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

The Evolution of Knowledge Mobilization

The other day I realized I rarely open good, old-fashioned paper books anymore. As a Digital Researcher most of my time is now spent on the computer scanning cyberspace and using social media. Even my recreational reading is electronic. So, I ventured over to the home book shelve and saw Knowledge Mobilization In The Social Sciences and Humanities Moving From Research To Action. Nice “light” reading. (Actually, it’s well-organized and easy to read).

The book was written by Alex and David Bennet (who now run the Mountain Quest Institute) along with several other contributors working in cooperation with The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and published in 2007. Canada – thanks in great part to SSHRC and a variety of knowledge mobilizers and knowledge brokers – is now recognized as an international Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) leader in closing the gap between research and action, making knowledge readily accessible – and thereby useful – to any number of individuals and groups in society.

I pulled the book from the shelf and scanned through the pages again, looking back on some of the highlights (literally) that I had marked at the time. What struck me most is how – even after four years since publication – the concept of Knowledge Mobilization has evolved.

SSHRC and the authors set out to explain the emerging concept, and the book paved the way for understanding KMb at the time. But it has moved beyond the idea of a “two-way exchange of information and expertise between knowledge creators and knowledge users” to a multi-directional understanding. In the KMb process, knowledge is created and used by many individuals who are simultaneously both creators and users – constantly contributing and receiving from the flow of knowledge by unlimited sources for greater social benefit. Both researchers and research-users inform and are informed by a variety of community groups, individuals, practitioners, policy-makers and other researchers and research-users (aren’t we all researcher-users?)  in an intertwined process. The book only briefly touches on these connections as collaborative entanglementBut this is at the heart of understanding KMb today.

The book’s definition:

Collaborative entanglement means to purposely and consistently develop and support approaches and processes that combine the sources of knowledge and the beneficiaries of that knowledge to move toward a common direction such as meeting an identified community need.

To update and enhance this definition I remove the out-dated “two-way” implication of “source” and “beneficiary”. This provides a more integrated and inclusive understanding of the ongoing contributions to the KMb process that (can include but) spans beyond a bounded community for the  benefit of society as a whole.

An updated definition:

Collaborative entanglement means the involvement of any variety of individuals who purposely and consistently develop and support approaches and processes that combine sources and benefits of knowledge in the  process of moving toward a common direction such as meeting an identified community need while also contributing to the greater benefit of society.

The “two-way view” was part of an initial approach to fund university-based research Knowledge Mobilization initiatives that would benefit both researchers and non-academic stakeholder communities. We now recognize that non-academic communities and individuals contribute to the KMb process with collaborations that are not always so easily defined in such a linear fashion.

Although the book is a good start – especially for its application to the social sciences and humanities, it seems rather formulaic, and overly-definitional in its approach to something that has grown in application, experience and understanding – no doubt due to its early explanatory approach. To their credit, the authors state that the book is intended as an idea-generator and resource, and is not prescriptive.

Yet, the authors use somewhat complex models and methodological frameworks to overly-complicate and explain KMb. For less complicated explanations see here and here.  The book is a seminal work exploring the concept of KMb, but suffers somewhat of an identity crisis in interchanging KMb with Knowledge Management (KM) at times, and even suggesting that KMb is “an evolutionary path for Knowledge Management”. I would argue otherwise. For the difference between Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) and Knowledge Management (KM) see my earlier blog here.

Although our understanding of KMb has evolved there are still some very important points that the book addresses that are still relevant today for understanding Knowledge Mobilization. This is an extensive list, but I hope you will revisit this list often and share it with others to refresh your understanding of the core elements of KMb (Consider it the Coles Notes version).

  • Knowledge mobilization (KMb) brings knowledge, people and action together to create value. KMb goes far beyond the dissemination of knowledge from source to beneficiary, researchers to community. It is not just knowledge transfer, and while dynamic knowledge brokering is essential in terms of identifying stakeholders, building networks and relationships, and designing activities to nurture knowledge shairng, this is still not enough. KMb embeds knowledge generation (creation) and knowledge use within the core of community and organizations (Clark & Kelly 2005).
  • Knowledge Mobilization is a process comprised of a number of processes.
  • New thoughts and behaviours emerge and then build on other thoughts and behaviours and then become mixed with yet another set of thoughts and behaviours.
  • We call such mixing, entwining and unpredictable associations the process of entanglement, with the end result being impossible to trace retrospectively.
  • The need and challenge for knowledge mobilization processes arise from the increasing change, rising uncertainty and growing complexity of local and global environments.
  • The process of collaboration and learning is consitent with, and supportive of, the relevance and importance of collaborative advantage in the global economy.
  • The creation of knowledge occurs whenever people are thinking, feeling, learning and interacting.
  • The KMb approach seeks to facilitate the learning and sharing of knowledge through the conscious development of connections, relationships and the flow of information.
  • Knowledge without action is wasted; action without knowledge is dangerous.
  • Wisdom is the capacity to apply knowledge for the balanced and longterm benefits of Life.
  • Collaboration and participation transcend paradigm limitations. Systems constrain, people explore. Everyone can learn, be creative, grown and contribute. Since no one has all the answers, everyone benefits via collaborative work experiences. Since individuals have their own paradigm, collaboration and knowledge exchange break open limiting paradigms and thereby create more options for the effective use of knowledge.
  • Knowledge has no inherent value in terms of goodness. It is how it is used that conveys value.
  • The benefits of KMb are not always immediate or easily recognizable.
  • The process of KMb can touch people in personal ways. The potential offered by knowledge – at the core of KMb – simultaneously intersects with the self and humanity, the internal and the external, in such a way as to offer the potential to make a difference for individuals and communities. As connections and relationships build and knowledge is shared, understood and applied, a number of shifts occur.
  • KMb requires an inclusive – not exclusive – approach, all voices are heard, representative of diverse points of view and open minds.
  • As citizens increasingly recognize that organizational and national boundaries are artificial constructs in a connected global world, the Industrial-age value creation found in individual economic structures is diminishing as the value created through collaborative advantage escalates.
  • Building bridges between people creates networks  that drive the future.
  • Knowledge has the ability to mobilize people by creating an atmosphere of collaboration, producing common vision, and leveraging shared understanding.
  • Learning is the process that creates new meaning from experience and new capabilities for action. Knowledge is the result of learning.
  • Learning underpins the entire KMb process – whether that learning is occuring in researchers, research assistants, students, practitioners, community leaders, policy-makers or other members of the stakeholder community.
  • Social learning can occur when individuals with experience and knowledge share their understanding with each other through conversations, storytelling, or dialogue.
  • With the realization that what is memorized today may not make sense tomorrow, the mindful learner looks for patterns that communicate deeper value for the future.
  • Knowledge cuts across cultural, racial, geographical and gender issues.
  • KMb can be defined as moving knowledge into active service for the broadest possible common good.

And most important!

KMb has no beginning and no end.

KMb continues to evolve.

3 responses to “The Evolution of Knowledge Mobilization

  1. David Phipps January 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    What a great review of a book about which I have mixed feelings. I didn’t like it when it first came out. I found it overly complex on one hand and too simplistic (the bidirectioanlity of KMb) at the same time. I have dipped into it over the years and it grows on me but I am not sure why. I think I was intimidated by its complexity in 2007. As my own experience has evolved I feel more comfortable with its limitations and am better able to appreciate the many items of value as KMbeing notes above.

    As I see and do more and more KMb I have come to really appreciate the concept of collaborative entanglement. It’s a term I rediscovered recently and I find it’s sitting well. It’s more nuanced than merely being collaborative and takes collaboration to a new depth of appreciation. I intend to explore this concept as an underlying theoretical base to our KMb practice at ResearchImpact.

    Thanks to KMbeing for highlighting a useful resource to critical readers.

    • KMbeing January 27, 2011 at 7:46 am

      I agree with you about the book being both overly complex at times and too simplistic at other times. Yet I’m pleased to see that you are getting something out of it after returning to it as well. As I suggest, the book still holds some very relevant key points for understanding KMb, and I hope others will use this blog as a very brief synopsis and reference tool for understanding knowledge mobilization.

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