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

Category Archives: presentations

Storytelling, Social Media, Equity, Knowledge Mobilization & Donuts!


Sharing knowledge by telling a story can make a presentation, blog or conversation more interesting. Why?

When I was five years old, I was hit by a car. I fractured my collar-bone and was unconscious for nearly 48 hours. Doctors feared that I would suffer brain damage due to the impact of hitting my head against the pavement after being thrown forward by the force of the car. Fortunately, I was wearing one of those Sherlock Holmes-style winter hats for kids that my mother thought looked so cute on me. Thankfully, the hat cushioned the blow. I recovered, but my skull – though healed – still has a fracture line that I can run my fingers along.

Sherlock Holmes hat     donuts

I blame free donuts as the reason why I was hit by a car.

I crossed the busy street because it was the grand opening of a donuts shop – and I wanted free donuts. Being five years old, I wasn’t really paying attention to traffic and more to the opportunity for free donuts…and…bam…thrown in the air to land on the pavement into unconsciousness.

What’s interesting about this story is that you are more likely to be able to visualize this incident and remember the details of the story with its connection to free donuts because of an emotional connection you’ve made to the knowledge I’ve shared. You would probably be less likely to do so if I simply presented this story with a list of strict facts:

  • I was five years old
  • I was hit by a car
  • There were free donuts

Since the very first days of tribal story telling, exchanging knowledge through stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. We all enjoy a good story. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that using stories to share knowledge is a much more effective way of retaining what’s being told. There’s also a neurological reason for it as well. When we are given information, the language processing parts in our brain are activated. When we hear a story many more parts of the brain respond. When a person shares knowledge through a story we connect intellectually and emotionally.

Sharing knowledge through storytelling is still very much a part of Aboriginal culture. I was reminded of this at a three-day Knowledge Exchange (KE) Training event this past week attended by Regional KE leaders and team members from across the province of Ontario. Day one of the KE training focused on marginalized populations and how to engage with these various groups, such as those that are homeless, of low-income, racialized minorities, Aboriginal (First Nations, Métis, Inuit), or from LGBT communities who are marginalized based on sexual orientation or gender diversity. A session focusing on the use of the Health Equity Impact Assessment Tool (HEIA) presented how this tool can be used to identify and address potential unintended health impacts (positive or negative) when developing a policy, program or initiative with specific population groups.

I can certainly see the potential of incorporating HEIA into a knowledge mobilization (KMb) strategy as it helps us better understand context and equity. Yet, a broader and still underused knowledge mobilization tool to include the knowledge of marginalized populations is social media.

At the KE Training Event, I spoke with several knowledge brokers about how I use social media – particularly Twitter – as an effective knowledge mobilization tool. I was surprised to hear that many knowledge exchange leaders at the event are still not using social media as part of their own knowledge exchange work. Certainly, EENet, the Evidence Exchange Network is one step forward in using social media as a knowledge exchange tool. Yet, as I wrote in an earlier blog, the greater potential of using Twitter as a knowledge mobilization tool is still not clearly understood.

One of the more enjoyable presentations of the KE Training event was from closing keynote speaker David Phipps – a person who knows how to tell a great story to share knowledge. One of David’s MobilizeThis! blogs is a great example of the power of story telling using social media for knowledge mobilization. In David’s engaging presentation, he illustrated how understanding context is essential for effective knowledge mobilization.

Fundamentally, Knowledge Exchange, Knowledge Mobilization, Translation, Implementation, K* (K-Star) – whatever you want to call it  – is about connecting the knowledge of PEOPLE. Each group has their own stories to tell in their own context – and each group can share knowledge through these stories. Knowledge doesn’t always have to be packaged in a formal, academic presentation or format. Sometimes simply being open-minded enough to listen to another person’s story – particularly those who are marginalized in our society – can be a powerful way of sharing and mobilizing knowledge.

But how do we engage marginalized populations using social media to better understand their context when some may not even have access to a computer? Or – more importantly – how can knowledge brokers collaborate with these often unheard voices and use social media for more effective knowledge mobilization?

One way that comes to mind is through digital storytelling.

I think of another great storyteller, Peter Levesque from Knowledge Mobilization Works, 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.

As someone who strongly believes in the power of social media for knowledge mobilization, I see the combination of storytelling by marginalized communities using social media to convey context as an essential knowledge mobilization tool. If you’re a knowledge broker – how well are you incorporating this equity tool into your knowledge mobilization strategy?

Now, for some reason…I feel like having a donut!

Assessing Research Impact

For those of you who follow me on my KMbeing Twitter feed, you may have noticed a flurry of tweeting yesterday afternoon – June 17th, 2011.  My fingers were furiously flying on my laptop as I live-tweeted a presentation by Sandra Nutley, Professor of Public Policy and Management at the University of Edinburgh. She is also Director of the Research Unit for Research Utilisation (RURU) which investigates the use of social science research in public policy and service delivery settings.

Those of us in the Knowledge Mobilization field consider Sandra Nutley to be somewhat of a KMb celebrity. She along with Isabel Walter and Huw Davies wrote the highly-influential and important book Using Evidence: How research can inform public services. (She actually has KTE/KMb groupies who ask her to sign their copy of the book!  Thanks for your signature Sandra! )

Professor Nutley was addressing the Ontario KTE (Knowledge Transfer & Exchange) Community of Practice (CoP) (of which I am a member). I had the opportunity and privilege to mobilize some of her knowledge on Twitter as she presented on the topic Assessing impact of research & Knowledge Transfer & Exchange (KTE) activities. (KTE is another word used to describe the formal process of Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) –  I make the distinction between formal and informal or macro & micro KMb as well as the differences in use of terminology).

It was also a privilege to meet informally for dinner with Sandra after her talk, along with my husband and KMb partner David Phipps from ResearchImpact at York University (@researchimpact on Twitter), and Sarah Morton (@sasmort on Twitter),  Co-Director at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) at The University of Edinburgh (@CRFRtweets on Twitter).  I also live-tweeted a presentation by Sandra on June 6th, 2011 titled Research Use in Different Contexts. You can expect an upcoming Mobilize This! blog from ResearchImpact on this event soon.

Sandra Nutley began by asking the important question Why assess research impact? Using a forward tracking and back tracking approach, Nutley pointed out the common reasons for the need to assess research impact such as addressing accountability, assuring value for money invested in research, setting priorities for research, assisting with learning and improving outcomes from research.

Within the scope of this forward/back tracking model are the various stakeholders that play a role in the research process: tracked back to ‘user’ communities – such as policymakers, practitioners, the media and other organizational use; while tracking forward with research stemming from either single studies, research programs or systematic reviews.

As part of an evaluation of research initiatives, Nutley reminded the group of the importance of their own KTE or KMb interventions (along with other centres) that play an important role in promoting research when assessing the impact of initiatives and increasing research use.

Nutley also pointed out two common methods used to assess the impact of research:

1: the “payback” model – which focuses more on the value gained from research


2: the “mapping” model – which describes and maps networks and flows of knowledge and the effects of any interactions from research.

(Research Unit for Research Utilisation (RURU) at The University of Edinburgh)

Nutley went on to describe the work being done by RURU to assess research impact which focuses on KTE or KMb intervention types – specifically on the underlying mechanisms involved such as dissemination, interaction, social influence, facilitation, incentives & reinforcement. This created some valued discussion within the room with Peter Levesque, founder and managing Director of Knowledge Mobilization Works asking “how do we best distinguish between the complexity of the research environment & mechanisms used?”  Melanie Barwick, Health Systems Scientist from Sick Kids Hospital, suggested the use of the term mechanism doesn’t always take into consideration the audience or goal for sharing knowledge and is a limiting term.

The presentation continued with Professor Nutley pointing out some common challenges and methodological issues when assessing research impact such as the types and use of research being done, the timing of assessment, the importance of context, along with attribution and additionality to research, and the importance of getting away from linear models (which I have pointed out in a previous blog about the multi-directional flow of knowledge from context to context).

The floor was briefly turned over to Sarah Morton who described an emerging approach to address attribution in research using John Mayne’s work on contribution analysis.  Sarah has been actively involved in applying this approach to her own important and recognized research on families and relationships at CRFR. (I hope Sarah and Sandra will return to Canada to present further on this valuable “contribution” to knowledge mobilization).

Professor Nutley discussed the use of Erica Wimbush’s work on the Theory of Change to assess research impact, showing the direct and indirect control and influences on the process of research – from inputs, activities & outputs (direct control & influence) through the process of reach/engagement, reactions & capacity (direct influence) to ongoing practice, behavior change & end results (indirect influence) – all as external influences gradually increase along each stage of the process.  (Sandra Nutley’s slide presentation has been posted on the KTE CoP website).

Sandra Nutley’s interesting and engaging presentation concluded by emphasizing some generic features of effective KTE or KMb practices that RURU suggests applying to any research process.

Although these are valuable insights into effective knowledge mobilization, Nutley pointed out there is still much work to be done. She states we must move away from:

–Poor documentation and under-evaluated KTE (KMb) activities
–Studies that focus only on the instrumental use of research (see KMbeing blog on this)
–An assumption that research is used and applied mainly by individual practitioners
–Studies that result only in a now familiar listing of barriers and enablers, especially where these are the barriers/enablers experienced by individual practitioners
I always try to use my KMbeing blog to provoke and inspire deeper questions and thinking to break down some of  the barriers that Sandra Nutley has mentioned – barriers that also exist between academia & community.  It’s my hope that in some small way my KMbeing blog creates more inclusive, theoretical but simple and common approaches to our understanding of knowledge and knowledge mobilization (KMb) for the benefit of society. I also hope that by showcasing some of our great knowledge mobilizers (such as Sandra Nutley & Sarah Morton) – and the professional work they do – it will provide an opportunity to connect people who would not normally connect their knowledge in multi-directional ways across many sectors and communities.
(KMbeing Model of Knowledge Mobilization)
Many thanks to Sandra Nutley and Sarah Morton for a great presentations and for coming to Canada to speak to the KTE CoP on valuable approaches to research and KMb process.
Perhaps now it’s time to go out on Steve’s boat (Sandra’s husband) for a well-deserved rest back home in Scotland – if he gets it fixed up soon!