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

Monthly Archives: January 2014

Beyond Fragmented Research Knowledge


Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is about taking a holistic view to make research useful to society – and ultimately to make our world a better place for everyone.

It’s impossible to know the whole if we do not seek to understand the parts of it.  It’s also impossible to move beyond the fragments if we do not seek to benefit the whole.

Researchers often narrowly focus on research projects in their own institutions and disciplines without taking the time to think about how such research can also connect and benefit further beyond the area or institution where the research is being done.

Fragmented knowledge limits us in being able to grasp how to begin to approach an understanding of local research that can fit into a beneficial global research perspective. KMb leads to social innovation and social innovation leads to making the world a better place. Keeping our knowledge fragmented within limiting techniques do not produce greater learning beyond the confines of our own research circles – and is only self-serving research.

KMb is about creating relationships with others and creating new knowledge beyond fragmented research, beyond one’s institution and beyond one’s self. I cringe when I hear post-graduate students speak about doing research for their Master’s degree or PhD.  That’s the “old-school” way of thinking about doing research. That’s the self-serving reason for doing research. Research needs to be more than just for a degree. If a student isn’t deeply interested from the very core of their being to make a holistic difference in this world – even with their initial student research – I suggest they stop their studies right now and think about doing something else.

Research today is about incorporating KMb techniques into academia and teaching students about moving beyond fragmented research knowledge. The Faculty of Education at York University is offering a pilot Certificate Program in Knowledge Mobilization for graduate students particularly with this in mind.  Students need to learn that they are doing research for public benefit with a holistic view that requires a sense of responsibility and commitment that can connect individual research to other disciplines, community sectors and regions around the world. This is the future-thinking about connected research.

I also cringe when I hear researchers speak about doing research for their institution, organization or discipline without any thought about how they can connect this fragmented knowledge to other institutions, disciplines, organizations – or community-based social circles. This question needs to be asked at the very beginning of any research plan. The problem with fragmented knowledge within disciplines is that it continues to maintain self-serving boundaries that unwittingly limit knowledge and social innovation – feeding into the very ignorance that researchers are attempting to overcome.

What is most alarming is when academic institutions themselves restrict research for their institution by refusing to create cooperative opportunities with other universities, colleges or community groups to learn from each other and work with each other to achieve the fundamental goal of making research useful to society.  I’ve seen examples of egotistical universities who refuse to work with other universities and ignore or misunderstand what knowledge mobilization is really about strictly because of an out-dated sense of superiority ranking or some administrative agenda. Fundamentally, research isn’t about institutional or individual pride – it’s about making a holistic difference in the world.

We only need look at our history on this planet to see where fragmentation leads. Why do we never learn? Individuals in society label themselves “left” or “right” to create safe spaces of comfort and identity. Yet even today and far too often, divisive societies who fragment themselves into such extremes end up only destroying opportunities (and sadly even lives) to learn and develop cooperative knowledge that can bring us closer together. It’s not a pretty picture.

It’s the same for institutions and researchers who fragment their knowledge. Certainly not with the same tragic results from the social (and sadly violent) extremes of “right” or “left” – yet the underlying fragmentation is the same.  Many disciplines or institutions have no desire to learn or ask what type of diverse knowledge can contribute to their own research.

Fortunately this is not always the case. A great example of universities and researchers who are working together to move beyond their limiting academic boundaries, beyond their fragmented knowledge and beyond the community/academia divide is ResearchImpact – a group of ten Canadian universities who are following a successful KMb model that’s taking research towards greater community-campus collaboration and greater social innovation.

I once was told by the President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization, Peter Levesque, that ultimately knowledge mobilization is an act of love. I think at its core this holds true for research too.

Love that is fragmented is self-serving love. Research that is fragmented is self-serving research. 

It’s time to move beyond fragmented research knowledge with knowledge mobilization and make research useful – not just for our institutions or ourselves – but for society as a whole.


Problems Of Taking Research To Policy

Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.

The goal of knowledge mobilization is to take research to policy and make research useful to society. Ideally researchers want to inform government policy – however government policy can also inform or ignore research. In the world of politicians where lobbyists sometimes make backroom deals, the idea of transparency is often put forward to the public as a key value for politicians – yet regrettably is sometimes not the case.

The following are the three biggest problems and main obstacles to overcome to take research to policy and achieve policy results from research:

1)       The divisive government system itself.  Here in Canada, due to the very nature of a partisan political system, a mindset exists that already inhibits any politician’s desire to make their opponents’ research interests their own. Instead of working together we hear more about politicians wanting to win for the party rather than win for the public. When promises are already made by politicians who already have a set political agenda about the research that is actually selected for policy – it’s difficult to listen to other politicized views let alone research being done for public benefit.  Perhaps instead of seeing politicians as opposition parties we can begin to push politicians to become more consensus decision making parties as the parliamentarian and democratic systems of politics were originally meant and valued to be.

2)      Time constraints. Another factor that inhibits effective knowledge mobilization is the time limitations of political terms and the drawn-out process of peer-review for research. The current system of turning research into action for social benefit takes time which is compounded by the fact that politicians only pick a few issues during office. Relevant and timely research can often become missed opportunities or worse – become abandoned altogether when new politicians are elected without any regard for long-term social benefit of the research instead of the politics of the research. Knowledge mobilization supports more open access in the research process – both politically and academically. Yet, it appears that politicians and academics still have a long way to go.

3)      The electorate. A final obstacle is the voters themselves – who may not necessarily be interested in the same research to policy agenda that the politicians are – or they have become so disillusioned by the political process that they become complacent and opt out of taking any action as they no longer feel or recognize that they have a voice to be heard. Knowledge mobilization is about using that voice to be heard – not just by voting, but also by being given other opportunities to be heard. The government process overly focuses on divisive votes instead of consensus-making values and is one of the main barriers to knowledge mobilization in achieving research to policy. A solution is to get conversations between politicians and the electorate in a “safe place” that isn’t politicized – which includes public consultations within communities.  Voters need to feel like their voices are being heard to seek change to benefit everyone in society everyday – not just on Election Day based on a political agenda or affiliation of one particular political party. The bottom line is if you can’t mobilize voters you can’t effectively mobilize knowledge.

Breaking down barriers is at the heart of knowledge mobilization and social innovation. The partisan nature of limiting research to policy needs to be momentarily put aside for the more significant issues that affect the general public (like health, education, poverty and the environment) to become a priority. It’s important to have regular public consultations in the political process while acknowledging the current political barriers and divisiveness that exists.

Although it may seem a rather gloomy prospect for any researcher to get their findings into policy based on such political and social barriers, researchers are encouraged to continue with the process of research through knowledge mobilization with the hope that some of that research might make it over the hurdles of the political obstacles that continue to exist.


Knowledge Mobilization for Social & Economic Innovation

CKF 14

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is making research useful to society. As such KMb is a process that enables social innovation. Social innovation stems from KMb initiatives between community and academia that is moving beyond community engagement to partnerships that lead to more far-reaching ideas and strategies.

 “A Social Innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

Stanford University Centre for Social Innovation

A social innovation addresses the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental impacts. All of humanity is affected by economic, social and environmental impacts – not just a few people in a few different countries in this world.  Organizations like Social Innovation Generation (SIG: McConnell Family Foundation; MaRS Discovery District; The Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience and SIG@PLAN Institute) are working together to provide learning resources about creating conditions for social innovation.

Social innovation takes a systems approach to address social needs in an altruistic, collaborative and inclusive manner. Collaboration must occur among all sectors of society in order to create a fundamental shift in the development of social programs to cross the borders of societal gaps, create effective change and come closer to overcoming wicked problems. Sadly, the ongoing global struggle for human rights continues with each generation of our humanity and in each generation we perhaps come a few steps closer – and yet take so many unfortunate steps backwards – to become a better society and a better humanity.

This past week I attended Systems Change: Facing Canada’s toughest challenges presented as part of the MaRS Global Leadership series. The guest speaker was Joeri van den Steenhoven who presented on how we have transitioned into a knowledge society – specifically between the years 1969 to 1989.

Joeri specifically cited these years because in 1969 ARPANET (a military backed project within universities and the precursor to the Internet) established a link between the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Stanford Research Institute. In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, an independent contractor at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) proposed a large hypertext database with typed links to overcome the problems of information and data sharing over the Internet by physicists from around the world (leading to the creation of the world-wide-web). Stemming from a government funded military project within academia the Internet has now emerged as a knowledge mobilization platform for all of society to participate in sharing knowledge and making research useful to society. This was reinforced at Joeri’s talk by a question from a 19 year old who referred to the Internet as his generation’s infrastructure.

Joeri states the emergence of the knowledge society will be our society’s legacy as it transforms how government policy change to address social needs starts to give voice to all sectors of society to develop solutions within and by society – not just for society.  Joeri suggests that social innovation enabled by those like MaRS Solutions Lab can lead to policy change that is more collaborative with all sectors of society at the systems level, and he thinks Canada’s toughest challenges facing systems issues are #1 the health system; #2 food; #3 the future of learning and work; and #4 the future of government.

Today knowledge mobilization provides opportunities for social innovation to emerge and address such systems level challenges. This important connection must be properly understood for social innovation to be implemented and for research to have any lasting impact.  With this in mind, the 2014 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum (CKF14) will focus on “Putting Research to Work – economic and social innovations”. Following the success of previous Forums, CKF14 will examine the results of knowledge mobilization activities that lead to social and economic innovation for individuals, families, communities, businesses, non-profit organizations and international collaborative agencies.  It will be a valuable opportunity to present how knowledge mobilization is making research useful to society through social innovation. If you’re interested in creating social change through knowledge mobilization why not join us in June in Saskatoon!

Passion About Research By Knowledge Mobilization


This is a follow up to my earlier blog post about why should researchers blog & tweet. I could continue listing the usual “tips and reasons” to set researchers on their way. However, I want to follow up to my previous blog with something essential that I forgot to mention – the most important tip and underlying reason that sets the tone for blogging and using twitter over anything else:

If you’re not interested in your own research and how it can benefit others you will never be interested in blogging or tweeting about it!

Researchers become interested in a particular field of study for a reason.  Research is about presenting data that initially stems from some personal curiosity or experience.  Academic writing stems from wanting to find out more, understand more and educate others about a particular phenomenon that stimulates this initial curiosity or explains personal experiences – and hopefully comes from a desire to create change for good and not harm.

Many researchers become involved in a particular discipline not necessarily with the professional distance of “unbiased observer” that most of the public assume. It’s often because the topic of interest hits closer to home in their own life experiences:

  • The oncology researcher who has known the personal pain of cancer or has seen a family member or friend die from this multi-inflicting disease
  • The Alzheimer’s researcher who has watched a parent or spouse slowly lose the light of recognition and memory
  • The bullying researcher who has survived the torments of teasing or has been a bully and learned the consequences
  • The psychology researcher who deals with their own private stigma of behavioral concerns
  • The engineering researcher who extends into adulthood an initial childhood excitement of awe and wonder about shapes, construction and the use of machines
  • The biology researcher who has always marveled at the flow and diversity of life
  • The history researcher who is fascinated by past cultures and periods of time to remind us about what history can teach us about our own existence and the future when first being read bedtime stories
  • The linguistics researcher who knows and wants to make known that the world is filled with many ways to say the same things after hearing someone speak a different language for the first time

I like to call this “me-search” not just research. In explaining to others they end up explaining more about themselves and their deeper reasons for doing research in the first place.  Just as researchers need to be interested – even personally passionate – about the research they’re doing, I urge researchers to primarily blog & tweet from this underlying motivation.  It’s not about how many blog or twitter followers you have. It’s about your personal passion for the research you’re doing.

Otherwise all of the tips and reasons in the world that can be presented will do nothing to get researchers to blog or tweet.

Perhaps this is why some researchers aren’t really interested in blogging or tweeting in the first place because their research has simply become a cycle of “going through the motions” of academic expectations, deadlines, or personal gain rather than educational opportunities. Or perhaps it simply comes down to not knowing the benefits of blogging and tweeting about your research

Some researchers will argue they don’t have time to blog or tweet. Planning time use is essential when there are many demands on your time – including how you share your research and knowledge.  If you are personally passionate about the research you do you know that making time to share this passion is important.  Blogging and twitter can promote your research, engage with the community and make academic and other connections –  and blogging and tweeting is an important part of knowledge mobilization. Researchers who are passionate about their research want to make it known.

Make your me-search your research. Show how it can benefit others by knowledge mobilization with more immediacy and responsiveness through social media and you will be showing your passion about research.