KMbeing

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

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Universities & Research In A Knowledge Society

paradigm shift

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) produces the potential to “cross-pollinate” knowledge and address complex challenges confronting society. KMb actively encourages making research useful to society. As such, both universities and communities have an important role to play in this process.

Today universities are no longer the strongholds of exclusive research and learning. We now live in a knowledge society that has created a variety of ways of doing research and developing knowledge – from socially conscious business development research to community-based participatory research to MOOCs to individual research online – all contributing to social benefit beyond the once elite-world of university-driven research.

KMb enables a multi-sectoral production to developing knowledge in our new knowledge society that can inform policy-makers in supporting the ability to create social change for social benefit. Because of this, KMb has reshaped the way universities need to think about community-university relations by creating opportunities of interdisciplinary engagement (within universities) and cross-sector engagement (externally).

Yet, just because we have experienced a knowledge revolution and now live in a knowledge society doesn’t mean universities don’t have a continuing and valuable research role to play. It just means universities need to adapt to this new paradigm as many industries needed to adapt during the industrial revolution.

Universities are the primary generators of new talent. Universities provide leverage, consistency, and the infrastructure that can’t be matched by the new knowledge society model of non-university research. It’s one of the extraordinary success stories of academia throughout the ages that they’ve been able to have such a worldwide impact with established structures and resources. As our research choices and our knowledge society continue to increase (yes, non-academic research continues to grow) it gets ever more important that universities make conscious choices about what knowledge mobilization strategies they want to support and how. Added to this are the pressures from grant funding agencies that require a social and economic return on investment from universities.

2014 saw the completion of a new approach (and pressures) in the UK with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to assess the quality and impact of research being done by UK universities. Assessment outcomes are now being done and UK funding agencies intend to use these assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their research funding to universities beginning in 2015-16.

Australia also has the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) with the next round of research evaluations scheduled for 2015.

Although no such frameworks exists for universities in Canada or the Unites States, granting agencies are now requiring university researchers to articulate knowledge mobilization strategies in their grant applications to achieve outcomes of social and economic excellence.

Sociologist Joseph Ben-David – who died in 1986 – was prophetic in his book The Western University on Trial. Ben-David pointed out the then-emerging circumstances leading to these current pressures on universities today by identifying the shifting movement towards inclusion of non-academics in the decisions affecting university research. He saw the initial pessimism about the decline of university research (particularly scientific research) during his time in the 1970s and 80s which has now lead to the inevitable paradigm shift in university research that we see today.

Almost 30 years later there are still universities who are falling behind without a focus on research excellence and multi-sectoral, non-academic engagement to develop research in our knowledge society through knowledge mobilization strategies. Like industries lost in the industrial revolution, these universities will be left behind, shut down and forgotten if they also don’t adapt.

The thing about paradigm shifts is that they don’t happen overnight, yet those that don’t adapt die out. So, perhaps there’s still time.

The following are a few questions that may help universities and researchers think about how they want to allocate knowledge mobilization strategies and develop research excellence for social and economic benefit:

  • Is your university drawn to research that meets the needs of institutional “self-interest” right now, or to research that works towards long-term solutions that benefit society (not just the university) for the future?
  • Does your university prefer to support proven community-research partnerships or does more inward-focused research appeal to you?
  • How much institutional research impact and leverage do you seek?
  • Is your university still a research “spectator” watching how other universities excel in community-university partnerships or is your university more actively involved in creating potential community engagement?
  • How much of your university research activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the university, and how much from unprompted funding? (Hint: universities do a lot of outreach because it benefits society, not because a granting agency tells them to. Universities will get more recognition by how they engage.)
  • What story do you tell yourself about your university and your community-university engagement?
  • Are you overly-focused on the number of peer-reviewed publications from your university researchers? Or does it make more sense to focus on the university’s research impact as it goes about creating social benefit? How will you decide to measure that research impact for social benefit, or does it not matter to you?

There are no perfect universities just as there are no perfect human beings. But the imperfection of human beings doesn’t keep us from engaging with each other – we just pick the “right fit” that best serves our mutual needs. The same goes with community-university engagement. Not every “cross-pollination” of knowledge will work in each context – but engaging with others outside the university to find the “right fit” in research is better than being isolated and being the university left behind in this new paradigm our knowledge society.

A New University Paradigm

university

Universities are considered one of our most reliable and cherished knowledge sectors with great expectations of delivering quality education and world-leading research. There has been increased pressure on universities for financial income and resources along with increased pressure from government granting agencies that expect a valuable public and/or private return of investment for providing research funding. With the creation of CIHR in 2000, Canadian health researchers were required to articulate knowledge translation strategies in their grant applications. Some NSERC funding programs require commercialization strategies. In 2011 SSHRC launched its renewed program architecture which requires all grant applications to have a knowledge mobilization strategy. This created an expectation that universities will effectively address social and economic issues and spend their money wisely – along with a mandate from the granting councils to incorporate knowledge mobilization and technology commercialization strategies into research grant applications.

So why aren’t some universities still not doing this?

If universities are to deliver the most promising benefits of knowledge and research for society and meaningfully follow funding guidelines an approach needs to be considered about how research is conducted. This approach needs to include those inside and outside the university who contribute to the research and social/economic innovation process. This is where knowledge mobilization comes in.  Yet many universities still have an unenthusiastic and unresponsive attitude to integrating knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies into the university structure itself.  Many universities still do not have an actual knowledge mobilization unit within their university, or worse have a great misunderstanding of what knowledge mobilization actually is and how to do it successfully – which is also often the reason why they fail to receive funding from granting agencies and continue to struggle financially.

The old university paradigm of receiving funding without a knowledge mobilization strategy is dead.

Universities see themselves to be in a risky situation as a result of economic pressures combined with increasing demand for quality research to provide social benefit.  In a climate of uncertain funding and a greater demand for valuable research, understanding how knowledge mobilization can bring opportunities to improve research, create social and economic innovation and affect government policy needs to be considered. When this is done it leads to important social and economic change.

Community-University partnerships and engagement are not new and have been around for at least a decade. Some examples include CUPP Brighton UK, CUP Alberta, Canadian Social Economy Hub, Emory University Center for Community Partnerships, and Concordia University’s Office of Community Engagement. In an informative journal club post David Phipps also discusses Mobilising knowledge in community-university partnerships.

So some universities get it and are definitely ahead of the game as the public sector benefits from these community-university collaborations.  Yet there are other universities who continue to ignore the broader benefits of such synergies. This is where greater work needs to be done to help the universities who continue to be stuck in old academic-infrastructure paradigms and help sustain community-university partnerships programs that do exist by the institutions themselves.

Developing long-term knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies involves commitment and greater cooperation from all bodies of the university – staff, students, faculty, deans, vice-presidents, and governing councils; and most importantly from the university president.  It’s about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations to provide differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit that includes engagement within and beyond the walls of the university from many directions.

The greater return on investment for social benefit requires a broader approach to have faculty, university research services, knowledge mobilization unit knowledge brokers and university industry liaison offices work together across sectors instead of as separate university contacts and entities. A great start of this integrated approach comes from the University of Alberta which has amalgamated the Industry Liaison Office, the Research Grants Office and components of Research and Trust Accounting into an integrated Research Services Office. U of A thinks “the move to a “one-stop shop” provides researchers with more effective and streamlined services, with enhanced accountability and productivity.” However, a truly integrated approach that maximizes the impact of university research would also include a knowledge mobilization unit.

Canada has ten universities that are part of ResearchImpact – a knowledge mobilization network with further examples of such integrated structures. UQAM engages both research services and technology transfer in their support of knowledge mobilization; Offices of research services at both Wilfrid Laurier University and York University include technology commercialization as well as York’s KMb Unit as research grant support; and University of Victoria combines research partnerships and knowledge mobilization (but this does not include grants).

Another interesting pan university approach to supporting innovation is the appointment of Angus Livingstone and Innovation Catalyst. Formerly head of the UILO, Angus took up this new post in February 2014. It is too early to know what impact this new position will have but one can only hope that it embraces social as well as economic and technology innovation.

A further set-back for Canadian universities is the recent Canadian government announcement in its 2014 budget of a $10-million College Social Innovation Fund connecting colleges with community-based applied research needs of community organizations.  Colleges and polytechnic institutions have traditionally been places for trade learning and apprenticeship. It now looks like they are stepping up into the league of universities to create social and economic innovation. It may be great news for colleges – not so much for universities; especially those who haven’t already started community-university engagement.

This infusion of capital into Canadian colleges for social innovation development has set back any future benefit and funding for Canadian universities who have not yet understood the connection between knowledge mobilization and social innovation, thereby creating a missed opportunity for certain universities to gain the lead on investment in knowledge mobilization and social and economic innovation.

As the saying goes…you snooze, you lose! So is your university a winner or a loser? 

Combining university knowledge mobilization units with university research services and industry liaison offices that engage with both community partnerships and business innovation opportunities all in a “one-stop-shop” can bring great returns on investment – socially and economically – for universities and communities – but some universities are sadly still far behind.

 

The Success of Making Connections Matter!

Making Connections Matter UK

On February 3rd & 4th 2014 I attended the 1st UK Knowledge Mobilisation (KMb) Forum (spelled mobilization with a “z” in North America) which took place in London with tremendous success! The theme of the event was  Making Connections Matter – which certainly lived up to its name.  Great thanks goes to Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) for hosting the event that brought together about 60 attendees from across the UK.

Cathy Howe who attended our Canadian Forum last year from the UK was an incredible conference coordinator and forum lead. Cathy helped facilitate genuine connections across a variety of sectors in an environment of sharing experiences and challenges.

After attending last year’s Canadian event Cathy realized the potential for such a gathering in the UK “to achieve better services and better lives” through knowledge mobilization activities. By bringing together individuals from diverse organizations, professions and communities, the UK Forum provided learning and professional development that offered surprisingly valuable insights and similar experiences across a range of fields and experiences.

A Canadian group was excited to attend, including David Phipps from ResearchImpact, Peter Levesque from the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization and myself from KMbeing Knowledge Mobilization Support Services.

I heard someone say that they had not heard of any other multi-sectoral conference like this ever taking place in the UK as events always seem to be so “specialized” and discipline-specific. The UK Forum participants came from a mix of areas that included government policy advisors; economics and evaluation; health research; youth & criminal justice; cancer research; social investment; women’s health; prison & corrections; freelance writing; science; non-governmental organizations; knowledge management; families & relationships; pharmacy; and a variety of university scholars, administrators and community organizations – all in one room and at one event.

There was even an opportunity for remote participants to attend and in-person attendees to interact with people from SecondLife. I must admit I initially had my doubts about the feasibility of bringing “virtual” people to the UK Forum – yet these concerns were quickly gone when I saw the value that remote participants added to the event. Forum posters were available for viewing in SecondLife and presentations were live-streamed in a virtual auditorium as remote participants joined in by social media. There was even a SecondLife attendee who won first-place in a poster competition and provided a very impressive display of using SecondLife as an inclusive conference extension tool to bring people together at such forums from around the world.  One SecondLife participant @GeorgeJulian has even posted a blog about the virtual experience.

#UKKMbF14 was also used to comment on Twitter.

All in all the UK Forum achieved above-and-beyond what it set out to do. I’m sure the important cross-sector relationships and momentum that was started by this first forum will continue. I look forward to bringing back to Canada the success of this UK event and sharing this international extension of our “sister” forum at the upcoming Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum 2014 on June 9th and 10th in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I’m also excited about returning next year to the 2nd UK Forum expected to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Hope to see you there – or maybe even in SecondLife!

Attending the UK Knowledge Mobilisation (KMb) Forum 2014

UK KMb Fourm 14

Why attend the UK Knowledge Mobilisation (KMb) Forum 2014? It’s a genuinely important question to ask as there are so many other events or conferences that you may be considering attending this year.

The UK KMb Forum is a continuum of engaged relationships that developed out of the 2013 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization (spelled with a “z” in North America) KMb Forum in Toronto where almost 150 attendees from 10 countries gathered. I am excited to attend from Canada this inaugural “sister” event in the UK. The event takes place February 3rd to 4th in London -with the theme Making Connections Matter. As one of the organisers and report writers of the Canadian events, I am pleased to see this theme as an international extension after Cathy Howe attended our Canadian Forum last year from the UK.

Here are 10 reasons why it’s important to attend the first UK KMb Forum:

  1. The UK KMb Forum will provide an opportunity to learn about key issues in the knowledge mobilisation field that pertain to a wide variety of sectors.  Attendees at the Canadian Forum came from a mix of sectors including health, academia, children & youth services, workplace safety, environment, addictions & mental health, education, disability services, business, agriculture, domestic violence and social services – and the UK KMb Forum promises a similar mix.
  2. The UK KMb Forum is a place to meet people and learn about organizations addressing how to make research more useful to society through knowledge mobilisation activities.  Just as its Canadian counterpart, the UK Forum will provide learning and professional development experiences for students, practitioners and scholars working in knowledge mobilisation from around the world.
  3. The UK KMb Forum will bring people together who have established a relationship on social media and will provide in-person connections from those relationships – as well as continue to invite remote participants to join via social media.  It will also initiate new relationships with others that can be continued by social media.
  4. The UK KMb Forum will be a chance to learn about professional and student jobs, projects and funding possibilities that further advance and compliment the successes of such outcomes that were created by the Canadian Forum as part of the work we are engaged in as KMb professionals.
  5. The UK KMb Forum will offer valuable insight into the experiences of others who face challenges similar to yours, as well as learning about approaches to find concrete solutions to create benefit from the results of research in your field and other sectors.
  6. The UK KMb Forum will present opportunities to learn about publications and other KMb resources relevant to your areas of interest, and create ideas for articles, books, blogs and other professional and social media writing.
  7. The UK KMb Forum promises to help establish and strengthen existing partnerships locally and globally in promoting knowledge mobilisation efforts around the world.
  8. The UK KMb Forum will identify opportunities for knowledge mobilisation within various professions and the possibility of developing communities of practice (CoPs) within your own local community.
  9. The UK KMb Forum will provide a space for you to demonstrate your commitment to your profession in making the world a better place through knowledge mobilisation efforts.
  10. The UK KMb Forum is taking place in a world-class city allowing you to become familiar with the area, culture and entertainment that makes London an ideal place to hold the UK’s first Knowledge Mobilisation Forum.

For further information click here.  I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow knowledge mobilisers (or mobilizers) at the KMb Forum!