There still remains a variety of similar terms being used for Knowledge Mobilization (KMb), all attempting to define the same thing. Sometimes terms are still mistakenly used to describe KMb – like Knowledge Management (KM). For the difference between the two click here. Thanks also to Gerald Meinert for using my KMb model in his blog One step beyond helping to clear up the differences.
As I point out in previous blogs about the definition of KMb and terminology – not having an agreement on on a single term has a tendency to “muddy the waters” of explanation. It also makes it difficult for anyone searching for information when several terms are used. Researchers, practitioners or anyone else interested in looking up any previous research or information being done about Knowledge Mobilization may have a difficult time or miss articles because of the diverse terminology being used.
In a recent ResearchImpact guest blog of Mobilize This!, Andrea Kosavic, a Digital Initiatives Librarian at York University wrote about the importance of being able to find journals and articles easily in order to make research “more visible and accessible to those who seek them”.
“If we want the best return on our research investment, we need to ensure that the research can be found where researchers, professionals, policy makers, and the general public conduct their searches”.
This not only holds true for journals and articles, but also for common terminology.
Yet, a multiplicity of terms and concepts are still used to describe aspects of KMb including knowledge utilization, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange, knowledge management, knowledge translation, diffusion of innovation and research utilization.
Four of the most frequently used terms are knowledge translation, knowledge transfer, knowledge utilization, and knowledge exchange.
I argue that all of these terms – especially knowledge translation, knowledge transfer and knowledge transfer & exchange – falls short in defining the multiple influences of the multi-production of knowledge.
Knowledge Translation and Knowledge Transfer are accurate descriptions when they refer to a one-way informing of individuals to enhance their own knowledge but requires the exchange element to be open to any new knowledge that may further inform the initial knowledge already being translated or transferred. But it also still suggests a two-way or linear bestowing or sharing of knowledge within separate fields of application which may not accurately reflect the interdisciplinary methodologies, techniques and personal experiences at many levels and directions to mobilize knowledge within a broader framework. Knowledge Translation and Knowledge Transfer may be part of the initial process of Knowledge Mobilization – but they are not the same thing.
The terms can also imply a rather elitist suggestion like the old “ivory tower” days of academia when only the scholars held “true knowledge” and bestowed it to the ignorant masses who couldn’t possibly contribute in return from their own knowledge or experiences.
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).
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 the knowledge informs and contributes to the greater benefit of society. Thankfully, we now recognize the value of academic collaboration and inclusion of many forms of knowledge beyond the academy through knowledge mobilization. KMb is a term that focuses on the multiple contributions and multi-production of new knowledge that is inclusive and collaborative and not separate – not a linear from “here” to “there” as transfer & exchange suggests.
Engaging in conversation with other professionals – especially through the Ontario Knowledge Transfer & Exchange Community of Practice (KTE Cop) – 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, entrenched in useage with sometimes very defensive, personal appeals.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) uses Knowledge Translation (KT) while
the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) prefers using Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) as a more appropriate term.
Now recently adding to the muddy waters is the suggestion to use the term K* (K-Star) – as presented by Alex Bielak from United Nations University who presented on The Evolution of Knowledge Mobilization and Knowledge Brokers at a recent Evidence to Policy Workshop. Bielak suggests K* can capture whatever term one wants to use to describe the process of knowledge by having one umbrella term to move forward and capture them all. It’s hoped that this will help avoid conflicts in terminology.
But why come up with a new term when one already exists to more accurately describe and include the variety of similar terms being used? Sincere apologies – but K* sounds more like a brand name of running shoes rather than a process of knowledge. It also lacks definition. K-Star does not describe what is happening with the knowledge; whereas knowledge mobilization is a term that describes transfer, exchange, translation, utilization – all the processes of action (unless you’re perhaps using the K* running shoes).
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.