KMbeing

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

Category Archives: policy

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.

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.

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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.

 

What Is Research “Success”?

Research Success

Every day when we read or listen to the news on the radio, television or on our digital devices there are reports of poverty, homelessness, hatred, crime, violence, or wars. Many in this world are not safe, secure or educated – and despite advances in modern technologies that create broader knowledge exchange (more people are much more aware of what’s happening around the world than any other generation before us) we are still faced with wicked problems that continue to plague us.

Although knowledge mobilization has contributed to making research useful to society, we are still faced with the challenges of healing our social problems to bring about broader peace and happiness worldwide. As someone who has written about the value and benefits of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies by researchers – particularly social science researchers – to contribute to improving our human experience, I recognize that basic human problems like fear, suffering, ignorance, prejudice, bigotry and discrimination still exist.

I know many people who share my concern about the many difficult social conditions that we still face on this planet and those who also share in my hopes that knowledge exchange has greater value when applied on a worldwide scale. As a humanist, I strongly feel that global knowledge mobilization is necessary to overcome wicked problems – but as I’ve stated in previous blogs, knowledge mobilization without compassion, without being motivated by kindness, without seeking benefit beyond our own communities is extremely limited.

Each person, whether researcher, practitioner, community member or policymaker has a responsibility to exchange our knowledge to benefit all human beings – by thinking about ways to scale up the research benefits gained at our local levels.

When individuals choose to hate and fight each other or discriminate based on opposing ideologies, selfish gains or ignorance, there is a common human imperative that calls us to change such limiting knowledge. Our common humanity implores us to find solutions through cooperative knowledge exchange as a fundamental objective.

Researchers have a particular responsibility inherent as scientists to influence change for global benefit by working with community members to inform policy. If we understand the causes of problems that continue to hold us back globally without gaining cooperation through knowledge exchange – research remains limited and – on a broader-scale – practically useless.

Whether we think so or not – human suffering inflicted not by physical illness but by other humans is the worst human illness that continues to affect all of us. We spend billions of research dollars to rightly find cures for physical illness – but let’s not forget to also focus research resources on curing our more general human illness of wicked problems.

Every researcher hopes to achieve “success” from their research. But what is research “success”?

  • Is “success” limited to finishing a graduate degree as a Masters or PhD student?
  • Is “success” limited to publishing peer-reviewed papers in academic journals?
  • Is “success” limited to inspiring other future researchers to carry on finding a cure?

What if researchers thought beyond limited “success” to the ultimate success in research? In the quest for “success” in research, researchers have used different methods – sometimes even unbecoming in their status as scientists – for their own self-centred gains. Ultimately, when research becomes short-sighted without a broader perspective of benefit beyond the academy – global problems will continue to exist.

Over the past decade, the development of knowledge mobilization has helped bring researchers, practitioners, community members and policymakers closer together – not just locally, but internationally. Broader community engagement results in greater research impact by creating more global knowledge exchange for social benefit. Many researchers are no longer as siloed in their disciplines and research interests as they once were. Old-school research was very much dependent upon the research being done by researchers in one particular field of study. New-paradigm research is now more interdisciplinary and community-engaged. Today, research – through knowledge mobilization – has made academia more closely interconnected with and inclusive of community.

Without a sense of scaling-up this new-paradigm of research we cannot expect to overcome our global problems. Too much depends upon continuing to shift our research perspectives to pursue only one’s own research interests without considering how to also apply this research on a broader-scale. If researchers continue to approach problems considering only temporary gains, research may continue to perpetuate itself – but will always remain limited.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it again, researchers who connect the intellect of their minds with the development of a kind heart make the best knowledge mobilizers. When we embrace knowledge mobilization for social benefit with both brains and heart, with both thinking and action there is an opportunity to reinvent our ideas of knowledge to ultimately make the world a better place for everyone.

World conflicts and wicked problems that persist globally continue due to a failure to remember our common humanity. An answer to address these concerns is doing research with both intelligence and compassion. It’s time for researchers to transcend our usual research methods and regard research as a responsibility to benefit individuals, communities, nations and the world together.

To improve research globally in the world, I continue to encourage researchers to adopt knowledge mobilization strategies that can make considerable contributions to social benefit internationally – and focus research on addressing the wicked problems that still continue to plague us. The ultimate research “success” is about doing research that gives global humanity precedence – and knowledge mobilization has a large role to play in this process. In order to solve our human problems globally we must challenge current researchers and develop future researchers to combine their interests with those of our common humanity.

In the new-paradigm of research perhaps global knowledge mobilization will help overcome the wicked problems that continue to exist and new researchers will take on the challenge of doing research for greater social benefit worldwide.

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.

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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!

International Students As A Knowledge Mobilization Perspective

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Accepting international students offers universities and our local communities an opportunity to create benefit – not just financially – but also from a knowledge mobilization perspective.

While the underlying economic value of international students contributes to improving financial and graduate enrollment struggles for universities, there is also broader value and benefit that international students bring as part of knowledge mobilization efforts. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE):

  • Canada ranks as the world’s 7th most popular destination for international students.
  • International student enrollment grew from 159,426 in 2003 to over 290,000 in 2013 – an 84% increase.
  • International students comprise 8% of the post-secondary student population in Canada.
  • Canada derives $8B annually from international student expenditures including tuition and living expenses.
  • The presence of international students created over 83,000 jobs and generated over than $291M in government revenue (2009).

These numbers stress the value of international students by financial benefits gained; however, the importance of the development of knowledge mobilization networks also draws on these numbers as international students exchange knowledge from their own cultures to our own – and in turn, bring back knowledge to exchange further around the world.

As an example, York University is Canada’s third largest university with approximately 55,000 students, 7,000 faculty and staff, and 260,000 alumni worldwide – with international students representing over 150 countries from around the world. York even has its own unit – York International – specifically designed to welcome and address the needs of international students studying at York. The Faculty of Graduate Studies at York is particularly focused on encouraging international graduate students. Such a breadth of knowledge networking opportunities from York alone provides valuable international perspectives that help shape and influence the lives of others on a global scale to make the research being done by international students – particularly graduate students – not only useful to our Canadian society but also to our greater society around the world.

Our domestic and foreign policy-makers can benefit from knowledge exchange opportunities that arise from potential, future world leaders through knowledge mobilization efforts being done by and for international students within our Canadian universities. The opportunities for Canadian universities to conduct research with broader impact is enhanced by incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies – particularly for international graduate students – by encouraging these students to research locally while thinking globally.

Knowledge mobilization is inherently about creating broader networks of knowledge exchange to make the world a better place. Drawing on the knowledge and skills of international students can create the potential for helping to overcome many of the wicked problems that all of us face on our planet. There are opportunities for benefit beyond our own borders that can contribute to a genuine shift in addressing socio-economic challenges when international students who have received a graduate degree in Canada return to their own countries around the world.

Although there is a definite financial benefit for struggling universities, obviously there are further advantages in exchanging knowledge on a broader, global-scale through knowledge mobilization. International students who study in Canada create ties and build trust and become future representatives in their home countries. They can bring back to their home countries the Canadian values of freedom, respect for cultural differences and a commitment to social justice. Welcoming international students to study in Canada and learn from these values – while also providing Canadian university students, staff and faculty an opportunity to learn from the values of other countries through knowledge exchange can transform our world. Seeing the value of universities investing in international students goes well beyond financial opportunities to long-term knowledge mobilization opportunities as the ultimate global community/campus collaboration.

 

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?

Getting Closer To Understanding The Value Of Knowledge Mobilization In Research

Research

One of the more interesting developments within research over the past decade has been the growing interest of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into the research process. Historically, when researchers have embarked on their research journeys they’ve typically asked questions with the intention of finding answers mostly focused on expanding our knowledge base – with little consideration for the practical applications of that knowledge and the potential impacts leading to social innovation for the broader community.

Why the growing interest in knowledge mobilization? Because it makes research useful to society – something everyone can relate to in our everyday life experiences. All of us can recall situations when we’ve had a problem with something and have not been able to find a solution through the usual methods of problem solving. We might seek out “expert” knowledge through “expert” research; however, even if we are fortunate enough to find answers, the knowledge may not be applicable to our own situations in a way that addresses our own needs and includes our own knowledge contributions and experiences.

Sometimes questions are not easily resolved without providing content related to our own contexts. Often what people are asking for when they pose questions are conversations with others to “make sense” out of issues by sharing their own knowledge (or lack thereof) and their own contexts. Connecting individuals through knowledge mobilization enables people to share their knowledge, collaborate on problems, and create new knowledge from various perspectives. Beyond simply answering a research question, this type of knowledge exchange allows us to contribute personal experiences and share valuable insights that are often not formally recognized or captured through the historical research process.

Exchanging knowledge in context around a particular research question can be a powerful means of transforming the research process for social benefit. The knowledge collectively gained and inclusively exchanged between community and academia (as one example) can be more valuable to society than simply having a researcher complete a random-sample survey on the general public for the purpose of simply writing a peer-reviewed research paper that remains limited in public access and perhaps only cited as a reference for future papers.

As more universities and research institutions invest in social collaboration and community knowledge exchange many of them have incorporated (or soon will include) actual knowledge mobilization units – with designated knowledge brokers – within the structure of the institution. Research methods that incorporate knowledge mobilization and community-university engagement develop better and more practical knowledge in the long run.

While it seems straightforward that broader knowledge exchange creates greater opportunities for the practical application of research findings, the community-university networking dynamics are also context-specific. Such differences can be better understood if universities/research institutions implement knowledge brokers as part of the research process. Knowledge brokers work with a number of different people: researchers (both community-based and university-based), community organizers, business leaders and entrepreneurs, funders (both private and public) along with institutional and government policy makers. Knowledge brokers facilitate the multi-directional flows of communication in a structured way. However, there are some who still question the need for knowledge brokers.

A comment on one of my recent KMbeing blog posts by Senior Researcher Sharon Mickan from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford states:

“I would also see knowledge brokering as a process that can be done by researchers or clinicians who work across both (my emphasis) environments; the key is a detailed understanding of the context in which the research will be used and a recognition that change can only be led by someone respected and informed within the organisation.”

I appreciate Sharon’s comment; however, it is precisely this persistent dichotomous view of working across both environments that misses the point of the value and complexity of knowledge brokering. We have long ago abandoned the “two communities” theory to research use and have embraced co-production as the most robust form of knowledge mobilization. Bridging implies we maintain the silos of research and practice/policy. Knowledge brokers help to break down the silos and create shared spaces of collaboration. It’s not simply about being able to “bridge” one side of university to the other side with community. The value of utilizing knowledge brokers as opposed to researchers or clinicians simply engaging community themselves is that community can also include a variety of stakeholders already mentioned – such as business leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and funding agencies along with institutional and government policy makers.

Don’t get me wrong. If you have researchers or clinicians with the skills of trained knowledge brokers who can work as intermediaries with a variety of people to help them get to know each other and encourage various sectors to think broadly and interact on an ongoing basis in order to learn from others’ experiences as part of the evidence-informed research process – go for it. Yet, I think it detracts from the already focused-work required by researchers and clinicians to do their own work effectively. Knowledge brokers act as a type of conduit for knowledge exchange offered by the various stakeholders from sometimes a broad range of sectors. Typically a knowledge broker offers added value to the research process by an increasingly professionalized skill-set not commonly found among researchers and clinicians themselves.

I also agree with Sharon that change can only be led by someone respected and informed. Evidence has clearly shown that respected leadership is among the determinants of successful research utilization. However, researchers and clinicians who still think that only researchers and clinicians can be respected and informed in the research process are elitist at worse and uniformed at best.

Knowledge exchange is a powerful form of social collaboration – predicated upon broader community participation. Knowledge exchange in the research process creates an invitation for community partners to actively participate in the research process with the help of knowledge brokers who can mediate the different contexts. Such community-university interaction provides the opportunity to reinforce identities as context-specific experts while expanding a mutual identity as collaborators in the research process.

Since knowledge exchange is an ongoing social process, collaborative multi-disciplinary and multi-sector contributions over time weave together a network of people connected by common research interests even though they might have differing backgrounds and views. These types of knowledge networks create value in their own right. With community-university engagement there is greater influence together on issues that affect the broader community and can encourage policy makers to implement change. From a systems perspective, the research process acts as a social process that can mobilize networks, enable social roles to emerge, and allow for creation of social capital.

However, establishing a research process that facilitates knowledge mobilization should not be positioned as some type of panacea. There’s no assurance that community partners or researchers will share what they know, or that the results of research will always be perfect. There’s also no assurance that policy makers or practitioners will listen, or that policy and/or practice changes will happen quickly. It does not guarantee broader effects that lead to better levels of community-university engagement elsewhere. Alone, it’s unlikely to transform some researchers who have a more historic view of the research process or cause dramatic cultural change. Knowledge mobilization is just one way of how social collaboration platforms can mediate within the research process. There are also a host of academic, organizational, leadership, communication, and governance changes and related practices that need to be designed and championed effectively to influence researcher participation to deliver more practical and effective outcomes and impacts of research.

We’re not quite there yet, but the past decade of knowledge mobilization development has shown we’re getting closer.

 

Evidence-Informed Research versus “Best” Evidence Research

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The use of evidence in policy making is not simply uncovering the “best” evidence and presenting it to policymakers as part of the knowledge mobilization (KMb) process. “Best” evidence is a subjective term. Being evidence-informed provides a broader understanding of how the application of research evidence is context specific. “Best” in one case may not be “best” in another.

Evidence depends on the various methods in which research is developed in order to inform decisions that lead to policy in various contexts. KMb is making research useful to society. It may be useful in one context while not so useful in another – yet it is the process of KMb that helps us find this out in different contexts. Improving the quality of life through research processes means drawing on various fields through knowledge mobilization and evaluation, as well as having a thorough understanding of the context in which evidence is going to be applied.

KMb brings together people from community, academic/research institutions, business/industry and government decision-makers interested in aspects of evidence-informed research through knowledge brokering in order to share experiences, broaden networks and discuss issues of common interest to find solutions. One way of doing this is applying research (especially in the social sciences) for public benefit using KMb and social media.

Researchers who draw from the experience of implementing an evidence-informed approach in collaboration with wider stakeholders from community, industry and policymakers create effective lessons learned through KMb. The disciplinary research alignment matters less than the fact that these sectors are brought together by a shared interest in the interface between research, community needs and policy – through the workings of knowledge brokering. There is a great deal of cross-learning; networks are built and strengthened, experiences are shared, and various stakeholders are able to benefit from lessons learned from work in other sectors. Research becomes more evidence-informed through greater collaboration.

The goal of KMb-infused research then leads to more evidence-informed policymaking.

The goal of KMb-infused research is to learn from past experiences and create greater opportunities to implement a more evidence-informed approach to policymaking.

The goal of KMb-infused research is to find ways to improve the integration of evidence-informed approaches to policy that address the main concerns and priorities in different contexts.

Policy often deals with social issues that are complicated by several barriers in seeking often entangled and long-term issues. This is why there is a need to involve a wide range of players by establishing networks and partnerships as an important part of the process of policy development and application. Such barriers include a lack of understanding of the process of knowledge mobilization and often a lack of funding for KMb to improve evidence-informed policy. Because there is often also a lack of understanding among various stakeholders of what researchers are working on, the needs of researchers and who to approach – the use of knowledge brokers to make these connections can help make research more evidence-informed.

More evidence-informed research has greater impact by developing close and ongoing collaboration by mixing researchers with business/industry specialists, community partners and policy makers on the same committees, for example – who are prepared for a long-term commitment – as it often takes time to define research questions that will generate greater evidence-informed research leading to solutions of more effective policy development and change.

There is tremendous research potential and capacity when researchers are interested in collaboration with multi-sector partners. However, as mentioned, this sort of relationship-building requires time to develop communities of interest and trust among all sectors to maximize available expertise and ensure effective communication in the research process. This means finding and using knowledge brokers who understand different worlds and who are able to convene, translate and mediate as necessary.

Knowledge brokers work with a number of different people to allow them to discuss a number of issues in a structured way. Knowledge brokers help people in the research-to-policy-making process get to know each other, and are the glue over time that encourages various sectors to think broadly and interact with a variety of people on an ongoing basis in order to learn from others’ experience as part of the evidence-informed research process.

Dealing with a wide variety of stakeholders, knowledge brokers involve each sector meaningfully to effectively incorporate all viewpoints – that are sometimes less and sometimes more controversial, sometimes more open and sometimes less open. Knowledge brokers involve various stakeholders in the action of developing evidence-informed research – not just talk about it – by holding face-to-face multi-sector meetings that are important and useful to the evidence-informed research process. Knowledge brokers help various stakeholders think about top-down, bottom-up, side-to-side and cross-sector types of action by researchers, communities, regions and governments as co-creators of knowledge among stakeholders. It’s not just about transferring knowledge from one to the other but mobilizing knowledge as part of a broader evidence-informed research process.

Knowledge brokers help researchers know the questions being asked from many sides to understand where the knowledge gaps are. Knowledge brokers help break down the elitist and also insecure barriers that often divide academics, community, business/industry and government.

Knowledge brokers are contextidentifiers who are able to help build networks to stimulate knowledge flow that can lead to greater evidence-informed research and policy making.

Researchers need to move beyond seeking “best” evidence and start thinking more about evidence-informed research that includes the use of knowledge brokers to broaden the research base with a variety of stakeholders. Thinking about being evidence-informed at the beginning of the research process that is context-specific develops research that, paradoxically, can have greater impact. By including knowledge brokers to broaden the research base with multi-sector partners creates a type of ripple-effect that broadens research knowledge beyond any one context as multi-sector partners begin to share their knowledge more widely across other sectors – almost as a type of cross-pollination of knowledge. This is when research has greater impact and becomes more widely useful to society. Various methods in which research is developed in order to inform decisions leads to policy in various contexts. In turn, policy that is evidence-informed can then affect further policy on a wider-scale – though originally context-specific – to perhaps create a broader, worldwide change.

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.