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

Knowledge Mobilization As K* (K-Star)???: Definition & Terminology – REVISITED

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.

16 responses to “Knowledge Mobilization As K* (K-Star)???: Definition & Terminology – REVISITED

  1. Bronwynne Wilton March 23, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Well said Gary, I agree that one clear term would be very useful in terms of moving the field of knowledge mobilization forward. The ‘k-*’ term seems ambiguous and would have very little meaning to anyone outside of the field which seems to be the opposite of what we’re all trying to achieve.
    Thanks for an interesting read.

    • KMbeing March 27, 2011 at 11:50 am

      Glad you enjoyed the blog post and thanks for your comment. My push for one clear term has been seen as not as important as getting to work and just simply doing the job of whatever K-action one is involved with; but I still think defining something with one term will eventually bring greater connectivity and broader usage to achieve greater results. So, the KMb push to agree on what term – knowledge mobilization – continues.

    • KMbeing March 31, 2011 at 8:34 am

      Thanks for your comment Bronwynne. Seeing the value of knowledge beyond one sector is knowledge mobilization. I continue to argue that “muddying the waters” with diverse terminology only makes the knowledge waters less healthier to drink, and more difficult to see clearly. Glad you enjoyed the blog.

  2. Gerald Meinert March 24, 2011 at 5:57 am

    I will go for Knowledge Mobilization, as it is broad – and meaningful. As it shall benefit society, it shall engage all parts of the society, so also yes, a one-way street is too small for the ambition. For example it wouldn’t be an umbrella for Knowledge Demanding – the other side of the Knowledge Sharing coin. And as a global corporate player, Ericsson feels it responsibility among academic, but also beyond (coming soon). I claim that we still have not investigated all the modes of mobilizing knowledge for the benefit of society, so limiting on particular mechanism is not helping to join forces.
    Go, Knowledge Mobilization!


    • KMbeing March 31, 2011 at 8:31 am

      Thanks Gerald,
      Glad to see you are seeing the implications of Knowledge Mobilization for the greater benefit of society, not just as a way of managing knowledge for the internal benefit of a company or corporate structure.

  3. researchimpact March 24, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I am not sure any disagrees with KMbeing, at least no one in the K-practitioner field. There are K-researchers who appreciate and specifically use concepts of knowledge translation and some K-practitioners who practice the distinctions. For example, our ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries ( are one example of pure knowledge translation. They form part of a suite of KMb services but themselves are not KMb.

    The problem becomes not one of will but of emotion. We are all tied emotionally to our brand. just as Kleenex will not become facial tissues and Skidoo won’t become snowmobiles, similarly OMAFRA isn’t about to change from KTT to KMb and CIHR cannot legally change their KT to KMb because it is part of their legislation (“…to create new knowledge and translate that knowledge into…”.

    You’ve made the case for why KMb.

    Now tell us your thoughts on how to get there.

  4. Peter Levesque March 25, 2011 at 7:15 pm


    Good article.

    A lesson that the knowledge mobilization (or insert favorite word here) community can learn is taken from the social innovation community:

    Definitions of social innovation abound and a casual observer can quickly become entangled in a debate over meaning and nuance. We’re not too hung up about it so we’ve adopted a simple working definition: Social Innovation refers to new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet. A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges.

    As a practitioner, I let the research/academic argue over definitions. I use what is useful to my clients and my practice. What is not useful quickly falls away. I called my company “Knowledge Mobilization Works” because I believe it is both descriptive and true – knowledge mobilization works to help make what we know ready for action to build value. This is the definition I use.

    It is easy to get caught up in debate that circles, and circles, and circles until we are dizzy. I need a clear head to help my clients work through the issues that are most important to them. This is what guides my work – helping people work on issues that are most important from their perspective. Frankly if they wanted to call it “Knowledge Cabbage” I would work with that.

    Keep the conversation going.


    • KMbeing March 31, 2011 at 8:18 am

      Various definitions may abound, but that doesn’t mean various definitions are effective at providing the best possible knowledge and understanding. Communication at its heart is being able to understand and convey in the clearest, possible language. The better the understanding, the better knowledge is developed and communicated. Terminology that creates barriers to knowledge and understanding or cause definitional confusion – such as “K-Star” and “Knowledge Cabbage” (I know you were only using this to present your point) – only continue to “muddy the waters” and do not create overall value beyond one group.

      I think as a practitioner, it’s time to move beyond letting the researchers/academics argue over definitions and work together on an agreed term. Isn’t that also part of what knowledge mobilization is all about? Using terminology that is only useful to your clients or practice seems like a limiting use of the inherent purpose of knowledge mobilization in the first place. As you rightly put it, “to help make what we know ready for action to build value”. But knowledge mobilization is about value for the benefit of all society…not just segments. It is more far-reaching in scope. If a knowledge process remains limited to value for only a few, I would argue it may be knowledge management rather than knowledge mobilization.

      The process of knowledge mobilization is always looking beyond what works for one group and seeing its effective applications and inclusiveness for all of society. What works for one group may not always work for another, but that’s where including others to see what changes might need to occur and listening to their knowledge to inform decisions that will create effective changes is what defines knowledge mobilization.

  5. Pingback: Evidence-Informed Policymaking: A Collaborative Workshop – REPORT « KMbeing

  6. Alex Bielak October 22, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Hi there again:
    I had posted a response yonks ago but it never went thru. I thought I would try and square the circle and note that KStar is the predominant term used in the report of the 2012 KMb Forum published yesterday by the Levesque of Knowledge Mobilization Works Also look out for the KStar Concept Paper and Case Studies to appear later this week on the UNU-INWEH website. (The ~80pp report has just gone to print and makes a good case for KStar. The case studies include one by David Phipps.

    • KMbeing October 23, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks Alex for your comments and for the link to the Knowledge Mobilization forum page, along with expected future information about the KStar Concept Paper and Case Studies. As you know, although I have my own opinions about the importance of the use of terminology to describe Knowledge Mobilization (KMb), I am certainly open to any ideas that continue to promote the significance of knowledge sharing and social collaboration. I appreciate your views and look forward to any further – especially about the case studies from David Phipps.

  7. Alex Bielak October 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

    whoops – that was Peter Levesque. He may be THE Levesque too:-)

  8. Enrique Mendizabal November 7, 2012 at 5:00 am

    Excellent. But we should note that most people who say knowledge really meant information. On the k* issue (which could also stand for Knonsense):

  9. Pingback: The Difference between Knowledge Exchange (KE) & Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) | KMbeing

  10. Pingback: Knowledge Mobilization “Borders without Boundaries” Includes the Third Sector | KMbeing

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