KMbeing

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

Knowledge Brokers – A Solution For Social Benefit

kmb-model-final

Thankfully, there are many Social Science and Humanities researchers today who imagine new possibilities to understand and improve social issues – ultimately it’s hoped to overcome some of the world’s wicked problems.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences states the world needs “agile and well-rounded thinkers who can assess and adapt to change, analyze trends, communicate effectively, and consider the past to better prepare for the future.” These are people who think about social issues and benefits that go far beyond currently available resources, approaches and sectors.  Such researchers imagine new methods through knowledge mobilization (KMb) that produce evidence-informed results to create social benefit and change more holistically – even beyond the original research itself.

Sadly there are other researchers still stuck in the past using the same archaic research techniques that have worked for them for decades without any use or regard for knowledge mobilization (KMb). These “comfortable” researchers simply churn out results with the same limiting research methodologies – paper after paper, conference after conference. Similarly there are research institutions which churn out unengaged policy after unengaged policy.  Both institutions and researchers within them think this is sufficient enough for “social benefit and change” in today’s research world without any regard for the broader benefit to the world at large beyond their own limiting research circles.

For researchers adopting KMb approaches their research is informed by a wider range of multi-directional knowledge exchange. These KMb Social Science and Humanities researchers scale and scope knowledge as broadly and efficiently as one possibly can to include others in their research methods and knowledge translation – not just “professionals or colleagues”.

That’s where knowledge brokers come into the research process.  They bring in knowledge of networks. They bring in connections. They bring in understanding of new technologies for knowledge translation and exchange. They make sure that research ideas can be widely disseminated, evidence-informed from a variety of stakeholders, and then made openly available to society in the most effective manner in ways that bring wider benefit not just in the researcher’s realm but across sectors. Social Science and Humanities research is inherently broad in its social and human elements, stemming from many different contexts to help us understand our common social context of humanity.

Isn’t that the point of Social Science and Humanities research in the first place? To help us understand social issues in our own context and in other contexts, comparing and contrasting to somehow find solutions that can create the greatest research impact locally and ultimately globally?

There are some who still think it “idealistic” for researchers to make use of knowledge brokers as recently pointed out in a compelling blog. The blog suggests the possibility of cutting out knowledge brokers as a “cumbersome link to the chain of knowledge translation” by asking: “What if several researchers and decision makers met regularly to monitor and discuss ways of managing access to knowledge, to solve practical problems?”

What if I want to get from point A to point B without a map, a directional or transportation device or other resources to do so? Would simply wishing this to happen without the appropriate tools or resources make it happen? What about some of the obstacles that I might encounter along the way from point A to point B that might require new ways, inputs and detours to eventually get me to my destination?

Knowledge translation isn’t just linear A to B (researcher to decision maker).  This appears even more idealistic.  Knowledge brokerage is professional, intermediary support to guide as a map, tool or resource required to help traverse the structural issues around professional boundaries and organizational norms and environments of researchers, policy-makers and many other stakeholders. Cutting the knowledge broker link in the chain only destroys the strength of the chain and leaves incomplete loops in the intersecting circles.

One of the better definitions of a knowledge broker is from The in-between world of knowledge brokering by John Lomas that I mentioned in an earlier blog about the history of KMb. Knowledge brokers “link decision makers with researchers, facilitating their interaction so that they are able to better understand each other’s goals and professional cultures, influence each other’s work, forge new partnerships, and promote the use of research-based evidence in decision-making.” The irony of this often-quoted and important definition from Lomas is that this article – and many of the articles that continue to quote this definition – are still behind pay-walls and accessible only to “professionals” instead of being open-access. The 2007 article was forward thinking for researchers then and now about knowledge brokerage and KMb – yet it’s still stuck in the past using an old form of knowledge “translation” behind a research repository.

Together researchers and knowledge brokers create knowledge for social benefit with a variety of partners and stakeholders and create change that didn’t exist before. Together researchers and knowledge brokers broaden the research process that differs from research being done in the past.

However, as with all things, there are times when great research remains locked away on the shelf as policy makers decide which resources society “needs” to be allocated for the next big political game.  As illustrated in the model above, this is when governmental, corporate, academic and community leaders need to intersect and work together to help research organizations and society reorient themselves to recognize that what had been great research methodologies and translation/dissemination techniques for the last 20 or 30 years are no longer as effective for social benefit as they used to be.  Knowledge brokers are an important part of the solution for social benefit if researchers – especially Social Science and Humanities researchers – sincerely want to make the world a better place.

7 responses to “Knowledge Brokers – A Solution For Social Benefit

  1. ResearchImpact (@researchimpact) December 1, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Nice point about knowledge brokers being an important link in the chain. As you point out all links in a chain are mutually reinforcing. Knowledge brokers play an important role in this chain. I do believe that some researchers can be their own knowledge brokers but these are few as the academic research paradigm does not encourage the development of these skills. Some researchers can patent their own technologies and are effective entrepreneurs. The majority of them rely on professional university industry liaison offices. Similarly some researchers are effective knowledge brokers but many are most effectively supported by professionally trained knowledge brokers such as those provided by the ResearchImpact group of universities.

    We all have a role to play in the research to action process: researchers, students, knowledge brokers and stakeholder organizations. The sand box is big enough for us all to play in.

    • KMbeing December 1, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Thanks for your comment. I like the analogy of the sand box and I think just like playing in that sandbox we all have to learn to get along and make things work for everyone. I agree that some researchers are capable of taking on the role of knowledge broker; however, as you point out knowledge brokers develop skills that most researchers don’t have that contribute to the research to action process.

  2. Sharon Mickan December 2, 2013 at 9:32 am

    great metaphor about enough room in the sand box – called the sandpit in UK and Australia!
    it is all about rules and language – is it knowledge brokering or translation; health or social science; Canada or the rest of the world?
    so I guess it comes down to diagrams and descriptions – and for me I am still looking for the universal instrumental description to move healthcare researchers and clinicians several steps closer together…

  3. Tilahun Nigatu December 2, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    This given a better insight about what knowledge brokering roles are and who should be knowledge brokers. These roles are still blurred. But through more discussions and interactions, I hope, will be clear. There is also a very bad research culture that can brutally affect the quality of research and the reputation of researchers. In order for a research to be used, it should be standard quality and we have to trust the researchers. Have a look at the seven tricks here: http://publication2application.org/2013/11/27/life-by-publication-the-7-tricks/

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