KMbeing

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

Category Archives: knowledge translation

Generations, Perspective, Choice & Knowledge Mobilization

blame

There’s a 1988 song by the band Mike and The Mechanics called In The Living Years that begins with “Every generation blames the one before, and all of their frustrations come beating on your door…we all talk a different language talking in defense.” Although this song addresses a son’s regret about not expressing to his father the things he wishes he would have said when his father was still alive, the opening lines reflect an inter-generational view that holds meaning for many.

I write this blog post from a more personal than usual perspective – a mid-life perspective that some may relate to and others not so much, depending upon which generation of “X” “Y” “Z” or “millennial” group you are lumped into. Regardless of when you were born I hope you will consider these words as a message reaching out to all generations.  I am considered a tail-end “baby-boomer”. Born in 1964, I may now be called a “zoomer” or aging “boomer” who still has zing. Inter-generational tension seems to exist regardless of which part of the past two centuries you were born. History reflects a momentum of building upon (or criticizing) the generation that was born before – or after – you were born.

As I grow older – closer to retirement than to the idealism of my twenties – I realize that perspective is everything! But it’s not just about my own “older” perspective, it’s also about being open to the perspective of any generation. And being open means not talking in defense. Our perspective is our own reality.

Each week I write about knowledge mobilization. I firmly believe that by exchanging our knowledge across the boundaries of age, gender, ability, race, culture, nationality, religion or sexual orientation we can come closer to understanding each other and learn from each other to make the world a better place. Problems occur when we dig our heals in and refuse to be open because of ideology, faith, extremism, or a sense of entitlement or lack of fairness (As a friend of mine likes to say, “life isn’t fair so build a bridge and get over it!”). All of these are dichotomies that have and still polarize us in our world today – that do not focus on the underlying understanding of our common humanity. One need only look at current news in the media to see the continuing presence of such dichotomies.

Although I choose not to speak publically as an employee about the York University and University of Toronto labour disruptions (as a former colleague who worked with me at York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies has done in a recent blog post) events such as these are clear examples of when people take a dichotomous “us” and “them” mentality. Pointing fingers and saying “they can” or “they should” don’t help such situations – it only inflames them further.

I grew up in a low-income family and never had the opportunity to finish an undergraduate degree until I was in my forties – after much hard work, jobs with minimum wages, no health or insurance benefits, attending classes while working full time – with years of sacrifice. It wasn’t due to a lack of intelligence, but to various circumstances in my life. So I know something about precarity. I worked many years in the hospitality industry, made a choice to change careers to work in the academic world, and continued to work hard to finally make that change a current reality. It seems far too many people today expect immediate gratification and seek possessions, technologies, money, careers, benefits, and higher education as some automatic entitlement or right.

Each one of us lives our lives, experiences challenges (some more difficult than others) and we either learn to pull through or we don’t. Along the way there are those kind human beings who try to lend a hand for those more in need – and there are also those more selfish human beings who really don’t care. This is the ultimate and only dichotomy that counts. (It’s also why I consider knowledge mobilization important to overcome hatred in our world). Ask any person from any generation if they know someone from their own generation with either a kind approach or a hateful approach to our fellow human beings and you will certainly find the answer is yes in any generation. Then ask yourself, which side do you fall on?

From a broader human perspective – our main goal should be to increase every person’s well-being and quality of life, but sadly, we don’t. Because we still point our fingers and say “they can” or “they should”.

But is it our right to expect such kindness from other human beings. No.

This is also the challenge of our living together on this planet.

Do I expect people to be kind? Hopefully – but never certainly. This happens regardless of generation.

After basic needs are covered, everybody has the right to pursue other goals in life: happiness, wealth, careers, and knowledge – including higher education, but they must all be understood from an individual’s subjective perspective.

Many societies attempt to increase the well-being and quality of life of their citizens to create greater inclusion and harmony of living. My interest in knowledge mobilization is based upon this very ability to bring together policy-makers, practitioners and researchers from public, private and non-profit organizations – in a civilized, inclusive, and non-accusatory manner – to create sustainable solutions to challenges such as poverty, social exclusion, discrimination and other problems that create suffering and disparity within society

While basic education is necessary and a human right for children to learn and develop social skills; and secondary school education is required to focus on developing professional skills; higher education is an opportunity, a privilege and a choice which aims at providing specific knowledge for advancement in various fields. Higher education is not a human right – it is a purely personal choice.

Problems occur when one conflates the choice of pursuing higher education with the opportunity to be paid for work while doing so. The reality is that there is a choice between pursuing a higher education and working in a job to make a living wage. Not recognizing this reality is abdicating one’s own power to enact personal change through personal choice – and with choice comes responsibility.

Most importantly, remember – tomorrow is promised to no one.

Missing Conferences 2015: UK & Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forums

UK Forum Logo Cdn KMb Forum Logo

 

Sometimes missing conferences can’t be helped. Such is the case with two conferences this year – the 2nd annual UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum in Edinburgh, Scotland (13-14 April, 2015); and the 4th annual Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum taking place this year in Montreal, Quebec (14-15 May, 2015). Despite the advance planning and my previous attendance and support, I just cannot make it to these conferences this year due to my new job at the Faculty of Graduate Studies and work commitments involved.

Although I am disappointed that I can’t attend, I wholeheartedly encourage anyone interested in learning about enhancing knowledge exchange or knowledge mobilization practice – including graduate students thinking about putting current or future research into practice with impact – to register and go.

You can be sure that I will be spending some time assessing what activities took place. For previous events, I have blogged about the UK KMb Forum here and here; the Cdn KMb Forum here and here; tweeted about the UK Forum here, here, and here, and the Cdn Forum here, here and here, including participating in a Speakers Corner here. I even wrote two reports for the previous Canadian KMb Forums – 2013 Cdn KMb Forum Report; 2014 Cdn KMb Forum Report. (Link here to see more about the 2014 UK KMb Forum Report).

I’m sure someone else will be taking notes this year on the presentations and discussions of topics and outcomes of conversations for a report, and I look forward to reviewing what transpired. I’m also looking forward to following up with the amazing organizers Cathy Howe (UK KMb Forum) and Peter Levesque (Cdn KMb Forum), and I hope to be involved again at future events.

So why should you attend (again – or for the first time) either or both of these KMb Forums? The UK and the Canadian KMb Forums are a continuum of engaged relationships that have developed out of previous events, and an opportunity to develop new partnerships and valuable multi-sector and international connections.

Last year’s participants at the inaugural UK KMb Forum, included a mix of individuals from government policy, economics and evaluation, health research, youth & criminal justice, cancer research, social investment, women’s health, prison & corrections, freelance writing, science, non-governmental organizations, knowledge management, families & relationships, pharmacy, along with a variety of university scholars, administrators and community organizations – an incredibly successful session that brought together a wide range of knowledge exchange all in one place at one event! I heard someone say that they had not heard of any other multi-sector conference like this ever taking place in the UK, as events always seem to be so “specialized” and discipline-specific.

Extending on last year’s theme of Making Connections Matter, the 2015 UK KMb Forum focuses on four key areas of such connections:

  • Making Connections Matter: Knowledge Producers – helping researchers connect with those who help turn research into practice and impact beyond just publication
  • Making Connections Matter: Knowledge Brokers – providing opportunities for brokers to share their learning and lived experiences with other brokers and a wider audience
  • Making Connections Matter: People Who Use Knowledge – enabling practitioners from a wide range of sectors to meet academics, researchers and policy makers
  • Making Connections Matter: People Who Want To See Knowledge Used – giving public service, third sector and industry workers a chance to tell their own stories to influence future research

Last year’s Canadian KMb Forum was also another successful interdisciplinary conference with attendees from a mix of sectors including health, academia, children & youth services, workplace safety, environment, addictions & mental health, education, disability services, business, agriculture, and childhood development. The theme of the 2015 Canadian KMb Forum is Creativity as Practice: Mobilizing Diverse Ways of Thinking. This year’s Canadian KMb Forum will emphasize how creativity is a necessary part of knowledge mobilization practice in order to build capacity and improvement for knowledge mobilization by engaging with researchers, practitioners, knowledge brokers, community members and policy makers in more creative ways to enable partnerships and collaboration.

Even though I can’t attend either of these valuable knowledge mobilization forums this year – if you’re interested in effective ways of exchanging knowledge and helping to make research useful to society you can be part of one or both of these important events that bring people together locally, nationally and internationally to establish connections and form new relationships that I have found continue to influence my own work in very important ways.

And of course, you may even get a chance to see KnowMo!

The Politics of Austerity, Research & Knowledge Mobilization

Austerity

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is slowly emerging as a process to connect academic research with evidence-based policy-making since the emergence of KMb over the past decade. KMb was cultivated in earlier forms of evidence-based practice, and recent initiatives across sectors of public administration indicate a move towards creating new policies based on research that produces social benefit as an impact. (For more in-depth reading on the historical development of KMb, I continue to recommend an excellent longitudinal analysis paper written by Carole Estabrooks and colleagues that traces the historical development of the knowledge exchange field between 1945 and 2005 with an author co-citation analysis of over 5,000 scholarly articles).

The term knowledge mobilization (KMb) evolved following the publication of an evaluation report of the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2004. This led SSHRC to create a division of Knowledge Products and Mobilization to enhance and accelerate the movement of research findings into policy and program development.

However, the politics of austerity continues to affect the types of research deemed more beneficial than others. In terms of research, austerity describes government policies used to reduce research funding as part of maintaining government budgets. The effects of austerity measures on research by decreased funding is seen as direct attacks on public services, whose primary mission is to reduce social inequalities – which social science research, in particular, seeks to address and understand.

Is it because of this obvious link – and full-circle connection – between social science research and public services that politicians wish to ignore when they implement austerity measures that leads to a decrease in research funding?

Research funding and policy are politically guided and frequently challenged as a means to deliver public services due to a growing disconnect over the past decade between researchers and the Canadian government. The current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power in 2006 – two years after SSHRC’s CURA evaluation and KMb momentum began. Since then, many Canadian researchers and knowledge brokers have gained an international reputation for broadening the research path based on the development of KMb; however Canada’s government has also gained an international reputation for ignoring KMb recommendations and silencing scientific experts who seek to make their work public – causing a rift in the relationship between academia and government. (Further articles on Conservative government cuts to science research can be found here and here and here).

In an effort to reduce government spending, many researchers have been affected by a decrease in research funding. The ongoing transformation of the academic sector has been most apparent with the many challenges created by financial struggles with universities seeking evidence-based reform with initiatives 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.

Considering the continuing decrease in research funding, should researchers (particularly social science researchers) wish to maintain a prominent role in the pursuit of research for social benefit they need to develop broader partnerships – with the use of knowledge brokers – to not only advance wider knowledge networks and broader connections for research, but also establish collective lobbying voices for government policy change.

But first, researchers must understand that integrating KMb strategies into their own research plays a crucial role in creating these connections of influence.  KMb must start as an institutional capacity that involves public, private and community sector partners. Then, by incorporating a social media element, the connections, conversations and collaboration aspects of social media work together to help establish Communities of Practice online and can support the social and influential nature of KMb on public policy. These vital links of KMb are illustrated in Applying Social Sciences Research for Public Benefit Using Knowledge Mobilization and Social Media. Governmental, corporate, academic and community partners need to intersect and work together to help research organizations and society reorient themselves.

kmb-model-final1.png

Researchers alone are incapable of influencing political strategies that continue to decrease funding. This requires a movement through broader partnerships that can serve as a collective point of community engagement and pressure politicians to increase research funding and lead to policy change.

The Conservative government’s political agenda in Canada remains largely unabated as policy makers decide which resources Canadian researchers (and society) “needs” to be allocated for the next big political game.  Changing this will require a cooperative movement that transcends individual academic, corporate and community sectors to make political demands and build the social-benefit capacity of research that has been historically entrenched in university/institutions which requires further continuing expansion to society beyond. Without a strong KMb strategy, deeply rooted in community-engagement and forging new partnerships to lobby government for increasing funding, it would appear that the under-funding of research from government sources will continue.

Canadian researchers (particularly social science researchers) face an historic opportunity with an upcoming Federal election on October 19th, 2015 which may well change the Conservative precedent of decreasing Federal research funding in Canada. Future research depends on the extent of decreasing the financial pressures that continue to be based on the politics of austerity that overlook the social benefits of research.

 

 

Shifting Funding & Academic Priorities

lightbulb funding

Universities face financial challenges in maintaining institutional and academic success while also seeking solutions to fulfill public accountability for a return on investment. According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) there are 1.2 million students in degree programs in Canada with 42,000 full-time professors. Universities are a $30-billion dollar enterprise (including faculty/staff salaries, buildings/maintenance, supplies and other infrastructure) – with $10-billion worth of research activities. Approximately $2.5-billion of research funding comes from federally-funded granting agencies such as the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) – while the remaining $7.5-billion comes from institutional investments and other sources such as industry, other government-funding and donations.

To break this down further, The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) reports that Federal, Provincial, Territorial and Municipal funding – including funding for research – accounts for approximately 55% of revenue; student fees account for only 20% of revenue; and bequests, donations, non-governmental grants, sales of products and services, and investments bring in 25%.

Despite these revenue sources, universities continue to struggle to overcome an economic crisis which has been driven by balancing institutional/labour costs and sustaining or increasing student enrolment. Maintaining fiscal feasibility is a crucial challenge for the future of Canadian universities as universities have recently been faced with a decrease in funding (specifically in real dollars) – particularly federal funding from Canada’s Tri-Councils.

Granting Councils SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR Base Funding 2007-2014:

Change
2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 (2007-14)
SSHRC 383.7 358.1 368.1 359.4 355.6 351.5 344.8 -10.10%
NSERC 1057.9 1051.5 1042.3 1050.2 1030.8 1018.9 990.3 -6.40%
CIHR 1017.8 989.8 1020.1 1026.9 953 969.4 941.4 -7.50%
Indirect Costs 327.9 335.7 330.9 324.9 322.6 318.9 302 -7.90%
TOTAL 2787.2 2735.0 2761.5 2761.4 2662.1 2658.7 2578.4 -7.50%
Source: SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR Departmental Performance Reports, Budget 2012 and Budget 2013

 

 

What this means is that universities continue to place reliance on government funding – yet funding continues to decrease each year.

What this also means at the same time is that there is great potential for universities (Canadian or otherwise) through opportunities provided by new forms of innovation through private-sector and community-engagement.

Supporting inclusive, innovative and responsive universities is a prerequisite for sustainable institutional and academic quality and success.

The emergence of knowledge mobilization as a priority embedded in university planning, the changing approach to research as more inclusive of community partners and other key stakeholders, and the need for more innovation call for a renewed understanding of the rapidly changing academic world.

This understanding is reinforced by greater interdisciplinary approaches within various academic programs – including such areas as Critical Disability Studies and Technology/Communications Studies. University policies need to continue to recognize the value of interdisciplinary approaches while dealing with the economic challenges to improve knowledge exchange about how our modern universities now work.

University research and innovation can address many social issues and challenges. Research that incorporates knowledge mobilization strategies can explore new forms of innovation and strengthen the evidence-base for broader application and other relevant professional practice, social services and public policies.

Such research that promotes clear and effective community-campus cooperation can create new ideas, strategies and policy structures for overcoming a financial crisis by creating a growth agenda in research that focuses on knowledge mobilization integration and the promotion of emerging technologies and entrepreneurial-skills investments by current and future students.

A new generation of students – dubbed by Maclean’s magazine as “Generation Z” – appears to be more socially engaged than students in the past and these students are more apt to have more social and entrepreneurial instincts. These students are more innovative and inclusive by being more socially and entrepreneurially engaged. The effects of harnessing and focusing this approach into cooperative research and innovation for community-campus partnerships requires universities to also adjust to a new approach to university research and financial sustainability.

In short – this new university paradigm of research needs to foster a greater understanding of academic funding that may be less reliant on government sources by providing solutions that support inclusive, innovative and responsive partnerships with more community and private stakeholders in the context of unprecedented academic transformations and shifting academic priorities.

 

Increasing The Academic & Innovation Grade

Innovation 1

What is innovation? Is it simply coming up with a new idea; is it creating a new design or product; is it developing a new process?

In research terms, innovation is essentially linked to improvements in the application of knowledge towards advancements in science and technology. Knowledge mobilization is making research useful to society. As such, knowledge mobilization is a process that enables innovation that stems from research initiatives between community and academia that is moving beyond community engagement to partnerships that lead to more far-reaching ideas and strategies.

According to Stanford University Centre for Social Innovation:

“A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

The Conference Board of Canada defines innovation as:

“A process through which economic or social value is extracted from knowledge—through the creating, diffusing, and transforming of ideas—to produce new or improved products, services, processes, strategies, or capabilities.”

Despite the emerging influence of Canada in the knowledge mobilization field over the past decade, and the impact that university research has had by becoming more accessible and receptive to community partners – recent statistics still show that Canada remains near the bottom of countries with the highest development of successful innovation strategies.

While examples of Canada’s success in the knowledge mobilization field can be seen through the great collaborative work of a pan-university network such as ResearchImpact, why is there still a disconnect with greater successful innovation despite historic investments in Canadian research and development through knowledge mobilization?

Perhaps the answer is in the lack of initiative of the private-sector in working more closely with the public-sector as evidenced by the disappointing grades given to Business Enterprise R&D spending (“D”) compared to Public R&D spending (“B”).

Another key message put forth by the Conference Board of Canada is that Canada must perform at the cutting edge and attract the brightest students to careers in science and engineering or it will continue to fall behind our peers on this indicator.

In these particular areas, York University – part of the ResearchImpact network – continues to lead the way through its knowledge mobilization initiatives creating greater innovation by offering opportunities for graduate students to work more closely with business through research-funders like Mitacs, York’s entrepreneurship program Launch YU, and business mentoring with ventureLAB.

York University has also recently opened the Lassonde School of Engineering which was established, in the words of its Dean, Janusz Kozinsi, “to educate (a) new type of engineer — someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, a social conscience and a sense of global citizenship who is a highly-trained professional in their field and across many disciplines.”

Today, knowledge mobilization provides opportunities for innovation to continue to emerge and address the challenge of improving Canada’s performance on the innovation stage. We may still have a way to go on an international level to compete against other countries for more successful innovation; yet on a Canadian level York University is a clear example of taking the right steps to providing opportunities for future innovators such as graduate students – an example worth following to not only increase the academic grade but also the innovation grade.

 

 

 

 

21st Century Research: Interdisciplinary Scholarship & The Third Sector

volunteer

Researchers in the 21st century must now think about and become interested in cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary connections. Cross-sector and interdisciplinary scholarship are exactly what knowledge mobilization (KMb) is about – researchers networking across borders as an essential element of the research process to provide greater outreach and input for social benefit to make research useful to society.  Although knowledge mobilization can be a part of any academic discipline – it’s particularly true for social science and humanities research.

Research is no longer valued if it’s locked up in disciplinary silos or peer-reviewed journals. Research must now involve open-access cross-pollination with other sectors in academia and community that informs and is informed by policy-makers – taking place across a variety of organizational, public, business and government spaces.

Community is not just community-based researchers or practitioners. Community is also about what is often called the third sector – the sphere of social activity undertaken by voluntary organizations and public citizens that are not-for-profit and non-governmental. By including the third sector in the interdisciplinary border crossings without boundaries is a more inclusive and extensive way of being a boundary-spanner.

Being a boundary-spanner begins right at the beginning of any research career as graduate students embark on a future in research – as I wrote about in an earlier blog post. Graduate students have an excellent opportunity to initiate such connections by considering how their own research can have impact within the third sector, or even how they can become involved in the volunteer-sector while doing their own research. And many are already volunteering with recent statistics about volunteering in Canada showing 15-24 year olds representing the highest percentage of volunteers at 58%, and 35-44 year olds at a close second at 54%.

The idea of being a boundary-spanner is also what lead me to develop the Myers Model of Knowledge Mobilization.

 kmb-model-final1.png

The greatest advances often occur not exclusively in academia, or private-sector practitioners or business leaders or because of government policies. The greatest advances and social benefit often occur at the intersections and collaborations between borders and boundaries – an important message for anyone in research or also beginning a career in research.

By promoting knowledge mobilization on a broader scale, ResearchImpact has been playing a leading role in cross-sector connections since 2006. ResearchImpact is a knowledge mobilization network of 11 Canadian universities involved in community-university engagement to inform public policy, involve non-profits in the research process and create valuable social change. ResearchImpact has crossed university borders into communities to include all sectors – public, private and non-profit, and has given graduate students opportunities to connect their own research with knowledge brokers and community stakeholders. It gets graduate students thinking and engaging beyond the “traditional” research process.

Such inclusiveness is moving beyond the borders of research disciplines, moving beyond the borders of academia to community, and also moving beyond national borders. How we do research has changed – and how we teach new researchers to do research has also changed.

Welcome to research in the 21st century!

Active Listening As A Knowledge Mobilization Skill

Active Listening

In our office at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University listening is one of the most important skills we can have to fully understand the concerns of our graduate students, staff and faculty, while properly supporting them in an academic/research environment. It seems that all of us can become so focused on our work that we can sometimes switch our hearing on and off. It can sometimes be frustrating the number of times some of us interrupt a person speaking before we can actually fully acknowledge what’s being said.

The unfortunate thing is that although we think we may be listening to what’s actually being said, sometimes it’s not always the case.

Several years ago I left a career in the airline industry as a flight attendant to embark on a career in university administration. As an In-Charge Flight Attendant one of the first things I was taught was to listen very carefully. Particularly in the event of any emergency situation, listening skills are crucial for dealing with any safety and security issues to effectively communicate important information to passengers and crew. As my grandmother used to say to me, “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that order”. Although I learned to use my listening and communication skills daily, in reality – I admit – I sometimes fail to hear everything said to me. We don’t take in completely everything that is being said to us – and this is rather concerning.

Listening continues to be a major part of my day as I now work in a university setting – and rightly should be for anyone in any setting. We use listening to gain understanding, to exchange knowledge, and learn. If the important parts of understanding what is being said to us aren’t understood then it’s a problem. And if we don’t really listen to understand we’re missing out on important and often missed details.

Being an active listener – especially in the field of knowledge mobilization – will do a number of helpful things for you. It will improve the efficiency of your understanding, the clarity of your speaking and knowledge translation, as well as increase the cooperation of people involved in the conversation. You will avoid more misunderstanding, and improve rapport with a number of key players in your knowledge mobilization network – researchers, intermediaries and research users such as policy makers – and of course it will help improve your overall ability to effectively communicate.

To enhance your knowledge mobilization skills, you need to practice active listening. Active listening is making a conscious effort to listen carefully to not only the words being said but the meaning behind what’s being communicated as well. It’s not as easy as it sounds and requires continual practice.

Active listening as a general skill for any person – and as a knowledge mobilization skill for researchers, knowledge brokers, community partners and policy-makers requires all to remain very focused on what is being said by anyone in the research process. We need to pay attention to the stereotypes of power and politics, the marginalization of the often un-listened-to voices, and ideas of elitist knowledge sources – while also being able to form counter-arguments that can lead to the development of new knowledge. The moment we stop concentrating fully on every partner in the knowledge mobilization partnership we’ re no longer actively listening.

Knowledge mobilization is about communicating knowledge (particularly research knowledge) through listening and dialogue – and turning knowledge into action. Part of that action is paying complete attention to all research partners. We need to give each partner within the research process our undivided attention – and continue to acknowledge what is being said to continuously transform our knowledge within society. This also includes looking for all non-verbal communication as well as the words being said. Throughout the research process, the community-engagement process, the knowledge translation and exchange process, and the policy-making process all partners need to continue to show that they are listening – not just passively listening – actively listening. This is very powerful in continuing to develop and convey knowledge.

The other side of listening for better knowledge development is to give feedback. Our job as listeners is to clearly understand what is being said. Our job as knowledge mobilizers is to also check for understanding. We do this by asking questions and reflecting back what we think is being said. We need to ask questions. Researchers are usually very good at this; community-partners are sometimes hesitant to do so due to those ideas of elitist knowledge sources; and policy-makers sometimes forget to ask further questions. One of the easiest ways of asking questions and reflecting back to any speaker is to simply ask “what do you mean when you say…?” or  “ it sounds like what you’re saying is…” Summarize the knowledge you think is being conveyed and get them to correct your understanding if necessary.

Most importantly – don’t interrupt until an exchanged thought is complete. Don’t say things like, “no, no, no, no…” with hand gestures or body-language that summarily dismisses what another person is attempting to communicate. Interrupting is not only rude – it also wastes time and risks frustrating the individuals speaking to you. Such rude interruptions limit the conversation – and hence limit the potential for effective knowledge mobilization.

Included in giving feedback and not interrupting is the ability to make only appropriate responses. Active listening as a knowledge mobilization skill requires respect and accurate understanding. For more on listening and knowledge brokers please see Phipps & Morton (2013). We add nothing to the conversation by arguing inappropriately or attacking a point of view. Taking the time to not interrupt also provides an opportunity to critically think about what’s being said and how best to respond without a knee-jerk reaction.

This doesn’t mean we have to sugar-coat everything thing we say in response. It simply means being open and honest in our responses – while also being respectful in our opinions. We can convey what we mean and exchange our knowledge in a manner that is tactful and diplomatic – not by demeaning or talking-down to someone.

Active listening in everyday life and as a knowledge mobilization skill takes much practice, concentration and determination – but is worth the effort to turn knowledge exchange into an action for greater social benefit.

As a researcher, research partner or policy-maker, if you practice active listening as a knowledge mobilization skill and continue to remind yourself to include this in all of your communication with others, not only will your understanding of others improve – you’ll also be amazed at how much more you actually increase your knowledge to make the world a better place, and isn’t that the point?

Point Your PhD Beyond The Academy

pointing

I recently attended a meeting to discuss recommendations from York University’s Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) – an attempt to measure and quantify the state of the university with a focus on quality education and sustainability, similar to other institutional “pulse-checks” being done by several other universities. The many challenges within the past few decades have created financial and graduate enrolment struggles for universities now requiring evidence-based reform.

One of the surprising (or perhaps not so surprising) views to still be expressed at the meeting was that the role of the university in terms of graduate education is to somehow ensure there’s a career in the academy after finishing a PhD. University faculty have long considered tenure to be their right – something they deserve as dedicated researchers and hardworking teaching professionals – a right that is also enshrined in faculty collective agreements. Yet 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.

Is it any wonder with this type of “old-school” thinking the expectations of graduate students remain similar to these? Fortunately, the voices expressing this view at the meeting were very few, but the fact that they were still expressed is concerning.

We must continue to tell our graduate students that there is still value in getting a PhD and using it beyond academia – as this value can be applied to so many other career choices outside the academy.

Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower, edited by Cynthia Robbins Roth is a valuable example of the many career paths available after finishing a PhD – and highly recommended reading for current PhD students, regardless of academic discipline. The publication of this book is more than a decade old but shows that this is not just a current problem – it remains a current reality.  Another great source is Non-Academic Career Options for PhDs in the Humanities and Social Sciences in assisting graduate students to think beyond an academic career post-graduation.

The Globe and Mail recently published a further insightful piece titled Faculty jobs are rare, but Canada still needs its PhDs – showing the value of a graduate degree. The editorial states “universities need to ensure graduate students are well trained in their specific disciplines. But universities also need to ensure students recognize and can make use of all the transferable skills they acquire along the way, so that students can succeed regardless of their ultimate career path.”

Supporting students is “the bottom line” of any university. 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. Indeed, according to York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit, 25% of the 44 knowledge mobilization graduate student interns supported by York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit were hired by the internship partner.

So what can we do to help graduate students get a job outside of academia when they finish their degree? First off – step into the new university paradigm and let go of the “old-school” academic thinking.

Graduate students, eager on completing their Masters or PhDs, need to be made aware that they must become team players and better communicators, and develop knowledge mobilization strategies into their current research.

Another factor discussed at the recent meeting was the often too flexible deadlines in academia that can reinforce a culture of indifference to the value of time and a certain lack of realism that doesn’t work outside of academia. Getting graduate students to finish their degrees within the usual timeframes is not only important for finally obtaining the degree but also for teaching the value of maintaining a deadline.

The pressure to get results and publish is intense in academia. Graduate students need to be supported by supervisors who instill a sense of properly managing projects over time-frames with specific deadlines – while also learning to network and develop knowledge mobilization strategies.

I have enormous respect for the work our faculty and graduate students do. I admire their dedication, creativity, intelligence and resilience. They tend towards developing communications skills and internal academic networks because they often work together in groups at the university – but they are still often geared towards academic-style communication.

To be sure, some aspects of graduate work is challenging and needs a high degree of commitment, creativity, enthusiasm and support. These are also the skills and attitudes required for any career – both academic and non-academic. Making research useful to society is what knowledge mobilization is all about. We need to start thinking about post-graduate careers in terms of adapting the skills acquired in graduate school for a variety of pathways to make the research and education useful to society beyond the academy.

Knowledge mobilization involves much more than merely translating knowledge. It’s also about the effective learning of communication skills to network knowledge. In the workplace telling someone a fact is not enough; effective communication not only involves good speaking but also active and diplomatic listening skills as well. Graduate students must learn to use their knowledge to network with effective communication skills. Graduate students do not usually have such skills because they get used to dealing with people who think the same way they do within their own disciplines.

Everything about graduate studies is designed to generate more academics – not people who can also use their research skills to work in other career settings. If universities do their jobs well, by the time graduate students graduate they become very good academics – which means they are likely to be less adept and adaptable to other career settings despite the transferable nature of the skills they have gained during grad school.

According to a Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario 2013 report “about two-thirds (65 per cent) of Ontario PhDs pursued their degree with the intention of becoming a university professor, and the proportion is even higher in the humanities at 86 per cent.”

The reality of comparing the number of Ontario doctoral graduations with recent tenure-track and non-tenure track academic postings is sobering:

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The report states that “according to Statistics Canada research, the decline in the availability of tenured or tenure-stream positions across Canada was even more pronounced for professors under the age of 35. In 1980-1981, one-third of professors under age 35 (35 per cent) held a full-time tenured or tenure-track position; 25 years later, this was true for only 12 per cent of professors in that age category.”

This means (even 25 years later) that graduate students need to think about moving outside of the academy into external careers and be prepared to transfer academic/research skills to other sectors.

This doesn’t mean there’s less value in getting a PhD or that you shouldn’t pursue a PhD – as argued by the above-mentioned Globe and Mail article, and also by York University PhD Candidate, Melanie Fullick in another thought-provoking Globe and Mail article.

Developing long-term strategies for post-graduate career paths involves commitment and greater cooperation from all bodies of the university – staff, students, faculty, deans, vice-presidents, and governing councils; and most importantly from the university president. It’s about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations to provide varying capacities to inform and educate graduate students to think about careers beyond the walls of the university, and move beyond the continuing “old-school” thinking to a new university paradigm of the value of graduate studies in a variety of career sectors.

Using Storytelling As A Knowledge Mobilization Strategy

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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?

Knowledge Mobilization Post With The Most 2014

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It’s amazing to think that I will now be officially a staff member at the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) at York University!  After months of doing contract work this past year – starting out the year preparing for and supporting the 2014 Knowledge Mobilization Forum, doing temp work collecting and entering initial data for York’s Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR), and doing contract work for FGS – 2014 was a year of making great strides in a career path I’ve long been working towards. Time has gone by so fast and yet I await, with great expectation, continuing to contribute to the important FGS work supporting our graduate students at York.

But first, as I do every year on my KMbeing knowledge mobilization blog, I want to reflect back on the 2014 “post with the most” – as I’ve done with year-end blog posts for several years in a row.

One might think that after writing this blog for almost 5 years – exploring and sharing my thoughts on, and participation in the world of knowledge mobilization – with a more permanent career path, it might be time to focus my energies elsewhere. Not so!

This past year working at FGS, I’ve been focusing some of my recent KMb blog writing on how graduate students can adopt knowledge mobilization strategies into their research. I’ll continue to do so. I’ve also been working to incorporate KMb thinking into FGS programming by setting up meetings with FGS staff and York knowledge brokers to explore more collaboration between FGS and York’s KMb Unit.

Every year I gain more life experience and more knowledge – and firmly believe in the importance of exchanging our knowledge to make the world a better place. But what has also been accumulating up to this point since I started working on campus is insight into the aspirations of our grad students and the importance of instilling in them how we can exchange our knowledge to make the world a better place now and in the future.

While thinking about the New Year ahead and the new career path I’m focused on, I want to review this past year (as many of us do) to reflect on all the incredible new colleagues and contributions I’ve made throughout 2014.

I finally feel like the career path I’ve been working on for the past decade (with a few starts and stops along the way) is starting to feel like I’m home. I feel like I have such a great fit at FGS with the people and the academic environment for the first time in such a long time.  FGS feels like home – and although I’m sure some of my co-workers who’ve been around York for several years will be tempted to say “wait until the honeymoon period is over” – I’ve already “cut my teeth” on the fast-pace and high-pressure environment that assists our grad students to achieve great success.

I’m looking forward to continuing my FGS work in 2015 being a full-time member of the FGS team – and I’ll still be putting my knowledge mobilization experience to good use to continue writing my blog – perhaps with a little more focus on motivating grad students to think about and adopt knowledge mobilization initiatives into their research.

But now a look back at the post with the most for 2014 – and expectations of a phenomenal year 2015 will be!

The most popular 2014 KMbeing blog post is A New University Paradigm in which I challenge universities to rethink how research is being done by establishing knowledge mobilization units within universities and combine them with research services and industry liaison offices to engage with both community partnerships and business innovation opportunities. There were almost 18-thousand views from 151 countries.

Again, I applaud all who made the wider dissemination of this blog possible using Twitter while recognizing the importance of getting researchers to use social media and knowledge mobilization as part of the research process.

 Thanks again to all my followers who have made this year and the KMbeing blog so successful – and thanks to new followers! I look forward to continuing to mobilize knowledge with you all in 2015!