problems. Wicked problems – as they are often referred to – are too complex to consider all the factors to overcome when planning and developing KMb strategies within research projects. The answer is to seek out collaborative research that can address such social problems from many angles with many stakeholders. This may mean letting go of a perfectly planned research approach in a timely manner to allow for a more adaptive and long-term research plan. This approach recognizes that there are hundreds or even thousands of often small, collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects that are needed to improve social conditions.

This is the crux of a KMb strategy – to implement research that involves a cross-pollination of university/research institution, community, business and government sectors to create social benefit and systems-change on a wider-scale.

Again, building a knowledge mobilization strategy within research in a complex and ever-changing world is not easy. The social and time challenges inherent in research projects that incorporate KMb strategies mean that new approaches at the researcher and university/institutional levels need to be taken if they are to be successful in creating social benefit from research. Social benefit from incorporating KMb strategies into research is taking place with clear examples of social innovation and benefit occurring. Homeless Hub, Green Economy Centre, Peterborough Youth Emergency Shelter, and Toronto’s Heat Registry are several examples.

Building a knowledge mobilization strategy into the research process means thinking about doing research differently than that done in the past. It means involving a wider range of stakeholders, and getting buy-in from university/institution leadership to create not just internal benefit but external benefit. It means thinking about value as not just a financial return on investment but a social return on investment that can lead to financial and social benefit on a wider-scale for researchers and society today and tomorrow.

Graduate Studies: Critically Thinking About Community-University Engagement Research

Critical thinking

Every day I assist university students as part of my work at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. I am a member of the dean’s office and deal with students, faculty and staff – including grad program assistants and directors as representatives helping almost six-thousand Masters and PhD students make the most of their educational experience.

With so many aspiring graduate students I sometimes see students with something special – exceptional intellectual qualities and research skills that are often revealed by their national scholarships and awards, valuable research or examination results. These students display a self-confidence and level of academic success that leaves faculty, staff and peers alike very proud and in admiration.

These fortunate graduate students appear to be the winners in the race we have made of higher education. Yet the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in my interactions with many other students. Our education system continues to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness – one type of knowledge over other knowledge. Our education system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, but also nervous, fearful, confused – and sometimes even smug or arrogant. There are some graduate students with little research curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of purpose and an overdeveloped sense of privilege – students who are stuck in a cycle of doing research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate.

Is it possible that these students – heading in the same direction – are great at what they’re doing academically, but have little idea of why they’re doing it, or how to engage in real, meaningful research that matters to them, their community, and our world?

The standard admissions process creates a brand of graduate students that seek opportunities that come only after a degree. Traditionally, students are pushed into the machine of higher education with little regard or encouragement to identify and seek real-world solutions to real-world problems during their studies to make a more immediate difference on a broader scale today.

In my job I come in contact with many grad students who are bright, thoughtful and inspired whom it’s a pleasure to talk with, exchange knowledge and learn from. But many seem comfortable to maintain an education marked out for them with no thought towards doing research that can create community-university engagement for impact beyond the university. This is why creating knowledge mobilization opportunities and strategies for graduate studies is so important.

The primary purpose of getting a degree is to teach a person to think critically. This doesn’t simply mean developing academic skills specific to an individual discipline. A new university paradigm is about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations and connections to provide differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit through community engagement within and beyond the walls of the university.

Learning how to think critically is only the beginning. There’s something particular you need to think critically about – building a better world for everyone. That notion may sound too idealistic, yet given the fact that we are still faced with sexism, prejudice, bigotry and hatred that lead to modern extremists and territorial wars that continue to threaten world peace, shouldn’t teaching our students to think critically about creating real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures be a top priority in education?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our students to develop research that can make a difference in addressing these real-world problems?

Most universities claim to teach students how to think critically – but all they mean is that they train them in systematic and competitive skills that are necessary for success in business and professions post-graduation. Education seems to be based on developing expertise that is ultimately justified in getting a graduate degree for the sake of getting a degree as a means of making a difference in the future – not in the moment.

Universities that consider students as “commodities” rather than challenging students to be critical-thinking researchers making a difference in the world in the moment may continue to be financially stable, yet fall short on a broader scale. Graduate students are rewarded for research yet the whole incentive structure is biased against doing research that can make a deeper impact for society and our world. The result is trading off getting a degree in the future for doing research now – with greater community engagement – that can make a difference in the world today.

It’s true that some of today’s students appear to be more socially engaged than students in the past and that they are more apt to have more social or entrepreneurial instincts. But it’s also true that many universities continue to follow an historic, narrow view of what constitutes getting a graduate degree.

Application numbers for graduate studies continue to fall in many universities as a sign of the system’s alleged lack of developing students for opportunities post-university. What about creating opportunities to increase graduate studies applications with a focus on creating knowledge mobilization and social innovation opportunities while in university to do research that can make a difference during graduate studies today?

Graduate studies admissions should not necessarily be about maintaining higher numbers for the statistical sake of competition. It’s about creating opportunities to cultivate research that can make a difference on a broader scale. Accepting graduate students who seek to make a difference in doing research while in university not simply for doing research as “a means to an end” for post-university needs to be considered during the admissions process.

Instead, the higher education system continues to impair community engagement opportunities, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from society instead of contributing to it.

The reason is clear. Universities are manufacturing graduate students who aren’t challenged to make a difference in the world – only churning out students with Masters or PhDs based on a field of research that has little impact beyond the university.

Students need to be encouraged to do research that involves people of different backgrounds. Students need to interact with community stakeholders directly as part of their research, and it has to be on equal ground – not as a “subject” of study. Students need to work with and within community as part of the university experience to gain insight into other people – exchanging knowledge to show them that intelligent people actually exist outside the academy who perhaps didn’t have opportunities to gain a graduate degree – but are nonetheless intelligent in different ways.

When universities provide graduate students with such community-university engagement opportunities as part of their research they create students who are less entitled and competitive, genuinely more open, more interesting and more curious – and far more wanting to make a difference in the world in the moment rather than later on.

The time has come, not simply to reform the higher education system, but to plan our future with another kind of education system that embraces knowledge mobilization strategies more deeply within academia to transform our society altogether.

More broadly, we need to rethink our concept of merit within graduate studies. If universities are going to train a better class of graduate students than the ones we have today, we’re going to have to ask ourselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote to do research that makes social impact. Those universities that select students simply by GPA or “original” research more often benefit the statistical competition rather than develop graduate students who are critically-thinking researchers engaged with local and global communities.

It’s time for universities to provide opportunities for graduate students to exchange knowledge through greater community-university engagement and develop knowledge mobilization strategies as part of the graduate student experience to create greater value of a graduate degree – and greater value for the world in general.

A Shift In Academic Thinking About Knowledge Exchange

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Exchanging Knowledge. I love this phrase – yet it can conjure suggestions of elitism and competition in many circles. Which is unfortunate because it’s one of the most important ways of thinking to save our world. Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is about exchanging knowledge to create new knowledge that is useful to society; not just our own societies but as a whole as human beings on this planet. It’s not about whose knowledge is better. It’s about exchanging knowledge to make the world better for everyone.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War which saw death and mass destruction on a global scale. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. We managed to destroy each other and create devastation on our planet with over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded – ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. You would think the knowledge gained from the First World War would have prevented any Second World War (the deadliest military conflict in history with over 60 million people killed).

Wrong. War continues today.

Yet, the 20th Century was also a time of great innovation, enabling social and technological advancement. With knowledge exchange we have been able make incredible scientific breakthroughs to eradicate disabling and fatal disease, and bring about social change for greater equality for many in society.

Despite these advances, knowledge exchange can still remain limited due to selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred. As these negative influences again become acceptable in the eyes of a new generation, the idea of exchanging knowledge for world benefit starts to disappear. Many forget the tragedies of devastating wars as this new generation sees them as ancient and part of the past (or worse, want to repackage the hatred of the past in a modern way)  – while technological advancements can be used for even greater opportunities for death and world destruction.

On a more personal level we often do not recognize the need for openness and knowledge exchange with others. If you ask someone why do selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred still exist, the reply is usually, it’s something other people do, not me – as if that response alone negates one’s own responsibility to create change on this planet. It seems only a few people stop to ask if a return to a world of hatred based on a lack of openness and knowledge exchange is actually worth the energy and money we’re expending for other things instead of what can create change for good on this planet.

How, when we are faced with our own modern extremists and territorial wars, can we seek calm to try and create real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures?

Fortunately within much of the academic research environment over the past decade in Canada and the U.K., as a profession and a practice, knowledge mobilization has emerged to present the idea of exchanging knowledge beyond the academy so as to build community engagement and participation from a variety of stakeholders to make research useful to society for real-world solutions for change on a broader scale. It’s about breaking down barriers and historical ideas of elitism, exclusion – and even extremism. The knowledge mobilization movement is growing to include individuals in countries around the world, yet needs to continue to be part of a new generation of scholarly research education.

In higher education, knowledge mobilization attempts to wipe out any of the elitism or selfishness of learning. KMb attempts to cultivate knowledge exchange with a deeper, holistic love of learning, research and respect for others that touches every aspect of our humanity, by learning to apply research on a greater, more inclusive human scale. As we allow this to happen, we enact a more caring view within learning (which on a more global scale is largely ignored and at great cost).

Our education systems continue to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness, one type of knowledge over other knowledge.

KMb has developed the idea that research can be better utilized by connecting it with community partners to create new and more innovative research. Instilling the idea of community-campus connections within our education systems helps to develop our students into thoughtful, ethical citizens who can critically evaluate through broader systems thinking rather than doing research with little regard for broader application.

Can this community-campus strategy create a generation of better, more caring researchers? When teaching students to do research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate, a horrible disconnect occurs in students. It becomes about just getting the degree – where the end justifies the means of simply doing research with no greater purpose than what is mostly a rather selfish one.

It’s clear that the long term costs of continuing to ignore teaching methods to students without consideration of how we exchange our knowledge with others beyond the academy to something more inclusive of community – and worldwide can be dire. There is a requirement to not be overly-focused on developing our own knowledge for more selfish reasons such as simply receiving a degree. What about teaching students to do research that has some broader, practical application – such as eliminating the extremisms that can lead to hatred and war? Teaching cooperative knowledge exchange through knowledge mobilization can create a shift in academic thinking that has effects far beyond the academy.

So what does knowledge mobilization mean for education? It asks us to reimagine what it means in exchanging knowledge. It requires us to embrace being open and unselfish in our learning and knowledge exchange. It requires admitting that a large part of what continues to happen in our world isn’t good for our students, our teachers, our communities – or our world.  It means creating change in our education systems or risk the return to the tragedies of the early 20th century.

Higher education needs to take into account what real learning looks like – with more passion and compassion – and why research really needs to be more focused on community-engagement to bring systems change on a global scale. It needs to be more than just receiving a degree to hopefully get a job after graduation.

By developing knowledge mobilization strategies within graduate research programs we can teach students to engage in real, meaningful work that matters to them, to their community, and our world. As a result, graduates gain an authentic purpose and a role in society other than academic-in-training.

Becoming involved in knowledge mobilization allows students to discover everyday citizens in their community and how they can work together to make the world a better place. It provides students with the opportunity to identify and seek real-world solutions to wicked problems by reinforcing the idea that their research efforts can make a difference. At the same time we are including communities to work with grad students and researchers as authentic, viable and active participants in community and academic life throughout the world.

 

The Importance of Context In Knowledge Exchange

study group
When I was in university I was in one of my psychology classes one day and took a seat at a desk beside a woman who was an international student from Jamaica. We only knew each other as classmates. She was a likeable woman and we chatted regularly before and after class.

Psychology is a field with many schools of thought, theories and approaches to behaviour. Because there is also a great amount to learn, many psychology students formed study groups to share notes and insights. She and I decided to form one of these groups. I was always so impressed at how well organized she was at following and distilling lectures – but also how she was able to articulate to our group her understanding of what our psychology professor was wanting to convey in class.

I remember one day we were discussing the work of Havelock Ellis, a psychologist who dedicated his life to the study of human sexuality. Ellis was co-author of the first English medical textbook on homosexuality written in 1897 titled Sexual Inversion. As an openly gay man, I was astonished at Havelock’s use of the term “sexual invert” to describe my “condition” – even though Ellis was attempting to bring some acceptance and understanding of being gay to the Victorian era where homosexuality was considered an illness to be cured. Sexual Inversion was one of the first scientific books to present homosexuality as an innate disposition similar to heterosexuality and not as a pathological condition.

During this particular study session my Jamaican classmate hesitated and I could see she was reluctant to share her thoughts on this psychology topic. Sensing something was wrong I asked her if everything was alright. She informed the group that from her cultural perspective she still considered being gay as something that needed to be cured. I was shocked and immediately responded with “are you kidding?” This view seemed absolutely ridiculous to me, yet I realized her view was culturally-shaped by her context growing up in Jamaica – a country where it’s still illegal to be gay.

Seeing this as an opportunity to share my own experience and knowledge I suggested we explore our perspectives more deeply, especially in the context of psychology. What made this even more upsetting to me was that I mistakenly believed others in our study group were supportive of gay rights and equality. I was wrong. Two others also believed therapy could be used for people wanting to be “cured” of being gay.

During the next class our Professor decided to cover Sigmund Freud’s theory of human sexuality and how it differed from that of Ellis. Freud believed all human beings were innately bisexual and that they become homosexual or heterosexual as a result of parental/environmental experiences. When I decided to comment on how both theories from Freud and Ellis were developed and shaped within the context of their Victorian timeframe as attempts to influence a deeper understanding of sexuality and behaviour not necessarily requiring a “cure” a thought-provoking session of opinions occurred. Our class was abuzz with comments and questions around context and how even so-called conversion or reparative therapy was still taking place today to “cure” gay sexual orientation.

The idea of hiding sexuality is something that starts very early for many of us who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. I am reminded of my time in elementary school when other students would tease and bully me with “Gary the fairy.” This idea of hiding sexuality is something that stays with many of us throughout our entire lives – unless we “come out of the closet” – and even then it ends up having a major influence on our entire lives.

It is the same within our careers. Many people are very secretive about their personal lives. They often don’t want others to know too much. When we hoard knowledge we are always afraid that our knowledge is going to be judged. People who constantly hoard knowledge do not contribute to sharing knowledge to make the world a better place. Yet we must also keep in mind that knowledge is context-specific.

One of the biggest beliefs about knowledge mobilization is that if we are continually sharing knowledge – particularly research knowledge to make it useful to society – we are making the world a better place. When we engage in knowledge exchange with others in different contexts and come up with new knowledge we develop a view where we are always looking to share what you know with people instead of looking to hoard what you know. When we exchange knowledge with others it gives us access to more knowledge. The knowledge we share with others from our own contexts ends up creating opportunities to shape, possibly change and create new knowledge based on our openness to the knowledge of others from different contexts.

There are real benefits to sharing our knowledge. By exploring knowledge from different contexts we can make change for the better. Context is important in knowledge mobilization. Along with evidence and facilitation, context is one of three pillars of the PARIHS (Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Sciences) Framework (https://researchimpact.othree.ca/forums/journalclub/the-parihs-framework-promoting-action-on-research-).

My fellow study group students shared openly their views about the idea of “curing” gays and lesbians from their own contexts and I shared my experiences about being openly gay from my context. I’m happy to say that we came to a deeper understanding of each other’s positions within the context of our psychology class – and they began to change their minds about attempts to “cure” gays and lesbians based on sharing our knowledge and experiences.

Sharing knowledge brings people together and allows people to see different contexts. Effective knowledge mobilization occurs when we want people to know what we know and we are not afraid to tell them from our own contexts.

Knowledge mobilization is about creating benefit from interaction with others in different contexts. We must share our knowledge openly and freely and never hide knowledge. When we exchange our knowledge from different contexts we create opportunities to open doors to deeper understanding. Exchanging knowledge gives you access to more knowledge. People who hoard knowledge within their own contexts tend to have isolated knowledge because they only share or seek change when relevant – meaning their own knowledge becomes stagnant.

 

Why Can Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Make A Difference For Universities?

KMb Difference

University faculty have long considered tenure to be their right – something they deserve as dedicated researchers and hardworking teaching professionals. And 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. There are many challenges to the contemporary academy as shown by the recent example at the University of Saskatchewan, and the many challenges within the past few decades that have created financial struggles for universities requiring evidence-based reform – such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK, or in Canada, the Program Prioritization Process (PPP) or Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) and U of Sask’s TransformUS. These recent academic/economic checks are informed by the Dickeson prioritization process started in the United States more than a decade ago based on the methodology of Robert Dickeson’s Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services.

As university budgets grow tight, they look at what universities spend in all areas – both academic and administrative – and want to know if these investments yield clear returns or could that money be spent in better ways? Such questions make effective knowledge mobilization (KMb) within the university more important than ever.

Traditionally, academics haven’t paid much attention to knowledge mobilization and community engagement. Many consider KMb a time-consuming process that diverts efforts from more important activities of the customary research cycle of hypothesis, study and peer-review publication – as well as research strictly for the sake of research regardless of the “value” of the subject matter.

Other researchers think they lack the skill and expertise to become involved in KMb and community engagement. As a result, they either neglect the potential for community engagement completely or leave it to “KMb experts.”

Effective KMb doesn’t have to be complicated. It simply requires incorporating KMb into the research planning stage, the ability to do some interdisciplinary networking within and outside the university, and a basic understanding of how to find these contacts by connecting with a good knowledge broker. Using knowledge brokers can provide meaningful information and networks that researchers can use to make thoughtful, responsible decisions about the professional development processes of their work and the potential impacts of research.

What is Knowledge Mobilization (KMb)?

In simplest terms, knowledge mobilization is making research useful to society.

Useful implies a dedicated, attentive, and purposeful process where research creates impact for social change and benefit. Academics conduct research for clear reasons and with explicit intent.

Impact can be defined as: a powerful or major influence or effect; a force or impression of one thing on another – or an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society.

If we apply this to the potential impact of research – in addition to traditional academic impacts, impact can be defined as a measurable change in policy, services or products. However, researchers don’t make policy, they usually don’t offer services, and they generally don’t produce products. It is government (public sector) who makes policy, community organizations (voluntary sector) who mostly deliver services, and industry (private sector) who create products. Researchers develop knowledge which can lead to impact, but remember that some research knowledge has only academic impact.

Questions Researchers Need To Ask At The Beginning:

Some researchers understand the importance of KMb for community engagement and research development activities for social benefit/impact. Effective KMb requires researchers to ask important questions at the beginning of the research cycle that focus on basic human needs and benefits. How can the research being done address an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society?

In addition to asking this initial question as part of the research process we also hope that researchers ask a further question: How can the research process create community involvement in the research being done? This question focuses on inclusion of knowledge and skills from outside the university that can add value. Depending on the goals of the research activity, this can involve anything from asking community stakeholders to describe the crucial attributes of their own knowledge to provide examples of how these might be applied to the research process, or to a full-scale inclusion in the research process. Some researchers talk about including community stakeholders throughout the research process yet fail to include community stakeholders in the final research publications. (See this example and this example).

University Academic and Administrative Leadership Support for KMb:

As I mentioned, researchers don’t make policy, they usually don’t offer services, and they generally don’t produce products. This is where the focus shifts to the university administration and collaborative efforts outside the university. Lack of university academic and administrative leadership support has the potential to sabotage any knowledge mobilization efforts, even when all the individual aspects of academic research and community engagement are done right.

Suppose for example that many academic researchers contribute to KMb efforts and create community engagement in their research. They gain a thorough understanding of the benefits of KMb and develop a variety of community/university activities based on cooperative knowledge. Following these efforts they try to implement relationships with community stakeholders in universities where researchers are credited strictly according to their relative standing among other faculty and the great importance attached to churning out research publications without any thought towards how research is being done to address economic, social and cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society – let alone the university.

University policies and practices such as these make research highly competitive and will impede the most valiant efforts to have researchers cooperate and help one another and learn from community engagement – as well as potential sources of revenue that can be generated through being collaborators in funding programs such as Mitacs and SSHRC partnership grants. The lack of KMb in this case doesn’t reflect community engagement opportunities to create value for the university, but rather university policies challenge KMb implementation efforts.

Lack of buy-in at the university leadership level can essentially hold back any gains made at the community/university engagement level. That’s why knowledge mobilization efforts must include university academic and administrative leadership support.

Supporting and Measuring Student Knowledge Mobilization Efforts:

Supporting students is “the bottom line” of any university. How can knowledge mobilization efforts include, affect and benefit students? 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 (see comment above about the challenge of grad students getting on the tenure track).

Consider, for example, how to motivate graduate students to participate in research dedicated to finding ways to improve the quality of life in society. It’s essential to help graduate students devise research strategies that are geared towards addressing wicked problems that continue to hinder us worldwide. Measures of student learning typically include student achievement such as grades through subjective examinations of knowledge and measurements of any type of research out-puts. In addition to pan-university measurement tools such as AAPR, universities might also measure impacts of student (particularly graduate student) community engagement through KMb and collaborative research efforts to produce new knowledge that can bring a return on investment (beyond simply receiving a degree) for both the student and the university.

Knowledge mobilization as part of student development can increase academic and non-academic achievement. An important thing to remember is that nearly all professional development – for students or otherwise – takes place in real-world settings, not sheltered away in institutions. The relationship between professional development and improvements in student knowledge in these real-world settings depends on the openness of universities that are willing to create KMb opportunities for community engagement. Since most universities are instigating systemic reform initiatives such as AAPR, underestimating the important link between community/university partnerships for various returns on investment can lead to further limiting financial consequences in today’s highly networked world of creating social and economic innovation.

Effects of KMb for the University:

Three important effects for the university stem from knowledge mobilization:

First, making research useful to society is important. Knowledge gathered through university research provides vital data for improving the quality of society and life beyond the university.

Second, seeking systemic reform without effective measurement of external impact tells you nothing about the greater impact that can be achieved through creating and enhancing community/university partnerships as a further source of improvement, reputation and potential revenue. Although success within the university may be necessary for positive administrative and financial results it’s clearly not sufficient if a university wishes to create greater and lasting societal impacts beyond the university.

The third consequence, and perhaps the most important, is planning and implementing professional, graduate student development to improve student knowledge, experience and interdisciplinary networks that are now essential in a world that measures the impacts of research beyond simply receiving a degree in one particular field of study.

Universities must consider the student learning outcomes they want to achieve with a new university paradigm that includes knowledge mobilization.

When universities work successfully with community partners and other key stakeholders to improve academic reforms beyond an internal prioritization process, wider social and economic benefits occur.  However, this process is not always easy – and takes time. Establishing a knowledge mobilization unit within the university (sooner than later) with dedicated knowledge brokers who offer insights about why and how to engage community, and what strategies and approaches are effective, creates value and success for the university – but again, this doesn’t happen overnight.

Those universities willing to devote their energy and passion to community-university engagement as part of reform strategies need to act now to develop the next generation of successful universities and graduate students for academic and non-academic success.

 

 

 

Changing Times & Changing Knowledge

footprintsD&G P-Town

My husband and I celebrated my 50th birthday in Provincetown, New England – a small tourist town on the extreme tip of Cape Cod in the United States. (Many thanks to this man with whom I have lived and loved for almost 20 years for this surprise birthday get-away!) As early as the beginning of the 20th century, Provincetown (or P-Town as it’s often called) has been a popular destination for gays and lesbians. Historically, the geographic seclusion of the many beaches and dunes, and the rise of many gay establishments made P-Town an ideal place of isolation and liberation for many gays and lesbians to express their sexuality in a more open and relaxed manner as a top summer destination – long before the days of greater social acceptance.

Since our last visit to P-Town six summers ago, we have seen a definite change.  Walking along the main beachfront strip – Commercial Street – there are still the usual pride flags flying on many of the shops, galleries and restaurants, and the drag queens in full dress, wigs, make-up and high-heels advertising and inviting us to their many shows. Yet the crowds are definitely much more mixed with a greater percentage of families with children and babies. Certainly not the gay-sexually charged and cruisy Provincetown we – or some of the locals – remember.

Perhaps it may be the time of this particular tourist season or my being older that has made the difference; however popping into one of the many shops on Commercial Street, a local owner confirmed our suspicions about how the town has become more socially integrated or “main-stream” with so many heterosexuals flocking to P-Town than ever before. A sign of greater LGBT acceptance within our society.

So what does this have to do with knowledge mobilization (KMb)? In previous blog posts I have addressed how the fluidity of knowledge needs to be understood to see how knowledge is constantly changing in order to do effective KMb.

Why do we believe in the idea that knowledge is something that we attain and once we attain it – it never changes? It’s this view that limits our collective human understanding when we believe that knowledge is somehow “set in stone”. It’s more like footprints on a beach. Like the past memories of a changing Provincetown, the footprints I leave on the beach are shifting and being transformed by the vast ocean of the fluidity of our knowledge and social changes.

As human beings, we can be creatures of habit, returning to the same holiday destinations expecting nothing to change. We fear change and things that are different from our own personal viewpoints. As human beings we want “security” and “stability” in our comfort zones – but the waves of change that transform our knowledge keep on flowing.

We think our own knowledge and the collective knowledge of our own groups, cultures, nations, lifestyles, and religions are the only knowledge to be attained – and once we have this “true” knowledge, it never needs to change. But this way of thinking is really only caused by a desire for things to stay the same and seek “security” and “stability” in our own desires and not to expand our comfort zones – like changes in the sand.

If we think things will always stay the same, this is a false sense of understanding knowledge and a false sense of understanding the evolution of our humanity on this planet. Every day the world is filled with change, and there will always be differences from our own personal viewpoints and experiences that shape our own knowledge and the knowledge we exchange.

Human advancement and understanding have always occurred in our human history when we’ve decided to step beyond our own comfort zones of “security” and “stability” – especially in our understandings of knowledge. When we are open to the knowledge of others and share our own knowledge with human cooperation, inclusiveness and not fear, only then will it lead us to greater worldwide security and stability.

The process of knowledge is an on-going flow, not containment. Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is the overall flow and ongoing and constant input and development of new knowledge. It is the open process of putting available knowledge into active service to benefit not just one particular group, culture, nation, corporation, organization or religion – but for the greater benefit of all in society.

No experience is ever exactly the same as any other – just as no person is exactly the same as any other. I am not the same person I was when I was in P-Town six years ago, and P-Town is not the same place as it was back then. Trying to attain knowledge as something unchangeable will lead you on a limiting search. Trying to attain the same vacation experience is like trying to attain knowledge as something unchangeable – which will lead you on a limiting search. But if you pursue knowledge with an open-mind and expectation of the ongoing process and flow of knowledge you might very well find greater happiness in your life and a deeper understanding of our ever-changing humanity.

If we spend all of our energy trying to attain unchangeable knowledge we miss out on the daily flow and process of knowledge. It’s like trying to hold back the waves from washing away the footprints on a beach – even on a beach in Provincetown.

 

 

The Knowledge Exchange Cycle

Communication

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) can be challenging. Constant meetings, conferences, workshops, articles, blogs, emails, text messages, questions, problem solving, stakeholder involvement – or lack thereof – and the ongoing cycle of sifting through information and data/information noise to gain knowledge can begin to feel like you are sinking in an infinitely vast ocean of opinions, beliefs, ideas and ideals, statistics, and research “evidence”. Once you gain knowledge of something and exchange further knowledge with others, new knowledge seems to appear to refute previous knowledge. One moment a research study suggests certain findings. The next, a new study seems to contradict those findings, requiring you to constantly re-examine your knowledge and the knowledge of others. A brief definition of knowledge mobilization is making knowledge (particularly research knowledge) useful to society. Let’s face it – sometimes it seems such never-ending knowledge contradictions are preventing us from making any knowledge useful to society.

Yet I’m optimistic! One of the most powerful and enduring lessons I have learned in my almost decade of promoting and supporting knowledge mobilization efforts is that the multitude of contexts, sources, findings and views aren’t necessarily keeping us from knowledge – this is knowledge: fluid knowledge. I’ve talked and written about this at length in person and in previous KMbeing blog posts, as well as in the papers and book chapter I co-authored.

The notion of looking at these “contradictions” of knowledge in a valuable way is one I feel bound to reiterate. Why? Because by adopting this approach to the fluidity of knowledge we can dramatically increase our opportunities for influencing policy-makers, clarify positions for various stakeholders, develop understanding and build trust within different environments, and forge meaningful relationships in various contexts of knowledge transfer and exchange as our knowledge continues to evolve.

In short, we can recognize that knowledge is never stagnant – or we can be stuck in knowledge silos. All we have to do is remember that each interaction – each knowledge exchange – is filled with unlimited and profound possibilities for impact. But remember, impact is also never stagnant. Impact occurs and is also transformed by new knowledge – the fluidity of knowledge.

Knowledge Exchange Cycle

So, how do we make each knowledge exchange count and not become inundated by the infinitely and often overwhelming bombardment of varying knowledge? By approaching each knowledge exchange practically and purposefully.

There are three components to each effective knowledge exchange. Combined, they form what I call a Knowledge Exchange Cycle. When you consider all three elements with one another, they can produce a powerfully productive approach to developing our own knowledge and advancing our collective knowledge. Simply remember these three elements in each interaction:

Speak & Listen Carefully

Put Knowledge in Context

and Transform Knowledge Collaboratively.

This funny video clip shows the importance of speaking and listening carefully, being open and paying attention to context.

 

 

Speak & Listen Carefully:  Speaking and listening carefully is the key to effective communication. But few people get it right. That’s because it takes meaningful practice and focus to connect with others, detect different meanings, recognize multiple perspectives, and determine what kind of knowledge is being exchanged. When you master being truly present in your communication, you can become an amazing speaker and – more importantly – an amazing listener. This means that when you’re not speaking you’re fully engaged, mindful of the moment and paying attention to the other people sharing their knowledge with determined focus. Remember, to give other people the space to be heard. Don’t become a constant speaker without also being a compassionate listener! The give and take of speaking and listening carefully also means asking for the knowledge “evidence” of others, and taking the time to understand the general benefit of the knowledge being exchanged. When you feel confident that you understand someone else’s knowledge, take a moment to briefly summarize to ensure you and others understand the knowledge being exchanged.

Put Knowledge In Context: Once you understand the essence of the knowledge being exchanged, you’re ready to put that knowledge in context to better understand how this knowledge is being used and understood in a particular (and often different) context. When you put knowledge in context people will be able to place the knowledge in circumstances that may not always fit within our own frameworks or social benefit. This requires some diplomacy. You need to be both responsive and adaptable. Determine the context by adjusting your approach and understanding of your own knowledge accordingly. The key is to be open to knowledge that may be different from your own to wholly grasp the applicability to your own context. It’s important to connect to their purpose and passion for the knowledge they exchange from the context in which they are situated to also connect it to the knowledge you provide. You may also need to show them how their knowledge is uniquely situated within their own environment in whatever drives them for benefit within their own society – while also anchoring their knowledge in an understanding of whatever drives you in your own knowledge that may be different. Whatever the situation, frame the knowledge exchange openly and speak from your heart. Let people know why their knowledge matters in connecting to your own knowledge to transform it by the next step.

Transform Knowledge Collaboratively: In this part of the knowledge exchange cycle you must show a desire to turn your knowledge (and sometimes differing knowledge) into action collaboratively. Knowledge exchange should ultimately be about making a difference in the world. Transform exchanged knowledge collaboratively! You spoke and listened carefully. You put knowledge in context. You need to continue to speak and listen carefully. Now you need to transform the knowledge exchanged collaboratively. And you need to continue to speak and listen carefully. Maybe you need to help them make a decision. Maybe you need to shift your thinking and look at your own knowledge differently. This is your chance to think about how you can advance knowledge – yours and others – into something useful – beyond individual contexts – yet also considering how to be adaptive within individual contexts.

As you engage in the Knowledge Exchange Cycle remind yourself of the risk in not speaking and listening carefully, not thinking about context, and not acting collaboratively. In order to not feel like you’re drowning in the vast ocean of knowledge exchange, all any of us can do is mindfully consider the knowledge shared by and with us in the moment. This Knowledge Exchange Cycle provides a framework for you to build knowledge relationships carefully, be open to and understand different contexts, and make and support ways to transform knowledge collaboratively – in every moment of knowledge exchange. In this sense, knowledge mobilization can be challenging. As someone who has used mindfulness meditation in my daily life for over 25 years, mindfulness is not always easy. And just like mindfulness meditation, with mindful knowledge exchange, the more you do it, the better and more efficient you will become.  I encourage you to keep the Knowledge Exchange Cycle in mind in your next knowledge encounter – you may find you are one step closer to transforming knowledge to make the world a better place.

 

 

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