KMbeing

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

The Importance Of Graduate Students As Boundary Spanners

FGS  (Photo by Shawn Chong)

Knowledge mobilization is about critically examining, extending and exchanging knowledge and values within our world. Together each of us has a role to play in furthering our collective human understanding.

Within human understanding there is a constant and dynamic element of knowledge exchange – which is learning, teaching and research. Learning, teaching and research within our global knowledge society requires inspiration and resourcefulness while seeking to improve communication and co-operation across all disciplines and borders that define us. Furthering our collective human understanding requires us to open up relationships that develop harmony in an interconnected world within our communities – and particularly starting within academic communities where formal learning, teaching and research take place.

Many of our greatest human challenges occur because of our differences within often narrowly focused disciplines and boundaries, while many of our greatest developments occur at the intersections of knowledge uptake (learning),  knowledge transfer (teaching) and knowledge exchange (research) which often is first formally learned within the world of academia. This is why teaching students – particularly graduate students - about this type of broader learning to include knowledge mobilization within our global knowledge society has never been more important than now for the future.

Effective knowledge mobilization requires that graduate students be free within their respective disciplines to learn, teach and research by also developing scholarly inquiry that is interdisciplinary. Effective knowledge mobilization rests on their unique cross-boundary role as learners, teachers and researchers across disciplines and subjects.

Graduate students play an integral part in the ability of universities to provide a broader quality of educational experience by reminding students about the importance of acknowledging our human commonality within our diversity which is often reflected in universities that have very diverse student populations and a full-range of academic subjects and research interests.

Graduate students supplement and complement the teaching and research activities of faculty, while providing the institution with an opportunity to recognize the integral and multiple roles that graduate students play as learners, teachers and researchers in contributing to the university – and more importantly to our global knowledge society.

Universities have the responsibility of providing graduate students with an excellent education and the best possible preparation for their future careers since graduate students can play a crucial link as institutional boundary-spanners (as Angie Hart refers to from the work of Etienne Wenger) not only within the university but also within a new paradigm of community/university engagement. University Faculties and departments should offer suitable training for both academic and non-academic careers that recognize a community/university connection in learning, teaching and research that extends beyond the realm of academia.

Communication between graduate students, faculty and advisors can create opportunities for community contact, collaboration and community-building through student internships which are essential in developing the important learning, teaching and research links between community and university to promote knowledge beyond the university.

For effective knowledge mobilization every human being must understand the universal declaration of human rights to be free from discrimination based on race, colour, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and ability, as well as socio-economic or family status. Like every human being, students have the right to an educational experience that is also free from such discrimination. This fundamental human value is the most important knowledge that the university can teach students – particularly grad students as boundary-spanners – so that students may learn how to improve communication and co-operation across all disciplines and borders for better knowledge mobilization in doing research to make the world a better place for everyone. It is in this way that the university is a microcosm of the world and graduate students have an opportunity to become boundary spanners within the university and beyond by engaging with community.

York University is an outstanding example of a campus that has a very diverse ethnic and cultural student population reflecting more than most universities the progressive and multicultural inclusiveness of Canada. York promotes and protects human rights and values with a strong commitment to social justice, while offering a full-range of academic subjects and research units in developing scholarly inquiry that is interdisciplinary and inclusive. York University is the third largest university in Canada with a student population of over 55-thousand from a wide-range of backgrounds and belief systems.

Celebrating 50 years of the importance of graduate students, York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) promotes graduate student learning, teaching and research within an interdisciplinary university that extends across traditional academic and community boundaries as graduate students pursue professional training for academic and non-academic careers. Examples like FGS at York University help graduate students recognize their potential for knowledge mobilization as learners, teachers and researchers to move beyond fragmented research knowledge and include community in their work.

Assisting universities and graduate students is Mitacs – a Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities for graduate students.

“Through unique research and training programs, Mitacs is developing the next generation of innovators with vital scientific and business skills. In partnership with companies, government and academia, Mitacs is supporting a new economy using Canada’s most valuable resource – its people”…including graduate students.

It’s time all universities and graduate students recognize the importance of being learners, teachers and researchers knowing they are valued and being supported at institutions such as York University and Mitacs. Graduate students need also to go beyond an understanding of a specific discipline and see themselves as boundary-spanners – within the institution and society – by examining, extending and exchanging knowledge and values within our world through knowledge mobilization.

 

Knowledge Mobilization & The Cure For Hatred

hate

Why is knowledge mobilization important to help overcome hatred in our world?

When I was a university student studying psychology the question of “why can’t we all just get along in this world?” frequently lingered under my attempts to understand our human condition through my studies. Although I did not pursue a career as a psychologist, my psychology degree continues to influence my knowledge mobilization work in helping make research useful to society. I still ask this question frequently whenever I see the daily news coverage of hatred and the world battlegrounds of war that continue to make headlines and wonder if what researchers call wicked problems of the world can ever be overcome.

It turns out that research is being done by a group of international researchers linking hatred to health by asking the research question:

Is there a cure for the disease of hatred?

In a recent trailer for the current Captain America movie, senior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) states “To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down…and that makes enemies.” The teaser ends with a question from Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the first African-American superhero who asks Captain America, “How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?” to which Captain America replies, “If they’re shooting at you then they’re bad” (at 2:15 on the timer).

Far from my having some self-interest in promoting this movie it captures the essence and complication for researchers and ourselves in trying to understand the basic question of why people hate. (Spoiler Alert) Supposed “good guy” agent Alexander Pierce plays one of the “bad guys” who wants to build “a better world” by tearing it down without a broader regard for everyone in the world and the diversity of human contexts and conditions that can breed hatred. Hatred does not always come from the supposed and stereo-typed “other” who lives on the other side of the world. Sadly, hatred is universal and in our own backyards. Researchers seeking to find the cure for the disease of hatred now understand that hatred needs to be approached from a variety of disciplines working cooperatively across sectors and borders on the problem as a universal health issue that – like any disease – can affect anyone.

The question “why can’t we all just get along in this world” isn’t new. Theologians, philosophers and social activists have been asking this question for centuries. It’s the current research looking at hatred and violence as a public health issue that has now taken on an interdisciplinary approach – which is at the heart of knowledge mobilization (KMb). KMb is about breaking down barriers to create deeper understanding in the varied contexts of our human condition by exchanging multi-directional knowledge across boundaries that define the diversity and commonality of our human condition.

The International Network for Hate Studies was founded last year in Europe and will host its first conference next month in the UK.  The Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum will host its third conference in June in Saskatoon, and helped establish the first UK Knowledge Mobilization Forum this year. The value of incorporating a knowledge mobilization strategy into research (both community-based and academic) is now well-established for creating social improvement, implementation and innovation to make the world a better place.

Scientific discovery that includes knowledge mobilization can cause paradigm shifts in human thought, drive technological revolutions – and perhaps save humanity from the hatred that continues to paralyze all of us. In a previous KMbeing blog post I wrote that the best efforts to combat social problems always include both thinking and action in doing some good for others and creating social benefit…yet there is also an underlying aspect to both thinking and action that is required for effective knowledge mobilization – love.

Being able to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of research by linking hatred to health and knowledge mobilization which includes the diversity and commonality of our human experiences will ultimately lead to greater scientific literacy and the development of personal skills to conquer hatred and violence. It doesn’t mean tearing down the world to know the “good” guys from the “bad” – it just means tearing down the universal human barriers that lead to understanding and stopping the hatred that can exist in every one of us.  Just as most people try to avoid getting a disease – perhaps someday no one will want to get the disease of hatred.

 

 

 

Fasten Your Seatbelts For Open-Access & Knowledge Mobilization

fasten seat belt

Maybe years from now academics will reflect on a time when the process of peer-review submissions for journal publication of research findings was like taking a several hours or days journey by horse and buggy that today might take us less than an hour to complete by car, train, bus or airplane. We can start to reflect on the changing view of academics to become more accepting of open access journals yet we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of peer-review itself to ensure quality control and verification.  Open-access allows for faster publication and faster access – yet that doesn’t mean speed doesn’t have its own dangers, or that we don’t take responsibility ourselves to not be fooled by everything we read as “accurate knowledge”.

Researchers know that the archaic and painstaking process of old-style peer-review submissions can often take upwards of a year to finally get published. Criticisms around the timeliness and relevance of making the data known creates barriers that can limit the effectiveness of presenting the research knowledge to other researchers and to the public.

Open-access journals for faster publication of research findings have now also finally started to gain respectability among scientists as a mode of broader knowledge dissemination to a public interested in being included in knowledge mobilization – not excluded – from the prior elitist realm of discipline-specific publications and “knowledge circles”.  (There are also now other timely means of sharing research knowledge such as #scholarsunday that takes place on Twitter in which both research scholars and the public can participate).

Yet trouble in the open-access waters hasn’t always made the process so smooth.

Let’s revisit journalist John Bohannon’s undercover investigative report from 2013 discussed further in Michael Eisen’s blog which caused quite a stir and opened the eyes of many open-access supporters. Bohannon, who has a PhD in biology, submitted a fraudulent cancer-research article and reported that 157 open-access journals had agreed to publish his fake findings.

The lesson to be learned from this is not that open access journals are not relevant modes for research publication. Rather the emphasis must continue to be on quality control by any professional publisher and any reader to automatically accept any research findings published. We must all approach knowledge exchanged with critical thinking – even after publication – open access or not.

When we fail to use our own critical thinking around research results and knowledge exchange we abdicate our own responsibility in accepting at face-value any research or “knowledge” that is received. The real problem is not necessarily the mode of transportation used –whether horse and buggy, car, train, bus or airplane. It’s how safely we secure ourselves on the ride that occurs – by using our own “scholarly assessment” of research findings.

If we are so-called research experts in a particular discipline we should already be taught to re-examine with scrutiny any published research findings anyway as part of the scientific method.

We now live in a time where the general public must also learn to approach any “evidence” with the same critical eye.

Yet there’s the underlying problem itself…learning to be critical thinkers ourselves. Peer-review publication is supposed to ensure quality control, yet even the peer-review process can’t keep the train on the track. Making an indictment of the open-access model is like saying we should go back to travelling by horse and buggy as a “safer” mode of transportation.

Don’t blame the mode of transportation if you haven’t secured your own self properly for the journey.

Knowledge Mobilization An Act Of Thinking With Love

heart and brain

Knowledge mobilization without a conscience creates worthless and ineffective knowledge.

Knowledge mobilization without a heart creates empty and useless knowledge.

The best efforts to combat social problems (some referred to as wicked problems) always include both thinking  and action in doing something good for others and creating social benefit. This is what knowledge mobilization (KMb) is about – both thinking and action.  Yet there is also an underlying aspect to both thinking and action that is required for effective knowledge mobilization – love.

I often reflect on the thinking of one of Canada’s leading knowledge mobilizers, Peter Levesque – founder and Director of Canada’s Institute for Knowledge Mobilization – who considers knowledge mobilization at its deepest level “an act of love.” This is far from being some impractical ideal. The most fundamental reason for sharing and being open to other knowledge and experience stems from an openness to love.  Otherwise, knowledge becomes fragmented.

A recent newspaper article states “Hatred reaches terrifying level” and I can’t help but feel discouraged about the world we live in. Will we ever be able to combat social problems? Do we just give up?

Fortunately, there are many in this world who rise above the hatred and respond from a place of human love.  Whenever I discuss knowledge mobilization I continue to keep this fundamental struggle in mind between love & hate and its connection to thinking and action, yet it’s something that many working in the field of KMb may not consciously consider when doing KMb activities.

KMb is a participatory and inclusive way of knowledge collaboration between researchers and research users. I sometimes make the limited assumption that KMb activities are automatically accessible and useful to everyone. They are not.

This past week I attended Imagining Canada’s Future sponsored by SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) in cities all across Canada.  At the event in Toronto, focusing on Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage several presentations reiterated the continuing difficulty of Canada’s northern indigenous populations to gain broader access to something many of us take for granted to mobilize knowledge – the Internet. Although great efforts are being made for greater access, challenges still exist. And one of the presentations pointed out it’s not just about the indigenous populations in Canada but also around the world.

Even more concerning in our new knowledge economy is the fact that there are plenty of people who are still in need of the basic economic necessities of shelter, food, or clean water. Knowledge mobilization would seem of little use to them. However it’s through knowledge mobilization efforts that we can effectively create social change for greater benefit to address these basic needs.

When researchers inform and are open to being informed by multi-directional communication and knowledge that include those living in poverty or isolation, community agencies supporting them, government agencies and policymakers assisting them, advocates lobbying for them, as well as other university or community-based researchers studying and collaborating with them, the channels of knowledge mobilization are effectively opened and can contribute to greater value for all in society.

Everyone should have a voice in knowledge mobilization. Only when each voice has an opportunity to be heard and contribute to the process of solving these social problems will such problems be eliminated. KMb is about creating value – not just for some, but for everyone in every context.

When knowledge mobilization has a conscience and a heart everyone benefits.

Only then will the terrifying levels of hatred decrease.

The most important reason for sharing and being open to other knowledge and experience stems from an openness to love – and fundamentally, knowledge mobilization should be an act of thinking with love.

A Thought Piece On Knowledge Transfer & Exchange/Knowledge Mobilization

knowledge to action

What could be wrong with transferring research knowledge from those who have it to those who don’t?

What could be wrong with transferring community-based knowledge from those who have it to researchers who don’t?

What could be wrong with transferring knowledge from those who have it to policymakers who don’t?

What could be wrong with transferring any knowledge in general?

The answers to these questions rely on the fact that not all knowledge provides benefit for every purpose. Could there perhaps be some situations where knowledge transfer is actually counterproductive? Are there cases where not knowing is better than knowing?

A further question arises when asking how much knowledge is sufficient knowledge and how much is too much? We now live in a world of information overload – something I like to refer to as data noise – and there is a difference between information and knowledge. People cannot be attentive to everything, yet must sift through the data noise to distinguish between information and knowledge – which is not always easy.  More importantly, the relevance of knowledge is always context-specific – only applicable based on circumstances of time and place with different needs of knowledge in different circumstances. This creates the subjective value of knowledge which may be different from one person to the next.

Knowledge transfer and exchange or knowledge mobilization (KMb) – whatever you wish to call it – is viewed today as having an unlimited and broad application across multiple sectors and disciplines. When knowledge is transferred and exchanged/mobilized across a wide-range of sectors and disciplines it can help reveal conflicts instead of covering them up or being unaware of them.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where valuable knowledge that can provide greater social benefit beyond one sector, discipline or community is transferred and exchanged yet there are still those who refuse to use it and don’t see the benefit of certain knowledge that can create broader social benefit. There are circumstances where knowledge has no impact – creating discouragement among those attempting to create social benefit on a wider scale.

So why is this the case?

Because as human beings we disagree with each other about what defines value. Knowledge can have different meanings.  Also as human beings, sometimes even something that is thought to have social benefit can have little or no impact.

There is no knowledge that can have impact until it is received openly, digested and understood – and this can often take time.  Annete Boaz says co-production of knowledge can produce an impact on research collaborators even before research is finished.  However, knowledge impact is often a process of gradual enlightenment that can take months or years to change a person’s frame of reference – and sadly, sometimes not at all. It’s not until this knowledge is applied into action to create change that knowledge will have any lasting impact or benefit.

Ensuring that knowledge to action occurs is complex and challenging because it is context-specific. In order to overcome such complexity and challenges, human relationships must be cultivated to create a common understanding that facilitates the implementation of evidence in different contexts and is sustained and added to over an extended period of time. This is why creating opportunities where people can come together to share their knowledge across sectors and disciplines in one place at a series of events or forums creates value on a broader scale and can lead to social impact and social benefit within and beyond each of the context-specific places – if there is also a desire to keep the ball rolling and not drop it.  This is where the act of knowledge mobilization always has value in and of itself.

Where do you think the knowledge mobilisation field will be in 5 years?

crystal-ballMaking Connections Matter UK

It’s been just over a month since the UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum took place in London on Feb 3rd & 4th 2014 with great success! The theme of the event was Making Connections Matter – which certainly lived up to its name.  Again, tremendous thanks goes to Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) for hosting the event that brought together about 60 attendees from across the UK.

Thanks again also to Cathy Howe who was an incredible conference coordinator and forum lead who helped facilitate genuine connections across a variety of sectors in an environment of sharing experiences and challenges.

During an evening dinner at one of the more social parts of the Forum, David Phipps from ResearchImpact brought out an imaginative crystal ball and asked the group to reflect on their knowledge mobilisation practice and/or research with the question:

“Where do you think the knowledge mobilisation field will be in 5 years?”

The responses ranged from optimism about greater global knowledge sharing and cross-discipline understanding to a more pessimistic view about the social struggles that will continue to obstruct work in knowledge mobilisation (KMb). Some responses mentioned hoped-for advancements in technology to make global knowledge mobilisation easier; while others thought the practice of KMb will become more well-known and routine.  There were even a couple of political comments concerning the future of Scotland and civilization!

The following are the answers from UK KMb Forum 2014 to that question:

  • I truly hope for stronger literature bridging theory & practice on KMb for research – at least some inspirational example that improves research impact or development
  • More active availability of evidence-based improvement packages that front-line practitioners can easily pick-up
  • Less government intervention in the KMb process and more community lead
  • In 5 years other people will know what I’m talking about when I talk about KMb
  • Celebrating our successes in building a more well-informed, scientifically-literate society
  • Knowledge sharing is considered valuable and is the default
  • The term KMb has died out – because it’s part of normal practice to exchange & share knowledge routinely
  • There will be a greater abundance of cross-domain knowledge transfer as the norm as the idea of knowledge ‘partners’ will be no more
  • We will bring our KMb uses more easily to political representatives to talk about our professional ambitions & standards
  • Everyone will understand the basics (of KMb). We will need more knowledge translation but we won’t need a bridge between academics and practice
  • People will have time to mobilise knowledge across sectors during their day jobs
  • There will be massive international connectivity across disciplines because of the growth of international growth in the marketplaces…even in developing countries
  • We will be telling success stories of impact/learning from future UK Forum events – we will have 2 meetings in Scotland! – and the networks created from them; Knowledge Mobilisation will be well respected, less jargonistic, better understood by those who claim to be knowledge mobilisers and by our partners/stakeholders/end-users/beneficiaries
  • Practitioners will be skilled assessors of evidence and often contribute to/guide the evidence base – and the same goes for people we service
  • In 5 years’ time streaming video around the globe will reliably work for more than 10 minutes at a time for greater knowledge mobilisation
  • Social technologies are embedded (not “new”) but something new we have anticipated is surprising us – in “not being new” the risk and opportunity around global voices of participation is managed and institutionalised and de-radicalised in knowledge mobilisation
  • Increased accessibility to social media for excluded groups for greater knowledge mobilisation
  • There will continue to be a strong demand for evidence to inform policy and decision making. The drives will be the realization of the cost of failure! “What works” is a strong force but “works” is a co-produced idea with brand values that define desirable outcomes and “impact”; seeing complexity, ambiguity & uncertainty as positive forces for innovation with greater creativity & “wiggle-room” in policies & decision making through adaptive management of evidence-based experimentation
  • Spaces to meet and exchange across sectors and disciplines is a routine part of professional practice as teams of knowledge brokers help create solutions to large scale challenges
  • Knowledge mobilisation will not just be confined to Canada and the UK – it will be worldwide! We will all be old pals by then
  • There will be more people trying to do change
  • Probably nothing! We’ve all decided it would be good to talk! We will still be worried about equity and power sharing as we continue to think it still to be all quite complicated but we won’t mind being paid while continuing to think about it though!
  • Scotland will not be represented  in the same way – unless it happens in that country!
  • What? – Civilization ends…Why? – Michael Gove, PM.

The Important Role Of The Knowledge Broker

broker

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) strategies that have been implemented into universities, research institutions and other organizations are context specific and are subject to frequent changes. This may cause faculty and/or staff working within these places to perceive particular barriers for community engagement and hinder internal motivation for successful application of KMb strategies. Even worse there can also be a pervasive institutional misunderstanding of what KMb actually is.

Overall institutional perceptions and governing support can affect faculty and/or staff perceptions which create barriers to knowledge mobilization (KMb) strategies. Such perceptions influence successful implementation of institutional KMb approaches and the policies that result from ineffective KMb plans. This is why there is tremendous value in establishing an actual knowledge mobilization unit within the university and/or institutional structure with trained knowledge brokers who act not only as official contact points for engagement with community but also as internal liaison offices to educate and inform staff and/or faculty – and most importantly institutional policy makers.

Knowledge brokers help manage the barriers of institutional change and development while also addressing the context specific elements of KMb. As the designated institutional KMb advisors within designated KMb units the roles and skills of knowledge brokers need to be clearly understood. David Phipps and Sarah Morton have written an excellent (and whimsical) practiced-based article on the qualities required for successful knowledge brokers, which also includes valuable recommendations on recruiting and training knowledge brokers. The article may take a more light-hearted approach to the “idealised knowledge broker” but the importance of having knowledge brokers within universities, research institutions and other organizations with the right skills is imperative for successful knowledge mobilization if the institution wants to maximize community engagement and the impact of research on public policy and professional practice.

If designated knowledge brokers are not employed specifically for this particular role with specific skills there will be role ambiguity and role conflict which was addressed in a special issue of Evidence & Policy. For those who are regular readers of my blog you know how much I have long been an advocate for open access to journals online as a public good. Regrettably, Evidence & Policy still limits itself to the old-style of peer-review publications. However, a journal club entry is freely available and does address one of the articles specifically about role ambiguity and role conflict.

The role of the knowledge broker – and hiring the right people with the right skills – must be considered one of the most important roles within the research/community engagement enterprise of an institution if the challenges of differing contexts and frequent changes are to be transitioned smoothly. The important role and skills of institutional knowledge brokers can also address the perceived barriers by faculty and/or staff working within these places by raising internal motivation for successful application of KMb strategies. And most importantly eliminate any pervasive institutional misunderstanding of what KMb actually is.

 

Universities & Research In A Knowledge Society

paradigm shift

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) produces the potential to “cross-pollinate” knowledge and address complex challenges confronting society. KMb actively encourages making research useful to society. As such, both universities and communities have an important role to play in this process.

Today universities are no longer the strongholds of exclusive research and learning. We now live in a knowledge society that has created a variety of ways of doing research and developing knowledge – from socially conscious business development research to community-based participatory research to MOOCs to individual research online – all contributing to social benefit beyond the once elite-world of university-driven research.

KMb enables a multi-sectoral production to developing knowledge in our new knowledge society that can inform policy-makers in supporting the ability to create social change for social benefit. Because of this, KMb has reshaped the way universities need to think about community-university relations by creating opportunities of interdisciplinary engagement (within universities) and cross-sector engagement (externally).

Yet, just because we have experienced a knowledge revolution and now live in a knowledge society doesn’t mean universities don’t have a continuing and valuable research role to play. It just means universities need to adapt to this new paradigm as many industries needed to adapt during the industrial revolution.

Universities are the primary generators of new talent. Universities provide leverage, consistency, and the infrastructure that can’t be matched by the new knowledge society model of non-university research. It’s one of the extraordinary success stories of academia throughout the ages that they’ve been able to have such a worldwide impact with established structures and resources. As our research choices and our knowledge society continue to increase (yes, non-academic research continues to grow) it gets ever more important that universities make conscious choices about what knowledge mobilization strategies they want to support and how. Added to this are the pressures from grant funding agencies that require a social and economic return on investment from universities.

2014 saw the completion of a new approach (and pressures) in the UK with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to assess the quality and impact of research being done by UK universities. Assessment outcomes are now being done and UK funding agencies intend to use these assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their research funding to universities beginning in 2015-16.

Australia also has the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) with the next round of research evaluations scheduled for 2015.

Although no such frameworks exists for universities in Canada or the Unites States, granting agencies are now requiring university researchers to articulate knowledge mobilization strategies in their grant applications to achieve outcomes of social and economic excellence.

Sociologist Joseph Ben-David – who died in 1986 – was prophetic in his book The Western University on Trial. Ben-David pointed out the then-emerging circumstances leading to these current pressures on universities today by identifying the shifting movement towards inclusion of non-academics in the decisions affecting university research. He saw the initial pessimism about the decline of university research (particularly scientific research) during his time in the 1970s and 80s which has now lead to the inevitable paradigm shift in university research that we see today.

Almost 30 years later there are still universities who are falling behind without a focus on research excellence and multi-sectoral, non-academic engagement to develop research in our knowledge society through knowledge mobilization strategies. Like industries lost in the industrial revolution, these universities will be left behind, shut down and forgotten if they also don’t adapt.

The thing about paradigm shifts is that they don’t happen overnight, yet those that don’t adapt die out. So, perhaps there’s still time.

The following are a few questions that may help universities and researchers think about how they want to allocate knowledge mobilization strategies and develop research excellence for social and economic benefit:

  • Is your university drawn to research that meets the needs of institutional “self-interest” right now, or to research that works towards long-term solutions that benefit society (not just the university) for the future?
  • Does your university prefer to support proven community-research partnerships or does more inward-focused research appeal to you?
  • How much institutional research impact and leverage do you seek?
  • Is your university still a research “spectator” watching how other universities excel in community-university partnerships or is your university more actively involved in creating potential community engagement?
  • How much of your university research activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the university, and how much from unprompted funding? (Hint: universities do a lot of outreach because it benefits society, not because a granting agency tells them to. Universities will get more recognition by how they engage.)
  • What story do you tell yourself about your university and your community-university engagement?
  • Are you overly-focused on the number of peer-reviewed publications from your university researchers? Or does it make more sense to focus on the university’s research impact as it goes about creating social benefit? How will you decide to measure that research impact for social benefit, or does it not matter to you?

There are no perfect universities just as there are no perfect human beings. But the imperfection of human beings doesn’t keep us from engaging with each other – we just pick the “right fit” that best serves our mutual needs. The same goes with community-university engagement. Not every “cross-pollination” of knowledge will work in each context – but engaging with others outside the university to find the “right fit” in research is better than being isolated and being the university left behind in this new paradigm our knowledge society.

A New University Paradigm

university

Universities are considered one of our most reliable and cherished knowledge sectors with great expectations of delivering quality education and world-leading research. 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. With the creation of CIHR in 2000, Canadian health researchers were required to articulate knowledge translation strategies in their grant applications. Some NSERC funding programs require commercialization strategies. In 2011 SSHRC launched its renewed program architecture which requires all grant applications to have a knowledge mobilization strategy. This created an expectation that universities will effectively address social and economic issues and spend their money wisely – along with a mandate from the granting councils to incorporate knowledge mobilization and technology commercialization strategies into research grant applications.

So why aren’t some universities still not doing this?

If universities are to deliver the most promising benefits of knowledge and research for society and meaningfully follow funding guidelines an approach needs to be considered about how research is conducted. This approach needs to include those inside and outside the university who contribute to the research and social/economic innovation process. This is where knowledge mobilization comes in.  Yet many universities still have an unenthusiastic and unresponsive attitude to integrating knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies into the university structure itself.  Many universities still do not have an actual knowledge mobilization unit within their university, or worse have a great misunderstanding of what knowledge mobilization actually is and how to do it successfully – which is also often the reason why they fail to receive funding from granting agencies and continue to struggle financially.

The old university paradigm of receiving funding without a knowledge mobilization strategy is dead.

Universities see themselves to be in a risky situation as a result of economic pressures combined with increasing demand for quality research to provide social benefit.  In a climate of uncertain funding and a greater demand for valuable research, understanding how knowledge mobilization can bring opportunities to improve research, create social and economic innovation and affect government policy needs to be considered. When this is done it leads to important social and economic change.

Community-University partnerships and engagement are not new and have been around for at least a decade. Some examples include CUPP Brighton UK, CUP Alberta, Canadian Social Economy Hub, Emory University Center for Community Partnerships, and Concordia University’s Office of Community Engagement. In an informative journal club post David Phipps also discusses Mobilising knowledge in community-university partnerships.

So some universities get it and are definitely ahead of the game as the public sector benefits from these community-university collaborations.  Yet there are other universities who continue to ignore the broader benefits of such synergies. This is where greater work needs to be done to help the universities who continue to be stuck in old academic-infrastructure paradigms and help sustain community-university partnerships programs that do exist by the institutions themselves.

Developing long-term knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies 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 differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit that includes engagement within and beyond the walls of the university from many directions.

The greater return on investment for social benefit requires a broader approach to have faculty, university research services, knowledge mobilization unit knowledge brokers and university industry liaison offices work together across sectors instead of as separate university contacts and entities. A great start of this integrated approach comes from the University of Alberta which has amalgamated the Industry Liaison Office, the Research Grants Office and components of Research and Trust Accounting into an integrated Research Services Office. U of A thinks “the move to a “one-stop shop” provides researchers with more effective and streamlined services, with enhanced accountability and productivity.” However, a truly integrated approach that maximizes the impact of university research would also include a knowledge mobilization unit.

Canada has ten universities that are part of ResearchImpact – a knowledge mobilization network with further examples of such integrated structures. UQAM engages both research services and technology transfer in their support of knowledge mobilization; Offices of research services at both Wilfrid Laurier University and York University include technology commercialization as well as York’s KMb Unit as research grant support; and University of Victoria combines research partnerships and knowledge mobilization (but this does not include grants).

Another interesting pan university approach to supporting innovation is the appointment of Angus Livingstone and Innovation Catalyst. Formerly head of the UILO, Angus took up this new post in February 2014. It is too early to know what impact this new position will have but one can only hope that it embraces social as well as economic and technology innovation.

A further set-back for Canadian universities is the recent Canadian government announcement in its 2014 budget of a $10-million College Social Innovation Fund connecting colleges with community-based applied research needs of community organizations.  Colleges and polytechnic institutions have traditionally been places for trade learning and apprenticeship. It now looks like they are stepping up into the league of universities to create social and economic innovation. It may be great news for colleges – not so much for universities; especially those who haven’t already started community-university engagement.

This infusion of capital into Canadian colleges for social innovation development has set back any future benefit and funding for Canadian universities who have not yet understood the connection between knowledge mobilization and social innovation, thereby creating a missed opportunity for certain universities to gain the lead on investment in knowledge mobilization and social and economic innovation.

As the saying goes…you snooze, you lose! So is your university a winner or a loser? 

Combining university knowledge mobilization units with university research services and industry liaison offices that engage with both community partnerships and business innovation opportunities all in a “one-stop-shop” can bring great returns on investment – socially and economically – for universities and communities – but some universities are sadly still far behind.

 

The Success of Making Connections Matter!

Making Connections Matter UK

On February 3rd & 4th 2014 I attended the 1st UK Knowledge Mobilisation (KMb) Forum (spelled mobilization with a “z” in North America) which took place in London with tremendous success! The theme of the event was  Making Connections Matter – which certainly lived up to its name.  Great thanks goes to Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) for hosting the event that brought together about 60 attendees from across the UK.

Cathy Howe who attended our Canadian Forum last year from the UK was an incredible conference coordinator and forum lead. Cathy helped facilitate genuine connections across a variety of sectors in an environment of sharing experiences and challenges.

After attending last year’s Canadian event Cathy realized the potential for such a gathering in the UK “to achieve better services and better lives” through knowledge mobilization activities. By bringing together individuals from diverse organizations, professions and communities, the UK Forum provided learning and professional development that offered surprisingly valuable insights and similar experiences across a range of fields and experiences.

A Canadian group was excited to attend, including David Phipps from ResearchImpact, Peter Levesque from the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization and myself from KMbeing Knowledge Mobilization Support Services.

I heard someone say that they had not heard of any other multi-sectoral conference like this ever taking place in the UK as events always seem to be so “specialized” and discipline-specific. The UK Forum participants came from a mix of areas that included government policy advisors; economics and evaluation; health research; youth & criminal justice; cancer research; social investment; women’s health; prison & corrections; freelance writing; science; non-governmental organizations; knowledge management; families & relationships; pharmacy; and a variety of university scholars, administrators and community organizations – all in one room and at one event.

There was even an opportunity for remote participants to attend and in-person attendees to interact with people from SecondLife. I must admit I initially had my doubts about the feasibility of bringing “virtual” people to the UK Forum – yet these concerns were quickly gone when I saw the value that remote participants added to the event. Forum posters were available for viewing in SecondLife and presentations were live-streamed in a virtual auditorium as remote participants joined in by social media. There was even a SecondLife attendee who won first-place in a poster competition and provided a very impressive display of using SecondLife as an inclusive conference extension tool to bring people together at such forums from around the world.  One SecondLife participant @GeorgeJulian has even posted a blog about the virtual experience.

#UKKMbF14 was also used to comment on Twitter.

All in all the UK Forum achieved above-and-beyond what it set out to do. I’m sure the important cross-sector relationships and momentum that was started by this first forum will continue. I look forward to bringing back to Canada the success of this UK event and sharing this international extension of our “sister” forum at the upcoming Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum 2014 on June 9th and 10th in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I’m also excited about returning next year to the 2nd UK Forum expected to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Hope to see you there – or maybe even in SecondLife!

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