KMbeing

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

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.

One response to “Universities & Research In A Knowledge Society

  1. Pingback: Record of the Week (Week of 17 February) « STS Turntable

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