Whenever I mention the work I do in Knowledge Mobilization (KMb), inevitably someone asks me to explain what that means. Unfortunately, there are a variety of similar terms being used to roughly define the same thing, which has a tendency to “muddy the waters” of explanation. I engage with other professionals – especially through the Ontario Knowledge Transfer & Exchange Community of Practice (KTE Cop) – and I continue to push for agreement on the use of one, clear term (knowledge mobilization) to describe the work we do. But, it’s not that simple to find agreement as each term has its own history and sometimes very defensive, personal appeal. It mostly depends on the term adopted by who is funding the institution – as you will see below.
First, to define KMb:
Fellow knowledge mobilizer and Director of Knowledge Mobilization Works, Peter Levesque states that the term originates from the French term mobilisation – making ready for service or action.
KMb consists of a variety of methods in which research and knowledge is transferred, translated, exchanged and co-produced to enhance the practical application of knowledge between researchers and research-users (individuals and community organizations seeking to use research to inform decisions in public policy and professional practice).
Yet KMb is not limited to academic or more formal knowledge. It also includes informal knowledge such as narratives or even Internet blogging/microblogging/wikispaces if it informs and contributes to the greater benefit of society.
However, a multiplicity of terms and concepts are used to describe aspects of KMb including knowledge utilization, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange, knowledge management, knowledge translation, diffusion of innovation, research impacts, and research utilization. Three of the most frequently used terms are knowledge transfer, knowledge utilization, and knowledge exchange.
I argue that all of these terms – including knowledge transfer and knowledge transfer & exchange – falls short in stating the multiple influences of the multi-production of knowledge. Exchange still suggests a sharing of knowledge within separate fields of application. KMb is a more recent term and is gaining greater use as it focuses more on the multiple contributions and multi-production of new knowledge.
Huw Davies from the Social Dimensions of Health Institute at the Universities of Dundee and St Andrews, Fife in the UK argues that the KT terminology itself actually misrepresents the tasks that seeks to support and ultimately prevents social research from having wider impacts. Davies and his colleagues argue that both the terms “translation” and “transfer” invoke a metaphor of “convergent knowledge” which is parcelled to “grateful recipients” (Davies et al 2008: 189) and effectively veils the associated complexities, contradictions and unpredictability of the ways in which new knowledge is negotiated and accepted (or even refused).
Davies, H., Nutley, S., Walter, I., 2008. Why ‘knowledge transfer’ is misconceived for
applied social research. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy. 13, 188-190
KMb emphasizes the multi-directional links or activities among researchers and research-users with greater emphasis on the multiple contributions and co-operation for the creation of knowledge. KMb includes an array of interdisciplinary methodologies and techniques at many levels and directions to mobilize knowledge within a broader framework.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in conjunction with McMaster University’s Health Sciences Department and Health Information Unit (HiRU), along with the Canadian Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools has created a Wikispace intending to help define and compare terms and concepts across a variety of disciplines using KT. CIHR uses Knowledge Translation , while The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) prefers using Knowledge Mobilization as a more appropriate term.
With so many terms being used to describe the same thing, perhaps it’s time to agree on using only one term – a more inclusively descriptive term – Knowledge Mobilization.