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

Monthly Archives: November 2014

Rethinking The “Old-School” Graduate Degree

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Universities have become more challenged in their approach to the expectations and greater competition in their own institutions and with other universities. The many challenges within the past few decades have created financial struggles for universities requiring evidence-based reform such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK or a Program Prioritization Process (PPP) such as Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) in Canada. 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. How this plays out in relation to graduate degree programs means that some universities are now examining a substantial decrease in graduate student enrolment.

Rethinking the value of traditional graduate degrees and the types of research being done cannot be ignored in this development as there is a continuing gap between “old-school” research paradigms and an emerging paradigm-shift in the demand for quality research that also provides social benefit.

Universities see themselves to be in a risky situation as a result of economic pressures combined with this increasing demand for community-engaged scholarship to provide social benefit. In a climate of uncertain funding and a greater demand for valuable research, understanding how knowledge mobilization (KMb) can bring opportunities to improve research, create social and economic innovation and affect government policy needs to be considered.

While graduate programs that struggle to attract students might have been retained in the past, there is increasing evidence that this is no longer the case within some universities. Graduate student numbers drop as universities seek to compete with one another for different revenue streams.

Does this mean that we have to simply drop these graduate programs or can we infuse a new sense of value into them by rethinking how the research within these programs is being done?

Do struggling graduate programs need to reduce entry standards to attract more students or is there another way to attract top quality students by articulating the value of receiving a graduate degree while also creating benefit to society?

The role of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into the types of graduate research cannot be ignored. Not doing so continues to have serious implications for universities. York University is an example of how incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into faculty research contributes to an increase in receiving large-scale funding to do more research. By integrating a knowledge mobilization unit within the university structure and specifically creating a senior research officer position to support large-scale grant applications initially increased large-scale funding by 300% per year – and over 8 years (from 2006-2014) has supported successful community-engaged scholarship grant applications that has secured over $43-million dollars. Since this funding is engaged with community it therefore is intended to create social benefit. Since a large portion of these grant budgets are for graduate students they also get to participate in this engaged scholarship.

KMb grant support

As a further example, York University holds 62.5% more SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) grant awards that contain a knowledge mobilization component than other major Canadian universities.

KMb grant support 2

So why not extend knowledge mobilization strategies beyond just faculty research to include graduate student research?

Having a strong enrolment base may be good for graduate programs – having a strong research base with a knowledge mobilization strategy is good for increasing funding – including funding for graduate programs. In turn, increased funding for graduate programs can contribute to increased graduate student enrolment.

Universities that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into faculty research to create social benefit are becoming very different from other universities who still place emphasis on research for research sake only. The old paradigm of doing research for research sake only, going through the grant application process for funding, having it peer-reviewed only to have the research sit on a shelf with no practical application is changing.

A helpful and colorful example of this comes from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health who not only have developed a very useful knowledge mobilization toolkit that any researcher can use (including university faculty and graduate student researchers) – but also a humorous animated video demonstrating “old-school” thinking versus emerging thinking in the demand for action from research. It’s about “what you do with what you’ve learned” thanks to the Knowledge Ninja.

Universities that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into graduate student research – not just faculty research – to create social benefit become very different from other universities who still place emphasis on vocation, training and education only as a means to just simply getting a graduate degree. Perhaps it’s also a way for universities to become more attractive to prospective graduate students who want to study at universities who can create community engagement opportunities through their research – and ultimately social benefit while getting their graduate degree.

York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit is collaborating with the Faculty of Graduate Studies to explore specialized training and support services for graduate students. This includes training in clear language writing and social media and serving as brokers of research collaborations for graduate students.

The combination of market forces and government policies has put higher education on a more competitive path that reduces opportunities for graduate students. Those universities who ignore community-engagement as part of reform strategies as part of a new university paradigm will be those still struggling to achieve reforms and fulfill public accountability and support over the next decade.

Some of the best training and preparation we can offer graduate student researchers is to make their research useful to society. It’s time the graduate student path includes a knowledge mobilization strategy in the pursuit of a graduate degree to rethink the value of traditional graduate degrees and the types of research being done.

What’s The Difference Between Knowledge Mobilization/Translation & Strategic Communications?


My knowledge mobilization colleagues Melanie Barwick, David Phipps, Michael Johnny, Rossana Corandioli and I have just published an article looking at the differences and similarities between Knowledge Mobilization/Translation and Strategic Communications. There is considerable overlap in the roles and activities of these two professional fields causing some tension between professionals working in these areas. We found the boundaries between the two professions created some ambiguity – so we started a dialogue around defining these roles and exploring synergies for greater clarity which lead to some interesting findings in our paper.

Please link to the article here and hope you enjoy!

Getting Graduate Students To Think About Knowledge Mobilization As Part Of Their Research


For almost a year now I have been working at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University and have come in contact with many Masters and PhD students, some of their supervisors, faculty members, Grad Program Directors and Assistants, and others who help our grad students with the process of their research. Apart from my own personal research experience working in a Health Psychology Lab – garnering a deeper understanding of the research process from literature review, to grant applications to peer-review publications, as well as working in York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, I see eager grad students still working toward an end point and counting the days to the home stretch of simply doing research as a means of degree completion rather than somehow making their research useful beyond the degree process.

The final thesis or dissertation defence is the culmination of years of labour but hopefully not simply the end of putting all of that research to good use.

It may seem obvious, most academic pursuits towards a graduate degree are not simply to achieve the degree itself but towards greater accomplishment. On the surface, some students realize the research they do will have some value beyond their own individual academic interests. Yet, in my own experience (particularly in the field of knowledge mobilization), today’s research pursuits – including those of graduate students – need to be carefully thought out to include how such research may have practical applications and are useful beyond the academy to society in general.

As I wrote about in an earlier blog, graduate students must now see themselves as boundary spanners undertaking research that has the potential to cross over several disciplines. On the one hand, it may simply be traditional academic research in the pursuit of a graduate degree. On the other, it may create engagement with community stakeholders, business entrepreneurs, and policy makers.

York University grad student Bart Danko is a recent and outstanding example of a student presenting his research with broader social and economic impact. Bart has not only pursued his interests in the interdisciplinary subjects of Environmental Studies and Law through York’s unique MES/JD program (the only program of its kind in Canada), he has also harnessed the power of social media by creating a film and website about his research. Like Bart, current and future students need to become more collaborative and networked in the knowledge and innovation society in which we now live by presenting research in broader and technological ways. It’s what is referred to as doing research with collective impact over isolated impact.

It may seem a daunting challenge to think about and involve a broader field of stakeholders in the grad research process, especially trying to reconcile how to bring together sectors who speak different languages and may use the research in different contexts. Couple that with the necessity of explaining to these various stakeholders composed of community, business and government organizations or agencies why this research makes sense, what it’s saying, and how this research is useful to society.

This is where knowledge mobilization and institutional knowledge brokers come in.

Planning your graduate research is already a daunting task.

Graduate students need to starting thinking about pursuing research interests that may also overlap with something not necessarily “in your field” that may have both an academic and applied purpose. Yet I would argue most graduate students have never even heard of a knowledge broker and what they do for making community/university connections.

Knowledge brokers can distill multiple sources from multiple areas into compelling and clear reasons for making graduate research useful to society. Knowledge brokers can build a case quickly and persuasively and learn to incorporate interdisciplinary and multi-sector voices into a coherent conversation about creating value in the research process – not just about the value in receiving the degree itself. Knowledge brokers can help community stakeholders learn to get the gist of the research quickly and be able to distill the applications in a way that will be understandable even to someone who is totally unfamiliar with a research topic.

Most importantly, knowledge brokers help to create a quality product working as a liaison between researcher and community interests: making research useful to society. In an age of an academic research paradigm shift, graduate students must now learn to think about community engagement over and over again, week after week from research to research.

Not only are current graduate student researchers expected to hone their ability to think, research, analyze, and write – core skills that have always been required to complete a thesis or dissertation – graduate research students can now be expected to start thinking about knowledge mobilization to make their research useful beyond the academy. And with the use of knowledge brokers, I would argue, in a far more effective manner than they would ever be able to do were they to keep to a more traditional academia-only research path.

If graduate student researchers stay in a traditionally-defined academic mode, research will be confined to papers for grant applications and scholarly publications with little more than the personal value – (dare I say) even more selfish value of a degree only for the sake of getting a degree. While the university creates space and rightly celebrates traditional scholarship, those grad students who take time, particularly those in the social sciences can create broader application value of their research results. Working with other researchers and community members to work out new ideas and think about interesting questions that may not be directly related to your field of research, taking the time to wonder about other areas beyond the university, and having the flexibility to work with other stakeholders to pursue broader research application can have extremely rewarding results as well as that of the goal of receiving your degree.

Not only will this broader type of thinking and research enhance your ability to complete your thesis or dissertation in a timely and comprehensive fashion, it will allow you to connect your research beyond the academy by linking to and enabling social benefit.

Knowledge mobilization teaches researchers to research broadly, looking at seemingly unrelated areas.
I doubt that former York University graduate student Tanya Gulliver initially thought that her research about heat and vulnerable citizens would lead to Toronto adopting Canada’s first heat registry without the use of York University’s knowledge brokers and Knowledge Mobilization Unit. It was because Tanya broadened her graduate research as part of a community-university research project with Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre using knowledge mobilization methods. The impact of this collaborative, graduate student research was covered by The Toronto Star. More often than not, academic disciplines do not talk to one another from the research silos that continue to exist. As a result, researchers miss important and potentially relevant opportunities for collaboration and research impact beyond the university.

To me, as a participant in the graduate student life-cycle and as a knowledge mobilization blogger, this is standard practice in wanting to push researchers – now particularly graduate students – to think about their research in broader terms. Whenever I write a new blog post I look for ways to include anything that may potentially be helpful to graduate students and help facilitate dialogue in areas that most graduate students wouldn’t normally cross into – such as community/university engagement. I don’t feel compelled to tell grad students to stay within traditional academic boundaries and want graduate students to see the potential they have to be boundary spanners. I want to help graduate students (and other researchers) to make their research useful to society through knowledge mobilization.

Academia as a whole is starting to embrace knowledge mobilization and knowledge brokers more into the research process. Particularly in Canada, these include developing institutional knowledge mobilization capacity with designated knowledge brokers with great success.

It’s a shame it’s taking a bit longer elsewhere – and it’s counterproductive in creating broader value and social benefit. Instead of merely acknowledging the benefits of greater community-university engagement, particularly for graduate students, wouldn’t it make sense for academia to embrace it further – and embrace it more enthusiastically as adding greater value to the graduate student experience? Like York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies did with the Graduate Professional Skills Launch that included a knowledge mobilization workshop.

I would argue that the best thing academia can do for its graduate students is to encourage such pursuits to the greatest extent possible. In fact, I’d go a step further – provide students with opportunities to connect with knowledge brokers and community stakeholders, as York University and other members of the ResearchImpact network have done. It gets graduate student thinking and engaging beyond their own traditional research process.

In following this strategy, we can teach our graduate students skills that will make the process of thesis or dissertation research more fulfilling knowing there is also an aspect of value for improving society and not just for getting a degree in higher education.

Researchers who cross disciplines and involve community in the research process through institutional knowledge brokers are still rare – particularly in graduate studies. But don’t we need this type of valuable broader research to keep graduate studies thriving? Some of the greatest and brightest graduate students have been those who bring fresh thinking and perspectives from a variety of disciplines and from other sectors. Such graduate students (and grad supervisors) are less likely to be narrowly-focused and constrained by lines of thinking that are discipline-specific, and more likely to be open to connections with the use of knowledge brokers that are not always obvious to many academics.

The single best training and preparation we can offer graduate student researchers is make their research useful to society. Perhaps in the future, the graduate student path will include knowledge mobilization strategies as the rule rather than the exception in the pursuit of a graduate degree.

Scaling Up Knowledge Mobilization Globally


For the past decade I have been involved with people developing and working in the field of knowledge mobilization (KMb). I started this blog to provide greater understanding of why KMb is important in connecting diverse knowledge from a variety of disciplines, social sectors – both community and university – and even from various countries to make the world a better place. I intend to continue doing this. But I’ve been having concerns this past week – given the recent so-called terrorist attacks in Quebec and Ottawa. Homegrown terrorism and self-radicalization are now words more Canadians are becoming familiar with.

Under Canada’s Criminal Code, terrorism is defined as a violent act committed “in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of “intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.”

In this I see the “dark side” of knowledge exchange for terrorism that is not connected with the reasons for knowledge exchange as I understand it. There is an important difference between knowledge exchange for radicalization and knowledge exchange for mobilization.

Radicalization has to do with knowledge exchange that brings about insecurity and danger – with knowledge that people acquire to intimidate, create fear and do terrorist acts. It results from social and political structures that do not guarantee human rights.

Knowledge mobilization has to do with knowledge exchange for goodwill or social benefit. It results from worthy attempts to create more useful and constructive knowledge in trying to overcome wicked problems and make the world a better place. It begins within our own communities and hopefully finds ways to scale up the benefits and impacts of knowledge exchange to effect positive change for greater worldwide benefit.

Can knowledge mobilization make a difference in the realization of human rights?

This is a question about our own personal commitments to human rights. Throughout my years in contributing to knowledge mobilization I have yearned for it to make the world a better place. I have hoped that my contributions might bring attention to how we can exchange knowledge to address the plight of the poor or the homeless, to the voices and knowledge of everyday people and so contribute to justice – not just in my own community but beyond.

In the world of research, knowledge mobilization is about making research useful to society. What about making research useful to all of our humanity?

Does knowledge mobilization actually offer something useful to poor or homeless people? Does knowledge mobilization actually help them? From a local perspective, I like to think so when I see the valuable efforts of organizations like The Homeless Hub or the United Way York Region that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into the work they do.

Many years ago I spent time working in a soup kitchen helping the poor, the homeless and the hungry. Yet over twenty-five years later there are still poor, homeless and hungry people. It makes me think of the biblical passage “there will never cease to be poor people.” While I don’t claim to be a religious person (I consider myself a humanist), I believe in justice for the poor and homeless by challenging the structures of our society that continue to deprive them of that justice and ignore human rights. I do believe that knowledge mobilization can make a difference, but in fact I also understand that knowledge mobilization can only offer a means of bringing extremes of ideologies, objectives or causes and knowledge closer together in attempts to work more cooperatively together.

My deeper concern is that current knowledge mobilization efforts only serve to relieve the more immediate and local socio-economic pressures rather than bring about more fundamental global changes. As a Canadian, in light of the closer-to-home radicalization that is occurring among our youth, it makes me realize that creating knowledge exchange more broadly worldwide can also influence some to adopt more radical belief systems instead of the type of knowledge exchange that brings more cooperative humanitarian efforts and approaches worldwide.

Are knowledge mobilization efforts making research useful and visible to society only in our local environments by creating the illusion of effective knowledge to action with strictly local impact? Have we created a culture of knowledge exchange only in social circles that bring change and benefit locally yet have normalized for us the destitution in developing and war-torn countries?

I was reminded of this with the recent Canadian media frenzy around homegrown terrorism and self- radicalization. Is the reason why some of our radicalized youth are willing to leave the safety and security of a country like Canada to fight in radicalized wars because we’re not doing enough to mobilize knowledge worldwide? What can bring us closer together in understanding and addressing the fundamental issues that affect all of us on this planet as collective human beings if not knowledge exchange?

How many of us promoting knowledge mobilization efforts – researchers, practitioners, clinicians, community organizers, business leaders, policy makers – end up feeling that our participation fulfills our local responsibilities to the poor, homeless, and those with mental health issues? We do our work in knowledge mobilization for a while, we see local social changes and benefits and it makes us feel good and we gain a sense of satisfaction. But in the process we risk forgetting about the greater global needs that continue to contribute to these wicked problems – even now in our own backyard – in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental reason why we do knowledge mobilization. It’s not just about making research useful to our own society – how about making research useful to all of humanity? How about exchanging knowledge to eliminate radicalized thinking? Is this even possible? Sadly, it takes an openness to want to exchange knowledge for this to happen.

People who incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into their work do so as a response to local problems to help ensure that people in our communities have a voice and can exchange knowledge to create social benefit and policy change in the here and now. Perhaps it’s time we consider these strategies as appropriate solutions to greater worldwide problems. We can tout the fact that community-university knowledge exchange has replaced an ivory-tower entitlement to knowledge that has slowly toppled many of our knowledge silos but it doesn’t camouflage our greater worldwide problems. We still require even broader thinking and knowledge mobilization approaches if we are to eliminate radicalized forms of knowledge and create more cooperative knowledge to action worldwide.

If we are only busy mobilizing knowledge in our local systems who is going to do the time-consuming work of knowledge mobilization for social benefit for our human system?

It’s working with a variety of global stakeholders through knowledge mobilization in conjunction with policy makers that will motivate governments to act together locally, nationally and internationally to guarantee rights, to create or oversee programs that assure everyone adequate access to what they need on a broader scale. Government leaders need to take a more open approach to work together – not a more divided and oppositional approach – only this will bring about a complete human system change – if it’s even possible.

And what of knowledge mobilizers who work diligently on creating greater knowledge exchange? Knowledge exchange is necessary to create greater understanding, but sometimes knowledge exchange may cause harm if not done with openness.

We hear much talk these days about knowledge mobilization as a tool for dealing with social ills – working with policy makers to provide services to the needy. But while local knowledge mobilization strategies may play a role locally they cannot be a substitute for greater worldwide knowledge mobilization strategies.

As for local organizations providing for all the needs of the poor, the chances are even more remote. The magnitude of the problem requires something beyond any local actions. However, a recent report on homelessness in Canada by researcher Stephen Gaetz suggests that $46 more per Canadian per year can vastly cut homelessness in this country. Could this type of thinking be scaled up worldwide to address homelessness or even other social issues?

Perhaps, but I suggest the fundamental problem for the poor in our country and in our world is not homelessness or other wicked problems themselves – rather the problem is injustice. In promoting knowledge mobilization as cooperative efforts of knowledge exchange in our institutions and communities to create local policy change we think that distributing enough food, creating enough shelters or producing enough homes in our communities – that is, if we just treat the symptoms in our own communities we will have solved “the problem.” The problem is we haven’t solved the problem worldwide.

Unfortunately, injustice is deep-rooted in every society. It is the inevitable result of the structures within our communities – social, economic, political and religious that reinforce inequality and lead to extremism and radicalization. These are the structures that keep wicked problems alive.

Local knowledge mobilization strategies do little to change the wider social and political systems that sustain injustice. Even if we perceive the need for systemic change worldwide, we can do little beyond a few cooperative borders.
Knowledge exchange for social benefit within our own communities offends almost no one. Seeking justice beyond our own borders offends many.

I’m not suggesting we abandon knowledge mobilization efforts. In addition to establishing justice within our communities, broader knowledge mobilization efforts are both necessary in our own communities and a requirement within the broader global community. We need to start thinking about ways for knowledge mobilization strategies within organizations to support those who work for justice worldwide.

We must continue to engage with policymakers to think beyond our own borders to create worldwide knowledge mobilization efforts.

Working for justice worldwide is not an easy task. There are no quick fixes and the most common reason for abandoning efforts is discouragement due to a lack of openness from others who are radicalized in their thinking. But we have little choice. Within an unjust world there are limitations to knowledge exchange. We need to continue in our attempts to join others in every part of this planet in the struggle for justice for everyone. It is a fundamental requirement of our humanity.