When people think about knowledge mobilization they often don’t think about storytelling. Storytelling can be seen as unsubstantiated fabrications or even devious. So how can storytelling play a part in making research useful to society? When the framework of narrative is used to convey research knowledge to research-user audiences.
Research suggests that storytelling is easier for a broader audience to comprehend – and more engaging. So why not use it as part of a knowledge mobilization strategy.
Knowledge requires action to be useful. Knowledge can be shared for benefit or harm. When knowledge is shared for benefit – particularly to broader audiences through storytelling – it becomes more useful. Active and engaging knowledge sharing for social benefit is more likely to create greater understanding between various sectors of society – and greater understanding leads to a more peaceful and civil society.
The challenge for researchers is to decide when and how storytelling can effectively be applied to help communicate their research to non-experts as part of knowledge mobilization efforts. Most people have an understanding of how to tell a story. However, many researchers disregard the power of narrative as a knowledge translation tool.
Sharing knowledge and being open to the knowledge of others (for both researchers and research-users) and listening to the knowledge of others to exchange knowledge on a regular basis is more likely to ensure that common ground can be found between differing views of knowledge – because the world is full of differing views. Having differing views isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that we need to try to continue to find common ground. Knowledge and practice develop together.
Storytelling has a certain structure that describes the cause-and-effect relationships between actions at a particular time that impact particular characters. Using narrative as a knowledge mobilization tool to convey research to a broader research-user audience does not depend on the content being conveyed – unlike the often narrowly-focused scientific communication that most researchers take.
A great example of the effective use of narratives as part of a knowledge mobilization strategy and social innovation platform comes from the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI). Thanks to the Norlien Foundation, the Government of Alberta and other community stakeholders, AFWI is using video narratives to convey research being done to achieve better health and wellness outcomes for children and families. The work of AFWI focuses on the link between early childhood experiences and mental and physical health outcomes throughout life – knowing from neuroscience that what happens in early childhood can subsequently affect health and wellness outcomes later in life.
AFWI follows the early interdisciplinary work of The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child in the U.S. that engaged neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians to present synthesized knowledge into working papers for use by non-expert audiences. Through a narrative project called “The Core Story of…” short storytelling videos were created to explain the science behind various research touching on early experiences, brain plasticity, children’s mental health, and the concept of toxic stress.
Videos include The Core Story of Brain Development that explains the science to non-expert, broader public audiences. Using a metaphor of the requirement for a strong foundation for a house, The Core Story of Brain Development narrative video explains the importance of creating a strong foundation for brain architecture in the early years of childhood development. A second metaphor of a serve and return in tennis was also included to stress the importance of a serve and return of interaction and mirroring engagement between infant and parent/caregiver for healthy brain development.
I think of another great storyteller, Peter Levesque, President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization who also uses story telling as a KMb tool. Peter points to digital storytelling as “one of the MOST important forms of knowledge mobilization available to community-based organizations and citizens”. Peter uses a specific example of Aboriginal storytelling combined with digital technology as an effective method for understanding context, and conveying these stories through social media.
Additional examples of using social media for great and effective digital storytelling can be found at MindYourMind and HomelessHub who use both YouTube and Twitter as knowledge mobilization tools.
Although such elaborate and more professional knowledge mobilization tools for social innovation have great research impact – such larger-scale storytelling projects are not always necessary for effective knowledge mobilization storytelling. Even more simplified versions of storytelling can have broader impact as I have shown in a few of my KMbeing blogs.
Research represents a meaningful unit of knowledge and can be difficult to translate from scientific evidence into other messages understood by the general public. In contrast, narrative forms can be more easily understood as research knowledge translation tools because storytelling derives meaning from the ongoing cause-and-effect relationship between actions at a particular time that, again, impact particular characters – and are therefore can create opportunities of greater understanding for broader research-user audiences.
As a knowledge mobilization blogger and as someone who strongly believes in the power of social media for knowledge mobilization, I see the combination of storytelling by researchers using social media to convey context as an essential knowledge mobilization tool. If you’re a researcher, how well are you incorporating this storytelling tool into your knowledge mobilization strategy?