KMbeing

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

Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Importance of Context In Knowledge Exchange

study group
When I was in university I was in one of my psychology classes one day and took a seat at a desk beside a woman who was an international student from Jamaica. We only knew each other as classmates. She was a likeable woman and we chatted regularly before and after class.

Psychology is a field with many schools of thought, theories and approaches to behaviour. Because there is also a great amount to learn, many psychology students formed study groups to share notes and insights. She and I decided to form one of these groups. I was always so impressed at how well organized she was at following and distilling lectures – but also how she was able to articulate to our group her understanding of what our psychology professor was wanting to convey in class.

I remember one day we were discussing the work of Havelock Ellis, a psychologist who dedicated his life to the study of human sexuality. Ellis was co-author of the first English medical textbook on homosexuality written in 1897 titled Sexual Inversion. As an openly gay man, I was astonished at Havelock’s use of the term “sexual invert” to describe my “condition” – even though Ellis was attempting to bring some acceptance and understanding of being gay to the Victorian era where homosexuality was considered an illness to be cured. Sexual Inversion was one of the first scientific books to present homosexuality as an innate disposition similar to heterosexuality and not as a pathological condition.

During this particular study session my Jamaican classmate hesitated and I could see she was reluctant to share her thoughts on this psychology topic. Sensing something was wrong I asked her if everything was alright. She informed the group that from her cultural perspective she still considered being gay as something that needed to be cured. I was shocked and immediately responded with “are you kidding?” This view seemed absolutely ridiculous to me, yet I realized her view was culturally-shaped by her context growing up in Jamaica – a country where it’s still illegal to be gay.

Seeing this as an opportunity to share my own experience and knowledge I suggested we explore our perspectives more deeply, especially in the context of psychology. What made this even more upsetting to me was that I mistakenly believed others in our study group were supportive of gay rights and equality. I was wrong. Two others also believed therapy could be used for people wanting to be “cured” of being gay.

During the next class our Professor decided to cover Sigmund Freud’s theory of human sexuality and how it differed from that of Ellis. Freud believed all human beings were innately bisexual and that they become homosexual or heterosexual as a result of parental/environmental experiences. When I decided to comment on how both theories from Freud and Ellis were developed and shaped within the context of their Victorian timeframe as attempts to influence a deeper understanding of sexuality and behaviour not necessarily requiring a “cure” a thought-provoking session of opinions occurred. Our class was abuzz with comments and questions around context and how even so-called conversion or reparative therapy was still taking place today to “cure” gay sexual orientation.

The idea of hiding sexuality is something that starts very early for many of us who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. I am reminded of my time in elementary school when other students would tease and bully me with “Gary the fairy.” This idea of hiding sexuality is something that stays with many of us throughout our entire lives – unless we “come out of the closet” – and even then it ends up having a major influence on our entire lives.

It is the same within our careers. Many people are very secretive about their personal lives. They often don’t want others to know too much. When we hoard knowledge we are always afraid that our knowledge is going to be judged. People who constantly hoard knowledge do not contribute to sharing knowledge to make the world a better place. Yet we must also keep in mind that knowledge is context-specific.

One of the biggest beliefs about knowledge mobilization is that if we are continually sharing knowledge – particularly research knowledge to make it useful to society – we are making the world a better place. When we engage in knowledge exchange with others in different contexts and come up with new knowledge we develop a view where we are always looking to share what you know with people instead of looking to hoard what you know. When we exchange knowledge with others it gives us access to more knowledge. The knowledge we share with others from our own contexts ends up creating opportunities to shape, possibly change and create new knowledge based on our openness to the knowledge of others from different contexts.

There are real benefits to sharing our knowledge. By exploring knowledge from different contexts we can make change for the better. Context is important in knowledge mobilization. Along with evidence and facilitation, context is one of three pillars of the PARIHS (Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Sciences) Framework (https://researchimpact.othree.ca/forums/journalclub/the-parihs-framework-promoting-action-on-research-).

My fellow study group students shared openly their views about the idea of “curing” gays and lesbians from their own contexts and I shared my experiences about being openly gay from my context. I’m happy to say that we came to a deeper understanding of each other’s positions within the context of our psychology class – and they began to change their minds about attempts to “cure” gays and lesbians based on sharing our knowledge and experiences.

Sharing knowledge brings people together and allows people to see different contexts. Effective knowledge mobilization occurs when we want people to know what we know and we are not afraid to tell them from our own contexts.

Knowledge mobilization is about creating benefit from interaction with others in different contexts. We must share our knowledge openly and freely and never hide knowledge. When we exchange our knowledge from different contexts we create opportunities to open doors to deeper understanding. Exchanging knowledge gives you access to more knowledge. People who hoard knowledge within their own contexts tend to have isolated knowledge because they only share or seek change when relevant – meaning their own knowledge becomes stagnant.

 

Why Can Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Make A Difference For Universities?

KMb Difference

University faculty have long considered tenure to be their right – something they deserve as dedicated researchers and hardworking teaching professionals. And a new generation of graduate students are finding it not so easy to get on the “tenure-track” due to greater competition and sometimes misguided expectations of success post-graduation. There are many challenges to the contemporary academy as shown by the recent example at the University of Saskatchewan, and the many challenges within the past few decades that have created financial struggles for universities requiring evidence-based reform – such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK, or in Canada, the Program Prioritization Process (PPP) or Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) and U of Sask’s TransformUS. These recent academic/economic checks are informed by the Dickeson prioritization process started in the United States more than a decade ago based on the methodology of Robert Dickeson’s Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services.

As university budgets grow tight, they look at what universities spend in all areas – both academic and administrative – and want to know if these investments yield clear returns or could that money be spent in better ways? Such questions make effective knowledge mobilization (KMb) within the university more important than ever.

Traditionally, academics haven’t paid much attention to knowledge mobilization and community engagement. Many consider KMb a time-consuming process that diverts efforts from more important activities of the customary research cycle of hypothesis, study and peer-review publication – as well as research strictly for the sake of research regardless of the “value” of the subject matter.

Other researchers think they lack the skill and expertise to become involved in KMb and community engagement. As a result, they either neglect the potential for community engagement completely or leave it to “KMb experts.”

Effective KMb doesn’t have to be complicated. It simply requires incorporating KMb into the research planning stage, the ability to do some interdisciplinary networking within and outside the university, and a basic understanding of how to find these contacts by connecting with a good knowledge broker. Using knowledge brokers can provide meaningful information and networks that researchers can use to make thoughtful, responsible decisions about the professional development processes of their work and the potential impacts of research.

What is Knowledge Mobilization (KMb)?

In simplest terms, knowledge mobilization is making research useful to society.

Useful implies a dedicated, attentive, and purposeful process where research creates impact for social change and benefit. Academics conduct research for clear reasons and with explicit intent.

Impact can be defined as: a powerful or major influence or effect; a force or impression of one thing on another – or an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society.

If we apply this to the potential impact of research – in addition to traditional academic impacts, impact can be defined as a measurable change in policy, services or products. However, researchers don’t make policy, they usually don’t offer services, and they generally don’t produce products. It is government (public sector) who makes policy, community organizations (voluntary sector) who mostly deliver services, and industry (private sector) who create products. Researchers develop knowledge which can lead to impact, but remember that some research knowledge has only academic impact.

Questions Researchers Need To Ask At The Beginning:

Some researchers understand the importance of KMb for community engagement and research development activities for social benefit/impact. Effective KMb requires researchers to ask important questions at the beginning of the research cycle that focus on basic human needs and benefits. How can the research being done address an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society?

In addition to asking this initial question as part of the research process we also hope that researchers ask a further question: How can the research process create community involvement in the research being done? This question focuses on inclusion of knowledge and skills from outside the university that can add value. Depending on the goals of the research activity, this can involve anything from asking community stakeholders to describe the crucial attributes of their own knowledge to provide examples of how these might be applied to the research process, or to a full-scale inclusion in the research process. Some researchers talk about including community stakeholders throughout the research process yet fail to include community stakeholders in the final research publications. (See this example and this example).

University Academic and Administrative Leadership Support for KMb:

As I mentioned, researchers don’t make policy, they usually don’t offer services, and they generally don’t produce products. This is where the focus shifts to the university administration and collaborative efforts outside the university. Lack of university academic and administrative leadership support has the potential to sabotage any knowledge mobilization efforts, even when all the individual aspects of academic research and community engagement are done right.

Suppose for example that many academic researchers contribute to KMb efforts and create community engagement in their research. They gain a thorough understanding of the benefits of KMb and develop a variety of community/university activities based on cooperative knowledge. Following these efforts they try to implement relationships with community stakeholders in universities where researchers are credited strictly according to their relative standing among other faculty and the great importance attached to churning out research publications without any thought towards how research is being done to address economic, social and cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society – let alone the university.

University policies and practices such as these make research highly competitive and will impede the most valiant efforts to have researchers cooperate and help one another and learn from community engagement – as well as potential sources of revenue that can be generated through being collaborators in funding programs such as Mitacs and SSHRC partnership grants. The lack of KMb in this case doesn’t reflect community engagement opportunities to create value for the university, but rather university policies challenge KMb implementation efforts.

Lack of buy-in at the university leadership level can essentially hold back any gains made at the community/university engagement level. That’s why knowledge mobilization efforts must include university academic and administrative leadership support.

Supporting and Measuring Student Knowledge Mobilization Efforts:

Supporting students is “the bottom line” of any university. How can knowledge mobilization efforts include, affect and benefit students? Student learning opportunities and research contributions depend of course on the goals of specific professional development efforts of the university – particularly at the graduate level. In addition to these goals, knowledge mobilization efforts may result in important unintended outcomes and benefits – such as greater network opportunities to extend their research during and beyond their academic program, as well as meeting potential employers leading to post-doctoral or other non-academic employment opportunities (see comment above about the challenge of grad students getting on the tenure track).

Consider, for example, how to motivate graduate students to participate in research dedicated to finding ways to improve the quality of life in society. It’s essential to help graduate students devise research strategies that are geared towards addressing wicked problems that continue to hinder us worldwide. Measures of student learning typically include student achievement such as grades through subjective examinations of knowledge and measurements of any type of research out-puts. In addition to pan-university measurement tools such as AAPR, universities might also measure impacts of student (particularly graduate student) community engagement through KMb and collaborative research efforts to produce new knowledge that can bring a return on investment (beyond simply receiving a degree) for both the student and the university.

Knowledge mobilization as part of student development can increase academic and non-academic achievement. An important thing to remember is that nearly all professional development – for students or otherwise – takes place in real-world settings, not sheltered away in institutions. The relationship between professional development and improvements in student knowledge in these real-world settings depends on the openness of universities that are willing to create KMb opportunities for community engagement. Since most universities are instigating systemic reform initiatives such as AAPR, underestimating the important link between community/university partnerships for various returns on investment can lead to further limiting financial consequences in today’s highly networked world of creating social and economic innovation.

Effects of KMb for the University:

Three important effects for the university stem from knowledge mobilization:

First, making research useful to society is important. Knowledge gathered through university research provides vital data for improving the quality of society and life beyond the university.

Second, seeking systemic reform without effective measurement of external impact tells you nothing about the greater impact that can be achieved through creating and enhancing community/university partnerships as a further source of improvement, reputation and potential revenue. Although success within the university may be necessary for positive administrative and financial results it’s clearly not sufficient if a university wishes to create greater and lasting societal impacts beyond the university.

The third consequence, and perhaps the most important, is planning and implementing professional, graduate student development to improve student knowledge, experience and interdisciplinary networks that are now essential in a world that measures the impacts of research beyond simply receiving a degree in one particular field of study.

Universities must consider the student learning outcomes they want to achieve with a new university paradigm that includes knowledge mobilization.

When universities work successfully with community partners and other key stakeholders to improve academic reforms beyond an internal prioritization process, wider social and economic benefits occur.  However, this process is not always easy – and takes time. Establishing a knowledge mobilization unit within the university (sooner than later) with dedicated knowledge brokers who offer insights about why and how to engage community, and what strategies and approaches are effective, creates value and success for the university – but again, this doesn’t happen overnight.

Those universities willing to devote their energy and passion to community-university engagement as part of reform strategies need to act now to develop the next generation of successful universities and graduate students for academic and non-academic success.

 

 

 

Changing Times & Changing Knowledge

footprintsD&G P-Town

My husband and I celebrated my 50th birthday in Provincetown, New England – a small tourist town on the extreme tip of Cape Cod in the United States. (Many thanks to this man with whom I have lived and loved for almost 20 years for this surprise birthday get-away!) As early as the beginning of the 20th century, Provincetown (or P-Town as it’s often called) has been a popular destination for gays and lesbians. Historically, the geographic seclusion of the many beaches and dunes, and the rise of many gay establishments made P-Town an ideal place of isolation and liberation for many gays and lesbians to express their sexuality in a more open and relaxed manner as a top summer destination – long before the days of greater social acceptance.

Since our last visit to P-Town six summers ago, we have seen a definite change.  Walking along the main beachfront strip – Commercial Street – there are still the usual pride flags flying on many of the shops, galleries and restaurants, and the drag queens in full dress, wigs, make-up and high-heels advertising and inviting us to their many shows. Yet the crowds are definitely much more mixed with a greater percentage of families with children and babies. Certainly not the gay-sexually charged and cruisy Provincetown we – or some of the locals – remember.

Perhaps it may be the time of this particular tourist season or my being older that has made the difference; however popping into one of the many shops on Commercial Street, a local owner confirmed our suspicions about how the town has become more socially integrated or “main-stream” with so many heterosexuals flocking to P-Town than ever before. A sign of greater LGBT acceptance within our society.

So what does this have to do with knowledge mobilization (KMb)? In previous blog posts I have addressed how the fluidity of knowledge needs to be understood to see how knowledge is constantly changing in order to do effective KMb.

Why do we believe in the idea that knowledge is something that we attain and once we attain it – it never changes? It’s this view that limits our collective human understanding when we believe that knowledge is somehow “set in stone”. It’s more like footprints on a beach. Like the past memories of a changing Provincetown, the footprints I leave on the beach are shifting and being transformed by the vast ocean of the fluidity of our knowledge and social changes.

As human beings, we can be creatures of habit, returning to the same holiday destinations expecting nothing to change. We fear change and things that are different from our own personal viewpoints. As human beings we want “security” and “stability” in our comfort zones – but the waves of change that transform our knowledge keep on flowing.

We think our own knowledge and the collective knowledge of our own groups, cultures, nations, lifestyles, and religions are the only knowledge to be attained – and once we have this “true” knowledge, it never needs to change. But this way of thinking is really only caused by a desire for things to stay the same and seek “security” and “stability” in our own desires and not to expand our comfort zones – like changes in the sand.

If we think things will always stay the same, this is a false sense of understanding knowledge and a false sense of understanding the evolution of our humanity on this planet. Every day the world is filled with change, and there will always be differences from our own personal viewpoints and experiences that shape our own knowledge and the knowledge we exchange.

Human advancement and understanding have always occurred in our human history when we’ve decided to step beyond our own comfort zones of “security” and “stability” – especially in our understandings of knowledge. When we are open to the knowledge of others and share our own knowledge with human cooperation, inclusiveness and not fear, only then will it lead us to greater worldwide security and stability.

The process of knowledge is an on-going flow, not containment. Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is the overall flow and ongoing and constant input and development of new knowledge. It is the open process of putting available knowledge into active service to benefit not just one particular group, culture, nation, corporation, organization or religion – but for the greater benefit of all in society.

No experience is ever exactly the same as any other – just as no person is exactly the same as any other. I am not the same person I was when I was in P-Town six years ago, and P-Town is not the same place as it was back then. Trying to attain knowledge as something unchangeable will lead you on a limiting search. Trying to attain the same vacation experience is like trying to attain knowledge as something unchangeable – which will lead you on a limiting search. But if you pursue knowledge with an open-mind and expectation of the ongoing process and flow of knowledge you might very well find greater happiness in your life and a deeper understanding of our ever-changing humanity.

If we spend all of our energy trying to attain unchangeable knowledge we miss out on the daily flow and process of knowledge. It’s like trying to hold back the waves from washing away the footprints on a beach – even on a beach in Provincetown.

 

 

The Knowledge Exchange Cycle

Communication

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) can be challenging. Constant meetings, conferences, workshops, articles, blogs, emails, text messages, questions, problem solving, stakeholder involvement – or lack thereof – and the ongoing cycle of sifting through information and data/information noise to gain knowledge can begin to feel like you are sinking in an infinitely vast ocean of opinions, beliefs, ideas and ideals, statistics, and research “evidence”. Once you gain knowledge of something and exchange further knowledge with others, new knowledge seems to appear to refute previous knowledge. One moment a research study suggests certain findings. The next, a new study seems to contradict those findings, requiring you to constantly re-examine your knowledge and the knowledge of others. A brief definition of knowledge mobilization is making knowledge (particularly research knowledge) useful to society. Let’s face it – sometimes it seems such never-ending knowledge contradictions are preventing us from making any knowledge useful to society.

Yet I’m optimistic! One of the most powerful and enduring lessons I have learned in my almost decade of promoting and supporting knowledge mobilization efforts is that the multitude of contexts, sources, findings and views aren’t necessarily keeping us from knowledge – this is knowledge: fluid knowledge. I’ve talked and written about this at length in person and in previous KMbeing blog posts, as well as in the papers and book chapter I co-authored.

The notion of looking at these “contradictions” of knowledge in a valuable way is one I feel bound to reiterate. Why? Because by adopting this approach to the fluidity of knowledge we can dramatically increase our opportunities for influencing policy-makers, clarify positions for various stakeholders, develop understanding and build trust within different environments, and forge meaningful relationships in various contexts of knowledge transfer and exchange as our knowledge continues to evolve.

In short, we can recognize that knowledge is never stagnant – or we can be stuck in knowledge silos. All we have to do is remember that each interaction – each knowledge exchange – is filled with unlimited and profound possibilities for impact. But remember, impact is also never stagnant. Impact occurs and is also transformed by new knowledge – the fluidity of knowledge.

Knowledge Exchange Cycle

So, how do we make each knowledge exchange count and not become inundated by the infinitely and often overwhelming bombardment of varying knowledge? By approaching each knowledge exchange practically and purposefully.

There are three components to each effective knowledge exchange. Combined, they form what I call a Knowledge Exchange Cycle. When you consider all three elements with one another, they can produce a powerfully productive approach to developing our own knowledge and advancing our collective knowledge. Simply remember these three elements in each interaction:

Speak & Listen Carefully

Put Knowledge in Context

and Transform Knowledge Collaboratively.

This funny video clip shows the importance of speaking and listening carefully, being open and paying attention to context.

 

 

Speak & Listen Carefully:  Speaking and listening carefully is the key to effective communication. But few people get it right. That’s because it takes meaningful practice and focus to connect with others, detect different meanings, recognize multiple perspectives, and determine what kind of knowledge is being exchanged. When you master being truly present in your communication, you can become an amazing speaker and – more importantly – an amazing listener. This means that when you’re not speaking you’re fully engaged, mindful of the moment and paying attention to the other people sharing their knowledge with determined focus. Remember, to give other people the space to be heard. Don’t become a constant speaker without also being a compassionate listener! The give and take of speaking and listening carefully also means asking for the knowledge “evidence” of others, and taking the time to understand the general benefit of the knowledge being exchanged. When you feel confident that you understand someone else’s knowledge, take a moment to briefly summarize to ensure you and others understand the knowledge being exchanged.

Put Knowledge In Context: Once you understand the essence of the knowledge being exchanged, you’re ready to put that knowledge in context to better understand how this knowledge is being used and understood in a particular (and often different) context. When you put knowledge in context people will be able to place the knowledge in circumstances that may not always fit within our own frameworks or social benefit. This requires some diplomacy. You need to be both responsive and adaptable. Determine the context by adjusting your approach and understanding of your own knowledge accordingly. The key is to be open to knowledge that may be different from your own to wholly grasp the applicability to your own context. It’s important to connect to their purpose and passion for the knowledge they exchange from the context in which they are situated to also connect it to the knowledge you provide. You may also need to show them how their knowledge is uniquely situated within their own environment in whatever drives them for benefit within their own society – while also anchoring their knowledge in an understanding of whatever drives you in your own knowledge that may be different. Whatever the situation, frame the knowledge exchange openly and speak from your heart. Let people know why their knowledge matters in connecting to your own knowledge to transform it by the next step.

Transform Knowledge Collaboratively: In this part of the knowledge exchange cycle you must show a desire to turn your knowledge (and sometimes differing knowledge) into action collaboratively. Knowledge exchange should ultimately be about making a difference in the world. Transform exchanged knowledge collaboratively! You spoke and listened carefully. You put knowledge in context. You need to continue to speak and listen carefully. Now you need to transform the knowledge exchanged collaboratively. And you need to continue to speak and listen carefully. Maybe you need to help them make a decision. Maybe you need to shift your thinking and look at your own knowledge differently. This is your chance to think about how you can advance knowledge – yours and others – into something useful – beyond individual contexts – yet also considering how to be adaptive within individual contexts.

As you engage in the Knowledge Exchange Cycle remind yourself of the risk in not speaking and listening carefully, not thinking about context, and not acting collaboratively. In order to not feel like you’re drowning in the vast ocean of knowledge exchange, all any of us can do is mindfully consider the knowledge shared by and with us in the moment. This Knowledge Exchange Cycle provides a framework for you to build knowledge relationships carefully, be open to and understand different contexts, and make and support ways to transform knowledge collaboratively – in every moment of knowledge exchange. In this sense, knowledge mobilization can be challenging. As someone who has used mindfulness meditation in my daily life for over 25 years, mindfulness is not always easy. And just like mindfulness meditation, with mindful knowledge exchange, the more you do it, the better and more efficient you will become.  I encourage you to keep the Knowledge Exchange Cycle in mind in your next knowledge encounter – you may find you are one step closer to transforming knowledge to make the world a better place.