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

Monthly Archives: March 2014

Fasten Your Seatbelts For Open-Access & Knowledge Mobilization

fasten seat belt

Maybe years from now academics will reflect on a time when the process of peer-review submissions for journal publication of research findings was like taking a several hours or days journey by horse and buggy that today might take us less than an hour to complete by car, train, bus or airplane. We can start to reflect on the changing view of academics to become more accepting of open access journals yet we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of peer-review itself to ensure quality control and verification.  Open-access allows for faster publication and faster access – yet that doesn’t mean speed doesn’t have its own dangers, or that we don’t take responsibility ourselves to not be fooled by everything we read as “accurate knowledge”.

Researchers know that the archaic and painstaking process of old-style peer-review submissions can often take upwards of a year to finally get published. Criticisms around the timeliness and relevance of making the data known creates barriers that can limit the effectiveness of presenting the research knowledge to other researchers and to the public.

Open-access journals for faster publication of research findings have now also finally started to gain respectability among scientists as a mode of broader knowledge dissemination to a public interested in being included in knowledge mobilization – not excluded – from the prior elitist realm of discipline-specific publications and “knowledge circles”.  (There are also now other timely means of sharing research knowledge such as #scholarsunday that takes place on Twitter in which both research scholars and the public can participate).

Yet trouble in the open-access waters hasn’t always made the process so smooth.

Let’s revisit journalist John Bohannon’s undercover investigative report from 2013 discussed further in Michael Eisen’s blog which caused quite a stir and opened the eyes of many open-access supporters. Bohannon, who has a PhD in biology, submitted a fraudulent cancer-research article and reported that 157 open-access journals had agreed to publish his fake findings.

The lesson to be learned from this is not that open access journals are not relevant modes for research publication. Rather the emphasis must continue to be on quality control by any professional publisher and any reader to automatically accept any research findings published. We must all approach knowledge exchanged with critical thinking – even after publication – open access or not.

When we fail to use our own critical thinking around research results and knowledge exchange we abdicate our own responsibility in accepting at face-value any research or “knowledge” that is received. The real problem is not necessarily the mode of transportation used –whether horse and buggy, car, train, bus or airplane. It’s how safely we secure ourselves on the ride that occurs – by using our own “scholarly assessment” of research findings.

If we are so-called research experts in a particular discipline we should already be taught to re-examine with scrutiny any published research findings anyway as part of the scientific method.

We now live in a time where the general public must also learn to approach any “evidence” with the same critical eye.

Yet there’s the underlying problem itself…learning to be critical thinkers ourselves. Peer-review publication is supposed to ensure quality control, yet even the peer-review process can’t keep the train on the track. Making an indictment of the open-access model is like saying we should go back to travelling by horse and buggy as a “safer” mode of transportation.

Don’t blame the mode of transportation if you haven’t secured your own self properly for the journey.

Knowledge Mobilization An Act Of Thinking With Love

heart and brain

Knowledge mobilization without a conscience creates worthless and ineffective knowledge.

Knowledge mobilization without a heart creates empty and useless knowledge.

The best efforts to combat social problems (some referred to as wicked problems) always include both thinking  and action in doing something good for others and creating social benefit. This is what knowledge mobilization (KMb) is about – both thinking and action.  Yet there is also an underlying aspect to both thinking and action that is required for effective knowledge mobilization – love.

I often reflect on the thinking of one of Canada’s leading knowledge mobilizers, Peter Levesque – founder and Director of Canada’s Institute for Knowledge Mobilization – who considers knowledge mobilization at its deepest level “an act of love.” This is far from being some impractical ideal. The most fundamental reason for sharing and being open to other knowledge and experience stems from an openness to love.  Otherwise, knowledge becomes fragmented.

A recent newspaper article states “Hatred reaches terrifying level” and I can’t help but feel discouraged about the world we live in. Will we ever be able to combat social problems? Do we just give up?

Fortunately, there are many in this world who rise above the hatred and respond from a place of human love.  Whenever I discuss knowledge mobilization I continue to keep this fundamental struggle in mind between love & hate and its connection to thinking and action, yet it’s something that many working in the field of KMb may not consciously consider when doing KMb activities.

KMb is a participatory and inclusive way of knowledge collaboration between researchers and research users. I sometimes make the limited assumption that KMb activities are automatically accessible and useful to everyone. They are not.

This past week I attended Imagining Canada’s Future sponsored by SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) in cities all across Canada.  At the event in Toronto, focusing on Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage several presentations reiterated the continuing difficulty of Canada’s northern indigenous populations to gain broader access to something many of us take for granted to mobilize knowledge – the Internet. Although great efforts are being made for greater access, challenges still exist. And one of the presentations pointed out it’s not just about the indigenous populations in Canada but also around the world.

Even more concerning in our new knowledge economy is the fact that there are plenty of people who are still in need of the basic economic necessities of shelter, food, or clean water. Knowledge mobilization would seem of little use to them. However it’s through knowledge mobilization efforts that we can effectively create social change for greater benefit to address these basic needs.

When researchers inform and are open to being informed by multi-directional communication and knowledge that include those living in poverty or isolation, community agencies supporting them, government agencies and policymakers assisting them, advocates lobbying for them, as well as other university or community-based researchers studying and collaborating with them, the channels of knowledge mobilization are effectively opened and can contribute to greater value for all in society.

Everyone should have a voice in knowledge mobilization. Only when each voice has an opportunity to be heard and contribute to the process of solving these social problems will such problems be eliminated. KMb is about creating value – not just for some, but for everyone in every context.

When knowledge mobilization has a conscience and a heart everyone benefits.

Only then will the terrifying levels of hatred decrease.

The most important reason for sharing and being open to other knowledge and experience stems from an openness to love – and fundamentally, knowledge mobilization should be an act of thinking with love.

A Thought Piece On Knowledge Transfer & Exchange/Knowledge Mobilization

knowledge to action

What could be wrong with transferring research knowledge from those who have it to those who don’t?

What could be wrong with transferring community-based knowledge from those who have it to researchers who don’t?

What could be wrong with transferring knowledge from those who have it to policymakers who don’t?

What could be wrong with transferring any knowledge in general?

The answers to these questions rely on the fact that not all knowledge provides benefit for every purpose. Could there perhaps be some situations where knowledge transfer is actually counterproductive? Are there cases where not knowing is better than knowing?

A further question arises when asking how much knowledge is sufficient knowledge and how much is too much? We now live in a world of information overload – something I like to refer to as data noise – and there is a difference between information and knowledge. People cannot be attentive to everything, yet must sift through the data noise to distinguish between information and knowledge – which is not always easy.  More importantly, the relevance of knowledge is always context-specific – only applicable based on circumstances of time and place with different needs of knowledge in different circumstances. This creates the subjective value of knowledge which may be different from one person to the next.

Knowledge transfer and exchange or knowledge mobilization (KMb) – whatever you wish to call it – is viewed today as having an unlimited and broad application across multiple sectors and disciplines. When knowledge is transferred and exchanged/mobilized across a wide-range of sectors and disciplines it can help reveal conflicts instead of covering them up or being unaware of them.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where valuable knowledge that can provide greater social benefit beyond one sector, discipline or community is transferred and exchanged yet there are still those who refuse to use it and don’t see the benefit of certain knowledge that can create broader social benefit. There are circumstances where knowledge has no impact – creating discouragement among those attempting to create social benefit on a wider scale.

So why is this the case?

Because as human beings we disagree with each other about what defines value. Knowledge can have different meanings.  Also as human beings, sometimes even something that is thought to have social benefit can have little or no impact.

There is no knowledge that can have impact until it is received openly, digested and understood – and this can often take time.  Annete Boaz says co-production of knowledge can produce an impact on research collaborators even before research is finished.  However, knowledge impact is often a process of gradual enlightenment that can take months or years to change a person’s frame of reference – and sadly, sometimes not at all. It’s not until this knowledge is applied into action to create change that knowledge will have any lasting impact or benefit.

Ensuring that knowledge to action occurs is complex and challenging because it is context-specific. In order to overcome such complexity and challenges, human relationships must be cultivated to create a common understanding that facilitates the implementation of evidence in different contexts and is sustained and added to over an extended period of time. This is why creating opportunities where people can come together to share their knowledge across sectors and disciplines in one place at a series of events or forums creates value on a broader scale and can lead to social impact and social benefit within and beyond each of the context-specific places – if there is also a desire to keep the ball rolling and not drop it.  This is where the act of knowledge mobilization always has value in and of itself.

Where do you think the knowledge mobilisation field will be in 5 years?

crystal-ballMaking Connections Matter UK

It’s been just over a month since the UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum took place in London on Feb 3rd & 4th 2014 with great success! The theme of the event was Making Connections Matter – which certainly lived up to its name.  Again, tremendous 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.

Thanks again also to Cathy Howe who was an incredible conference coordinator and forum lead who helped facilitate genuine connections across a variety of sectors in an environment of sharing experiences and challenges.

During an evening dinner at one of the more social parts of the Forum, David Phipps from ResearchImpact brought out an imaginative crystal ball and asked the group to reflect on their knowledge mobilisation practice and/or research with the question:

“Where do you think the knowledge mobilisation field will be in 5 years?”

The responses ranged from optimism about greater global knowledge sharing and cross-discipline understanding to a more pessimistic view about the social struggles that will continue to obstruct work in knowledge mobilisation (KMb). Some responses mentioned hoped-for advancements in technology to make global knowledge mobilisation easier; while others thought the practice of KMb will become more well-known and routine.  There were even a couple of political comments concerning the future of Scotland and civilization!

The following are the answers from UK KMb Forum 2014 to that question:

  • I truly hope for stronger literature bridging theory & practice on KMb for research – at least some inspirational example that improves research impact or development
  • More active availability of evidence-based improvement packages that front-line practitioners can easily pick-up
  • Less government intervention in the KMb process and more community lead
  • In 5 years other people will know what I’m talking about when I talk about KMb
  • Celebrating our successes in building a more well-informed, scientifically-literate society
  • Knowledge sharing is considered valuable and is the default
  • The term KMb has died out – because it’s part of normal practice to exchange & share knowledge routinely
  • There will be a greater abundance of cross-domain knowledge transfer as the norm as the idea of knowledge ‘partners’ will be no more
  • We will bring our KMb uses more easily to political representatives to talk about our professional ambitions & standards
  • Everyone will understand the basics (of KMb). We will need more knowledge translation but we won’t need a bridge between academics and practice
  • People will have time to mobilise knowledge across sectors during their day jobs
  • There will be massive international connectivity across disciplines because of the growth of international growth in the marketplaces…even in developing countries
  • We will be telling success stories of impact/learning from future UK Forum events – we will have 2 meetings in Scotland! – and the networks created from them; Knowledge Mobilisation will be well respected, less jargonistic, better understood by those who claim to be knowledge mobilisers and by our partners/stakeholders/end-users/beneficiaries
  • Practitioners will be skilled assessors of evidence and often contribute to/guide the evidence base – and the same goes for people we service
  • In 5 years’ time streaming video around the globe will reliably work for more than 10 minutes at a time for greater knowledge mobilisation
  • Social technologies are embedded (not “new”) but something new we have anticipated is surprising us – in “not being new” the risk and opportunity around global voices of participation is managed and institutionalised and de-radicalised in knowledge mobilisation
  • Increased accessibility to social media for excluded groups for greater knowledge mobilisation
  • There will continue to be a strong demand for evidence to inform policy and decision making. The drives will be the realization of the cost of failure! “What works” is a strong force but “works” is a co-produced idea with brand values that define desirable outcomes and “impact”; seeing complexity, ambiguity & uncertainty as positive forces for innovation with greater creativity & “wiggle-room” in policies & decision making through adaptive management of evidence-based experimentation
  • Spaces to meet and exchange across sectors and disciplines is a routine part of professional practice as teams of knowledge brokers help create solutions to large scale challenges
  • Knowledge mobilisation will not just be confined to Canada and the UK – it will be worldwide! We will all be old pals by then
  • There will be more people trying to do change
  • Probably nothing! We’ve all decided it would be good to talk! We will still be worried about equity and power sharing as we continue to think it still to be all quite complicated but we won’t mind being paid while continuing to think about it though!
  • Scotland will not be represented  in the same way – unless it happens in that country!
  • What? – Civilization ends…Why? – Michael Gove, PM.

The Important Role Of The Knowledge Broker


Knowledge mobilization (KMb) strategies that have been implemented into universities, research institutions and other organizations are context specific and are subject to frequent changes. This may cause faculty and/or staff working within these places to perceive particular barriers for community engagement and hinder internal motivation for successful application of KMb strategies. Even worse there can also be a pervasive institutional misunderstanding of what KMb actually is.

Overall institutional perceptions and governing support can affect faculty and/or staff perceptions which create barriers to knowledge mobilization (KMb) strategies. Such perceptions influence successful implementation of institutional KMb approaches and the policies that result from ineffective KMb plans. This is why there is tremendous value in establishing an actual knowledge mobilization unit within the university and/or institutional structure with trained knowledge brokers who act not only as official contact points for engagement with community but also as internal liaison offices to educate and inform staff and/or faculty – and most importantly institutional policy makers.

Knowledge brokers help manage the barriers of institutional change and development while also addressing the context specific elements of KMb. As the designated institutional KMb advisors within designated KMb units the roles and skills of knowledge brokers need to be clearly understood. David Phipps and Sarah Morton have written an excellent (and whimsical) practiced-based article on the qualities required for successful knowledge brokers, which also includes valuable recommendations on recruiting and training knowledge brokers. The article may take a more light-hearted approach to the “idealised knowledge broker” but the importance of having knowledge brokers within universities, research institutions and other organizations with the right skills is imperative for successful knowledge mobilization if the institution wants to maximize community engagement and the impact of research on public policy and professional practice.

If designated knowledge brokers are not employed specifically for this particular role with specific skills there will be role ambiguity and role conflict which was addressed in a special issue of Evidence & Policy. For those who are regular readers of my blog you know how much I have long been an advocate for open access to journals online as a public good. Regrettably, Evidence & Policy still limits itself to the old-style of peer-review publications. However, a journal club entry is freely available and does address one of the articles specifically about role ambiguity and role conflict.

The role of the knowledge broker – and hiring the right people with the right skills – must be considered one of the most important roles within the research/community engagement enterprise of an institution if the challenges of differing contexts and frequent changes are to be transitioned smoothly. The important role and skills of institutional knowledge brokers can also address the perceived barriers by faculty and/or staff working within these places by raising internal motivation for successful application of KMb strategies. And most importantly eliminate any pervasive institutional misunderstanding of what KMb actually is.