KMbeing

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

Monthly Archives: September 2014

Building A Knowledge Mobilization Strategy In The Research Process

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I was recently involved in a professional skills development day for graduate students, hosted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. After a session titled Building a Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Strategy presented by Michael Johnny, Manager of the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University, I spoke with several grad students who had only vaguely heard of KMb. It seemed as if a light-bulb had suddenly brightened their thinking after the session as they began to understand and got excited about how to develop KMb strategies in their own research. One grad student confessed she had no idea that the KMb Unit existed at the university and it was available as a valuable research resource. It also never occurred to her to think of her research with a community engagement perspective.

This got me thinking about what are still the obstacles to building a knowledge mobilization strategy within the research process and how we can instill in future researchers the value of incorporating KMb strategies into research for social benefit.

Thankfully, many community-based and university-based research is now focused on incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies to improve the research process. Over the past decade as the field of KMb has emerged, a range of factors – including a need to improve community/university relations with greater community engagement and broader evidence-informed practice has led to a desire to deliver research with more inclusive collaboration and larger impact.

In many cases, knowledge mobilization has meant adopting new research methods that involve a variety of stakeholders – such as knowledge brokers, community organizations, business associates and policy-makers – as intermediaries, research partners, social innovators and receptors. Historical research methods have a limiting pathway to impact and some university/research institutions are still struggling to develop research with an integrated KMb approach.

Incorporating KMb into research methods is not always easy and takes time. There are many stakeholders to involve, a full range of needs to meet – including institutional demands – and often multifaceted academic and cultural concerns to take into consideration.

Knowledge mobilization is about institutional, cultural and strategic practices that must be considered to improve the research process within universities and communities. Universities and research institutions are now confronted with how to best develop and integrate successful KMb strategies – not only for faculty but also for student researchers as well. As mentioned, developing an effective KMb strategy takes time – which can be problematic when thinking about how best to incorporate such a strategy specific to the life cycle of a graduate student.

Problems incorporating a KMb strategy into the research process can include:

  • Varied research projects may not align with community engagement
  • A lack of interdisciplinary coordination and collaboration among researchers – sometimes due to internal politics and beliefs
  • Little understanding or knowledge of the value of KMb
  • A more competitive rather than cooperative view among researchers that excludes various stakeholders
  • No clear strategic research plan that incorporates KMb strategies at the outset of a research project
  • Poor quality of research with the use of out-of-date research methodologies
  • A lack of recognition and support for KMb strategies from academic leaders
  • Limited institutional and financial resources to establish KMb Units and knowledge brokers within the organization
  • Difficulty in changing work practices of faculty and students as well as staff within academia and community organizations

Universities and other research institutions can be very complex and competitive environments in which to develop and deliver evidence-based research with a focus on broader solutions and impact for real-world problems. The list of problems mentioned above need to be overcome when planning KMb strategies within the research process.

Most importantly, successful KMb strategies need to be supported by strong institutional leadership and are only successful if they are actually implemented by researchers and staff with active participation throughout the university/research institution. The challenge to gain sufficient implementation is by ensuring a broader understanding of KMb and establishing support services within the university/research institution. Without such critical support institutional research remains limited and of little value outside the institution.

This creates a considerable change in thinking about research projects. In practice it means that research projects must be carefully designed to incorporate KMb strategies from the outset to ensure the involvement of a variety of stakeholders to create the broadest impact and social benefit.

This includes:

  • Thinking about the value factors of the research for all stakeholders
  • Clear communication to all stakeholders about the purpose and benefits of the research project
  • Building momentum by including other researchers and community partners throughout the entire research process – including input and recognition in the publication and implementation of research findings

It’s not simply enough to improve KMb strategies within a handful of research projects within the university/institution. While this will deliver greater benefit from certain research projects it will not create the required cultural change within the institution or assist with gaining adoption by institutional leadership. While these may be valuable research projects it may be difficult to demonstrate the social benefit to university/institution management as a return on investment unless they can demonstrate how such research projects can also gain create opportunities for funding.

This is why inclusion and interaction with community, business and government stakeholders in the research process is essential as a vital link to also demonstrate social benefit within and beyond the institution as part of a return on investment. Delivering clear impact by incorporating KMb strategies into research projects involves identifying from the outset concrete social needs that must be met. This provides meaningful measurement of the research projects and value for the university/institution – and for society.

Research projects can target issues that are visible within society with solutions that are valuable to society. There is no single research project that will address and resolve all social problems. Wicked problems – as they are often referred to – are too complex to consider all the factors to overcome when planning and developing KMb strategies within research projects. The answer is to seek out collaborative research that can address such social problems from many angles with many stakeholders. This may mean letting go of a perfectly planned research approach in a timely manner to allow for a more adaptive and long-term research plan. This approach recognizes that there are hundreds or even thousands of often small, collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects that are needed to improve social conditions.

This is the crux of a KMb strategy – to implement research that involves a cross-pollination of university/research institution, community, business and government sectors to create social benefit and systems-change on a wider-scale.

Again, building a knowledge mobilization strategy within research in a complex and ever-changing world is not easy. The social and time challenges inherent in research projects that incorporate KMb strategies mean that new approaches at the researcher and university/institutional levels need to be taken if they are to be successful in creating social benefit from research. Social benefit from incorporating KMb strategies into research is taking place with clear examples of social innovation and benefit occurring. Homeless Hub, Green Economy Centre, Peterborough Youth Emergency Shelter, and Toronto’s Heat Registry are several examples.

Building a knowledge mobilization strategy into the research process means thinking about doing research differently than that done in the past. It means involving a wider range of stakeholders, and getting buy-in from university/institution leadership to create not just internal benefit but external benefit. It means thinking about value as not just a financial return on investment but a social return on investment that can lead to financial and social benefit on a wider-scale for researchers and society today and tomorrow.

Graduate Studies: Critically Thinking About Community-University Engagement Research

Critical thinking

Every day I assist university students as part of my work at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. I am a member of the dean’s office and deal with students, faculty and staff – including grad program assistants and directors as representatives helping almost six-thousand Masters and PhD students make the most of their educational experience.

With so many aspiring graduate students I sometimes see students with something special – exceptional intellectual qualities and research skills that are often revealed by their national scholarships and awards, valuable research or examination results. These students display a self-confidence and level of academic success that leaves faculty, staff and peers alike very proud and in admiration.

These fortunate graduate students appear to be the winners in the race we have made of higher education. Yet the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in my interactions with many other students. Our education system continues to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness – one type of knowledge over other knowledge. Our education system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, but also nervous, fearful, confused – and sometimes even smug or arrogant. There are some graduate students with little research curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of purpose and an overdeveloped sense of privilege – students who are stuck in a cycle of doing research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate.

Is it possible that these students – heading in the same direction – are great at what they’re doing academically, but have little idea of why they’re doing it, or how to engage in real, meaningful research that matters to them, their community, and our world?

The standard admissions process creates a brand of graduate students that seek opportunities that come only after a degree. Traditionally, students are pushed into the machine of higher education with little regard or encouragement to identify and seek real-world solutions to real-world problems during their studies to make a more immediate difference on a broader scale today.

In my job I come in contact with many grad students who are bright, thoughtful and inspired whom it’s a pleasure to talk with, exchange knowledge and learn from. But many seem comfortable to maintain an education marked out for them with no thought towards doing research that can create community-university engagement for impact beyond the university. This is why creating knowledge mobilization opportunities and strategies for graduate studies is so important.

The primary purpose of getting a degree is to teach a person to think critically. This doesn’t simply mean developing academic skills specific to an individual discipline. A new university paradigm is about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations and connections to provide differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit through community engagement within and beyond the walls of the university.

Learning how to think critically is only the beginning. There’s something particular you need to think critically about – building a better world for everyone. That notion may sound too idealistic, yet given the fact that we are still faced with sexism, prejudice, bigotry and hatred that lead to modern extremists and territorial wars that continue to threaten world peace, shouldn’t teaching our students to think critically about creating real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures be a top priority in education?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our students to develop research that can make a difference in addressing these real-world problems?

Most universities claim to teach students how to think critically – but all they mean is that they train them in systematic and competitive skills that are necessary for success in business and professions post-graduation. Education seems to be based on developing expertise that is ultimately justified in getting a graduate degree for the sake of getting a degree as a means of making a difference in the future – not in the moment.

Universities that consider students as “commodities” rather than challenging students to be critical-thinking researchers making a difference in the world in the moment may continue to be financially stable, yet fall short on a broader scale. Graduate students are rewarded for research yet the whole incentive structure is biased against doing research that can make a deeper impact for society and our world. The result is trading off getting a degree in the future for doing research now – with greater community engagement – that can make a difference in the world today.

It’s true that some of today’s students appear to be more socially engaged than students in the past and that they are more apt to have more social or entrepreneurial instincts. But it’s also true that many universities continue to follow an historic, narrow view of what constitutes getting a graduate degree.

Application numbers for graduate studies continue to fall in many universities as a sign of the system’s alleged lack of developing students for opportunities post-university. What about creating opportunities to increase graduate studies applications with a focus on creating knowledge mobilization and social innovation opportunities while in university to do research that can make a difference during graduate studies today?

Graduate studies admissions should not necessarily be about maintaining higher numbers for the statistical sake of competition. It’s about creating opportunities to cultivate research that can make a difference on a broader scale. Accepting graduate students who seek to make a difference in doing research while in university not simply for doing research as “a means to an end” for post-university needs to be considered during the admissions process.

Instead, the higher education system continues to impair community engagement opportunities, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from society instead of contributing to it.

The reason is clear. Universities are manufacturing graduate students who aren’t challenged to make a difference in the world – only churning out students with Masters or PhDs based on a field of research that has little impact beyond the university.

Students need to be encouraged to do research that involves people of different backgrounds. Students need to interact with community stakeholders directly as part of their research, and it has to be on equal ground – not as a “subject” of study. Students need to work with and within community as part of the university experience to gain insight into other people – exchanging knowledge to show them that intelligent people actually exist outside the academy who perhaps didn’t have opportunities to gain a graduate degree – but are nonetheless intelligent in different ways.

When universities provide graduate students with such community-university engagement opportunities as part of their research they create students who are less entitled and competitive, genuinely more open, more interesting and more curious – and far more wanting to make a difference in the world in the moment rather than later on.

The time has come, not simply to reform the higher education system, but to plan our future with another kind of education system that embraces knowledge mobilization strategies more deeply within academia to transform our society altogether.

More broadly, we need to rethink our concept of merit within graduate studies. If universities are going to train a better class of graduate students than the ones we have today, we’re going to have to ask ourselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote to do research that makes social impact. Those universities that select students simply by GPA or “original” research more often benefit the statistical competition rather than develop graduate students who are critically-thinking researchers engaged with local and global communities.

It’s time for universities to provide opportunities for graduate students to exchange knowledge through greater community-university engagement and develop knowledge mobilization strategies as part of the graduate student experience to create greater value of a graduate degree – and greater value for the world in general.

A Shift In Academic Thinking About Knowledge Exchange

War

Exchanging Knowledge. I love this phrase – yet it can conjure suggestions of elitism and competition in many circles. Which is unfortunate because it’s one of the most important ways of thinking to save our world. Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is about exchanging knowledge to create new knowledge that is useful to society; not just our own societies but as a whole as human beings on this planet. It’s not about whose knowledge is better. It’s about exchanging knowledge to make the world better for everyone.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War which saw death and mass destruction on a global scale. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. We managed to destroy each other and create devastation on our planet with over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded – ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. You would think the knowledge gained from the First World War would have prevented any Second World War (the deadliest military conflict in history with over 60 million people killed).

Wrong. War continues today.

Yet, the 20th Century was also a time of great innovation, enabling social and technological advancement. With knowledge exchange we have been able make incredible scientific breakthroughs to eradicate disabling and fatal disease, and bring about social change for greater equality for many in society.

Despite these advances, knowledge exchange can still remain limited due to selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred. As these negative influences again become acceptable in the eyes of a new generation, the idea of exchanging knowledge for world benefit starts to disappear. Many forget the tragedies of devastating wars as this new generation sees them as ancient and part of the past (or worse, want to repackage the hatred of the past in a modern way)  – while technological advancements can be used for even greater opportunities for death and world destruction.

On a more personal level we often do not recognize the need for openness and knowledge exchange with others. If you ask someone why do selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred still exist, the reply is usually, it’s something other people do, not me – as if that response alone negates one’s own responsibility to create change on this planet. It seems only a few people stop to ask if a return to a world of hatred based on a lack of openness and knowledge exchange is actually worth the energy and money we’re expending for other things instead of what can create change for good on this planet.

How, when we are faced with our own modern extremists and territorial wars, can we seek calm to try and create real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures?

Fortunately within much of the academic research environment over the past decade in Canada and the U.K., as a profession and a practice, knowledge mobilization has emerged to present the idea of exchanging knowledge beyond the academy so as to build community engagement and participation from a variety of stakeholders to make research useful to society for real-world solutions for change on a broader scale. It’s about breaking down barriers and historical ideas of elitism, exclusion – and even extremism. The knowledge mobilization movement is growing to include individuals in countries around the world, yet needs to continue to be part of a new generation of scholarly research education.

In higher education, knowledge mobilization attempts to wipe out any of the elitism or selfishness of learning. KMb attempts to cultivate knowledge exchange with a deeper, holistic love of learning, research and respect for others that touches every aspect of our humanity, by learning to apply research on a greater, more inclusive human scale. As we allow this to happen, we enact a more caring view within learning (which on a more global scale is largely ignored and at great cost).

Our education systems continue to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness, one type of knowledge over other knowledge.

KMb has developed the idea that research can be better utilized by connecting it with community partners to create new and more innovative research. Instilling the idea of community-campus connections within our education systems helps to develop our students into thoughtful, ethical citizens who can critically evaluate through broader systems thinking rather than doing research with little regard for broader application.

Can this community-campus strategy create a generation of better, more caring researchers? When teaching students to do research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate, a horrible disconnect occurs in students. It becomes about just getting the degree – where the end justifies the means of simply doing research with no greater purpose than what is mostly a rather selfish one.

It’s clear that the long term costs of continuing to ignore teaching methods to students without consideration of how we exchange our knowledge with others beyond the academy to something more inclusive of community – and worldwide can be dire. There is a requirement to not be overly-focused on developing our own knowledge for more selfish reasons such as simply receiving a degree. What about teaching students to do research that has some broader, practical application – such as eliminating the extremisms that can lead to hatred and war? Teaching cooperative knowledge exchange through knowledge mobilization can create a shift in academic thinking that has effects far beyond the academy.

So what does knowledge mobilization mean for education? It asks us to reimagine what it means in exchanging knowledge. It requires us to embrace being open and unselfish in our learning and knowledge exchange. It requires admitting that a large part of what continues to happen in our world isn’t good for our students, our teachers, our communities – or our world.  It means creating change in our education systems or risk the return to the tragedies of the early 20th century.

Higher education needs to take into account what real learning looks like – with more passion and compassion – and why research really needs to be more focused on community-engagement to bring systems change on a global scale. It needs to be more than just receiving a degree to hopefully get a job after graduation.

By developing knowledge mobilization strategies within graduate research programs we can teach students to engage in real, meaningful work that matters to them, to their community, and our world. As a result, graduates gain an authentic purpose and a role in society other than academic-in-training.

Becoming involved in knowledge mobilization allows students to discover everyday citizens in their community and how they can work together to make the world a better place. It provides students with the opportunity to identify and seek real-world solutions to wicked problems by reinforcing the idea that their research efforts can make a difference. At the same time we are including communities to work with grad students and researchers as authentic, viable and active participants in community and academic life throughout the world.