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

Tag Archives: academic

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.

 

 

 

 

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?

A Shift In Academic Thinking About Knowledge Exchange

War

Exchanging Knowledge. I love this phrase – yet it can conjure suggestions of elitism and competition in many circles. Which is unfortunate because it’s one of the most important ways of thinking to save our world. Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is about exchanging knowledge to create new knowledge that is useful to society; not just our own societies but as a whole as human beings on this planet. It’s not about whose knowledge is better. It’s about exchanging knowledge to make the world better for everyone.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War which saw death and mass destruction on a global scale. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. We managed to destroy each other and create devastation on our planet with over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded – ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. You would think the knowledge gained from the First World War would have prevented any Second World War (the deadliest military conflict in history with over 60 million people killed).

Wrong. War continues today.

Yet, the 20th Century was also a time of great innovation, enabling social and technological advancement. With knowledge exchange we have been able make incredible scientific breakthroughs to eradicate disabling and fatal disease, and bring about social change for greater equality for many in society.

Despite these advances, knowledge exchange can still remain limited due to selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred. As these negative influences again become acceptable in the eyes of a new generation, the idea of exchanging knowledge for world benefit starts to disappear. Many forget the tragedies of devastating wars as this new generation sees them as ancient and part of the past (or worse, want to repackage the hatred of the past in a modern way)  – while technological advancements can be used for even greater opportunities for death and world destruction.

On a more personal level we often do not recognize the need for openness and knowledge exchange with others. If you ask someone why do selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred still exist, the reply is usually, it’s something other people do, not me – as if that response alone negates one’s own responsibility to create change on this planet. It seems only a few people stop to ask if a return to a world of hatred based on a lack of openness and knowledge exchange is actually worth the energy and money we’re expending for other things instead of what can create change for good on this planet.

How, when we are faced with our own modern extremists and territorial wars, can we seek calm to try and create real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures?

Fortunately within much of the academic research environment over the past decade in Canada and the U.K., as a profession and a practice, knowledge mobilization has emerged to present the idea of exchanging knowledge beyond the academy so as to build community engagement and participation from a variety of stakeholders to make research useful to society for real-world solutions for change on a broader scale. It’s about breaking down barriers and historical ideas of elitism, exclusion – and even extremism. The knowledge mobilization movement is growing to include individuals in countries around the world, yet needs to continue to be part of a new generation of scholarly research education.

In higher education, knowledge mobilization attempts to wipe out any of the elitism or selfishness of learning. KMb attempts to cultivate knowledge exchange with a deeper, holistic love of learning, research and respect for others that touches every aspect of our humanity, by learning to apply research on a greater, more inclusive human scale. As we allow this to happen, we enact a more caring view within learning (which on a more global scale is largely ignored and at great cost).

Our education systems continue to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness, one type of knowledge over other knowledge.

KMb has developed the idea that research can be better utilized by connecting it with community partners to create new and more innovative research. Instilling the idea of community-campus connections within our education systems helps to develop our students into thoughtful, ethical citizens who can critically evaluate through broader systems thinking rather than doing research with little regard for broader application.

Can this community-campus strategy create a generation of better, more caring researchers? When teaching students to do research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate, a horrible disconnect occurs in students. It becomes about just getting the degree – where the end justifies the means of simply doing research with no greater purpose than what is mostly a rather selfish one.

It’s clear that the long term costs of continuing to ignore teaching methods to students without consideration of how we exchange our knowledge with others beyond the academy to something more inclusive of community – and worldwide can be dire. There is a requirement to not be overly-focused on developing our own knowledge for more selfish reasons such as simply receiving a degree. What about teaching students to do research that has some broader, practical application – such as eliminating the extremisms that can lead to hatred and war? Teaching cooperative knowledge exchange through knowledge mobilization can create a shift in academic thinking that has effects far beyond the academy.

So what does knowledge mobilization mean for education? It asks us to reimagine what it means in exchanging knowledge. It requires us to embrace being open and unselfish in our learning and knowledge exchange. It requires admitting that a large part of what continues to happen in our world isn’t good for our students, our teachers, our communities – or our world.  It means creating change in our education systems or risk the return to the tragedies of the early 20th century.

Higher education needs to take into account what real learning looks like – with more passion and compassion – and why research really needs to be more focused on community-engagement to bring systems change on a global scale. It needs to be more than just receiving a degree to hopefully get a job after graduation.

By developing knowledge mobilization strategies within graduate research programs we can teach students to engage in real, meaningful work that matters to them, to their community, and our world. As a result, graduates gain an authentic purpose and a role in society other than academic-in-training.

Becoming involved in knowledge mobilization allows students to discover everyday citizens in their community and how they can work together to make the world a better place. It provides students with the opportunity to identify and seek real-world solutions to wicked problems by reinforcing the idea that their research efforts can make a difference. At the same time we are including communities to work with grad students and researchers as authentic, viable and active participants in community and academic life throughout the world.

 

Community BUILD Includes All Sectors Of Society

Community BUILD

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is about moving available knowledge into active use across a variety of sectors.  I recently made a comment about the requirement of action as part of KMb on a LinkedIn post which asked –

“Is teaching science knowledge mobilization?”

Knowledge Exchange + Action = KMb

KMb is most effective when knowledge is exchanged and co-produced with collaboration among all sectors of society for social benefit:

  • Community/Voluntary
  • Academic/Institutions
  • Business/Private Sector
  • Government/Policy Makers

kmb-model-final1.png

A great recent example showcasing the effectiveness of knowledge mobilization across sectors comes from the collaborative efforts of United Way York Region (Community/Voluntary) working with York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit (Academic/Institutions) and ventureLab (Business/Private Sector) and funded by the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment (MEDTE) through the Office for Social Enterprise (Government, Policy Makers).  Working across all sectors is the development of the Community BUILD program.

“Sitting at the intersection of community engagement and entrepreneurship, Community BUILD is a Collective Impact organization providing a system of supports for social ventures in York Region.

The overall objective of Community BUILD is to continue to develop a Regional system of supports for social enterprise that creates investment ready ventures that will create jobs, develop novel approaches to food security and youth employment in York Region and brand York Region and Ontario as leaders in social innovation.”

The development of such a collaborative knowledge mobilization/social innovation program is an example of creating social benefit that includes all sectors of society.  The Community BUILD program is knowledge mobilization leading to social innovation through action that includes entrepreneurial and government knowledge and investment.  Although MEDTE has provided government backing for the Community BUILD pilot project, there is a continued call to action for government policy makers to sustain such an important program.

Without the inclusion and support of government/policymakers in such programs that can create social and economic benefit knowledge remains limited – like those that consider teaching science as knowledge mobilization.

Trying to get students “interested” in developing knowledge in science, technology, engineering and/or math may be public engagement but it’s not knowledge mobilization without student action. Similarly, trying to get government/policy makers “interested” in sustaining programs like Community BUILD may be government engagement but it’s not knowledge mobilization without policy maker action.

Creating sustainable action beyond mere student interest requires long-term engagement and knowledge exchange.

Creating sustainable action beyond mere initial government funding requires long-term engagement and policy-maker involvement.

The Community BUILD program is an example of effective KMb for social benefit that includes all sectors. Let’s hope government continues to be part of this innovative solution as an included leader in social innovation and a continued part of the KMb model.

 

Collective Impact Of Research Over Isolated Impact Of Research

Pepsi Coke Hatred

We live in a knowledge society with the technology to exchange our knowledge faster with greater numbers of people around the world than ever in our history.

So….

Why can’t we develop skills and opportunities to break the cycle of poverty, hunger and homelessness that still exist?

Why isn’t healthcare a universal human right?

Why is climate change still a problem?

Why can’t we provide students with all the support and services they need to stay in school and graduate?

Why can’t we avoid prejudice, bigotry, bullying and hatred that leads to war?

These persistent global harms are what social scientists refer to as wicked problems. Many academic researchers, community workers and social innovators have spent countless hours and years studying why wicked problems still plague humanity. An abundance of words have been written in an abundance of scholarly journals about an abundance of studies, and there are many community-based examples of localized success stories – yet wicked problems still exist worldwide.

Just when you think we might learn from past generations in history and begin to overcome wicked problems it begins to look like history repeats itself in our own generation. History may not repeat itself but rather rhyme as Mark Twain observed.  Repeating or rhyming – will we ever be able to eliminate these wicked problems? What needs to be done? When it comes to prejudice, bigotry, bullying and hatred – sadly, these are easily learned in childhood as adults pass on their views to children. Thankfully, such views can change and are not always maintained into adulthood. There are many reasons why prejudice continues to be a ubiquitous social phenomenon, and some international researchers even think hatred should be treated as a disease – approaching the problem from a healthcare perspective. Yet wicked problems are also interconnected to the cycle of poverty, hunger and homelessness which stems from economic competition and greed that can then cycle back into prejudice, bigotry, bullying hatred and war.

It would appear that within wicked problems there are two major underlying and interconnected reasons:

1)      Teaching our children to hate and “pass on the disease” by not thinking more broadly beyond exaggerated group categorizations or stereotypes and

2)      Economic conditions that lead to financial disparity and greed.

When we create mental categories and social barriers by grouping into similarities or stereotypes without being open to and understanding our differences, ridiculing or exploiting characteristics of others and exaggerating differences among us – we contribute to wicked problems.

When we maintain economic conditions that only help specific populations without regard for broader solutions that do not lead to lasting benefits for everyone- we contribute to wicked problems.

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is about breaking down barriers – social and economic. It’s not just about sharing diverse knowledge in our knowledge society – it’s also about moving knowledge into action for broader benefit in society. Without turning knowledge into action knowledge is useless. We can begin to conquer the enormous social and economic challenges that create wicked problems when we begin to implement knowledge mobilization strategies to maximize the impact of research in order to change policies and systems within our world for lasting benefit.

It’s not just about doing research on the problems – it’s about taking that research and turning it into action by creating community/university collaboration, transferring and exchanging knowledge skills and experience to develop ethical business and technology partnerships, and advocating for policy change within government. It’s about connecting and collaborating across sectors to create social benefit that also leads to economic benefit. Knowledge mobilization when linked to social and economic innovation can create far-reaching and lasting change to overcome wicked problems on a broader scale.

kmb-model-final1.png

(Link here for more information about this knowledge mobilization model)

Overcoming wicked problems is not just for one sector of our world, one community, one country, one nationality. To overcome wicked problems we need to break down barriers and push beyond our individuality, discipline or region to focus on the larger scale of our commonality as human beings. We need to set our sights on collaborative action for ultimate collective benefit as a primary means to overcome wicked problems – which begins with knowledge mobilization. This includes innovation to make change – both social and economic innovation – which also begins with knowledge mobilization.

I currently work in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University and see so many graduate students interested in creating and contributing to our knowledge. I see great aspirations for the future as Masters and PhD students want to have an impact on our collective knowledge – while also wanting to create social and financial value from their research. If we are going to succeed in creating impact we must also start to encourage our students to be visionary in their approaches to knowledge mobilization and community-engagement by thinking about ways of turning their knowledge into action.

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

As with teaching our children to think beyond limiting and stereotypical categorizations and become more inclusive, we need to teach our students to think beyond their disciplines and think about research that advances knowledge to create not just social change but also economic change on a wider scale – to create collective impact over isolated impact. We need to teach our students to think about becoming boundary spanners from academia to community to business to government when they do research.

We must sustain economic conditions that continue to make it possible for student research to be financially supported by granting agencies while also creating collaborative and funding opportunities with philanthropists, business and industry to deploy their research in providing data and analysis to make informed economic decisions that decrease financial disparity. Students need to think about the potential extra-academic impact of their research across disciplines, sectors – and even social media networks.

Living in a knowledge society with technology to exchange knowledge faster and broader does not necessarily mean breaking the cycle of wicked problems. Knowledge mobilization takes that knowledge sharing one step further to action and impact. Research without knowledge mobilization has isolated impact. Research with action, community-engagement and public-private partnerships has collective impact. Connecting research to knowledge mobilization and scaling it broader to innovation in business and industry leads to wide-ranging social and economic changes that will then begin to break the cycle of wicked problems. It takes a commitment to educate our children, our students and our communities to create knowledge that ensures the cycle of wicked problems will not continue in the future so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Universities & Research In A Knowledge Society

paradigm shift

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) produces the potential to “cross-pollinate” knowledge and address complex challenges confronting society. KMb actively encourages making research useful to society. As such, both universities and communities have an important role to play in this process.

Today universities are no longer the strongholds of exclusive research and learning. We now live in a knowledge society that has created a variety of ways of doing research and developing knowledge – from socially conscious business development research to community-based participatory research to MOOCs to individual research online – all contributing to social benefit beyond the once elite-world of university-driven research.

KMb enables a multi-sectoral production to developing knowledge in our new knowledge society that can inform policy-makers in supporting the ability to create social change for social benefit. Because of this, KMb has reshaped the way universities need to think about community-university relations by creating opportunities of interdisciplinary engagement (within universities) and cross-sector engagement (externally).

Yet, just because we have experienced a knowledge revolution and now live in a knowledge society doesn’t mean universities don’t have a continuing and valuable research role to play. It just means universities need to adapt to this new paradigm as many industries needed to adapt during the industrial revolution.

Universities are the primary generators of new talent. Universities provide leverage, consistency, and the infrastructure that can’t be matched by the new knowledge society model of non-university research. It’s one of the extraordinary success stories of academia throughout the ages that they’ve been able to have such a worldwide impact with established structures and resources. As our research choices and our knowledge society continue to increase (yes, non-academic research continues to grow) it gets ever more important that universities make conscious choices about what knowledge mobilization strategies they want to support and how. Added to this are the pressures from grant funding agencies that require a social and economic return on investment from universities.

2014 saw the completion of a new approach (and pressures) in the UK with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to assess the quality and impact of research being done by UK universities. Assessment outcomes are now being done and UK funding agencies intend to use these assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their research funding to universities beginning in 2015-16.

Australia also has the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) with the next round of research evaluations scheduled for 2015.

Although no such frameworks exists for universities in Canada or the Unites States, granting agencies are now requiring university researchers to articulate knowledge mobilization strategies in their grant applications to achieve outcomes of social and economic excellence.

Sociologist Joseph Ben-David – who died in 1986 – was prophetic in his book The Western University on Trial. Ben-David pointed out the then-emerging circumstances leading to these current pressures on universities today by identifying the shifting movement towards inclusion of non-academics in the decisions affecting university research. He saw the initial pessimism about the decline of university research (particularly scientific research) during his time in the 1970s and 80s which has now lead to the inevitable paradigm shift in university research that we see today.

Almost 30 years later there are still universities who are falling behind without a focus on research excellence and multi-sectoral, non-academic engagement to develop research in our knowledge society through knowledge mobilization strategies. Like industries lost in the industrial revolution, these universities will be left behind, shut down and forgotten if they also don’t adapt.

The thing about paradigm shifts is that they don’t happen overnight, yet those that don’t adapt die out. So, perhaps there’s still time.

The following are a few questions that may help universities and researchers think about how they want to allocate knowledge mobilization strategies and develop research excellence for social and economic benefit:

  • Is your university drawn to research that meets the needs of institutional “self-interest” right now, or to research that works towards long-term solutions that benefit society (not just the university) for the future?
  • Does your university prefer to support proven community-research partnerships or does more inward-focused research appeal to you?
  • How much institutional research impact and leverage do you seek?
  • Is your university still a research “spectator” watching how other universities excel in community-university partnerships or is your university more actively involved in creating potential community engagement?
  • How much of your university research activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the university, and how much from unprompted funding? (Hint: universities do a lot of outreach because it benefits society, not because a granting agency tells them to. Universities will get more recognition by how they engage.)
  • What story do you tell yourself about your university and your community-university engagement?
  • Are you overly-focused on the number of peer-reviewed publications from your university researchers? Or does it make more sense to focus on the university’s research impact as it goes about creating social benefit? How will you decide to measure that research impact for social benefit, or does it not matter to you?

There are no perfect universities just as there are no perfect human beings. But the imperfection of human beings doesn’t keep us from engaging with each other – we just pick the “right fit” that best serves our mutual needs. The same goes with community-university engagement. Not every “cross-pollination” of knowledge will work in each context – but engaging with others outside the university to find the “right fit” in research is better than being isolated and being the university left behind in this new paradigm our knowledge society.

Knowledge Brokers – A Solution For Social Benefit

kmb-model-final

Thankfully, there are many Social Science and Humanities researchers today who imagine new possibilities to understand and improve social issues – ultimately it’s hoped to overcome some of the world’s wicked problems.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences states the world needs “agile and well-rounded thinkers who can assess and adapt to change, analyze trends, communicate effectively, and consider the past to better prepare for the future.” These are people who think about social issues and benefits that go far beyond currently available resources, approaches and sectors.  Such researchers imagine new methods through knowledge mobilization (KMb) that produce evidence-informed results to create social benefit and change more holistically – even beyond the original research itself.

Sadly there are other researchers still stuck in the past using the same archaic research techniques that have worked for them for decades without any use or regard for knowledge mobilization (KMb). These “comfortable” researchers simply churn out results with the same limiting research methodologies – paper after paper, conference after conference. Similarly there are research institutions which churn out unengaged policy after unengaged policy.  Both institutions and researchers within them think this is sufficient enough for “social benefit and change” in today’s research world without any regard for the broader benefit to the world at large beyond their own limiting research circles.

For researchers adopting KMb approaches their research is informed by a wider range of multi-directional knowledge exchange. These KMb Social Science and Humanities researchers scale and scope knowledge as broadly and efficiently as one possibly can to include others in their research methods and knowledge translation – not just “professionals or colleagues”.

That’s where knowledge brokers come into the research process.  They bring in knowledge of networks. They bring in connections. They bring in understanding of new technologies for knowledge translation and exchange. They make sure that research ideas can be widely disseminated, evidence-informed from a variety of stakeholders, and then made openly available to society in the most effective manner in ways that bring wider benefit not just in the researcher’s realm but across sectors. Social Science and Humanities research is inherently broad in its social and human elements, stemming from many different contexts to help us understand our common social context of humanity.

Isn’t that the point of Social Science and Humanities research in the first place? To help us understand social issues in our own context and in other contexts, comparing and contrasting to somehow find solutions that can create the greatest research impact locally and ultimately globally?

There are some who still think it “idealistic” for researchers to make use of knowledge brokers as recently pointed out in a compelling blog. The blog suggests the possibility of cutting out knowledge brokers as a “cumbersome link to the chain of knowledge translation” by asking: “What if several researchers and decision makers met regularly to monitor and discuss ways of managing access to knowledge, to solve practical problems?”

What if I want to get from point A to point B without a map, a directional or transportation device or other resources to do so? Would simply wishing this to happen without the appropriate tools or resources make it happen? What about some of the obstacles that I might encounter along the way from point A to point B that might require new ways, inputs and detours to eventually get me to my destination?

Knowledge translation isn’t just linear A to B (researcher to decision maker).  This appears even more idealistic.  Knowledge brokerage is professional, intermediary support to guide as a map, tool or resource required to help traverse the structural issues around professional boundaries and organizational norms and environments of researchers, policy-makers and many other stakeholders. Cutting the knowledge broker link in the chain only destroys the strength of the chain and leaves incomplete loops in the intersecting circles.

One of the better definitions of a knowledge broker is from The in-between world of knowledge brokering by John Lomas that I mentioned in an earlier blog about the history of KMb. Knowledge brokers “link decision makers with researchers, facilitating their interaction so that they are able to better understand each other’s goals and professional cultures, influence each other’s work, forge new partnerships, and promote the use of research-based evidence in decision-making.” The irony of this often-quoted and important definition from Lomas is that this article – and many of the articles that continue to quote this definition – are still behind pay-walls and accessible only to “professionals” instead of being open-access. The 2007 article was forward thinking for researchers then and now about knowledge brokerage and KMb – yet it’s still stuck in the past using an old form of knowledge “translation” behind a research repository.

Together researchers and knowledge brokers create knowledge for social benefit with a variety of partners and stakeholders and create change that didn’t exist before. Together researchers and knowledge brokers broaden the research process that differs from research being done in the past.

However, as with all things, there are times when great research remains locked away on the shelf as policy makers decide which resources society “needs” to be allocated for the next big political game.  As illustrated in the model above, this is when governmental, corporate, academic and community leaders need to intersect and work together to help research organizations and society reorient themselves to recognize that what had been great research methodologies and translation/dissemination techniques for the last 20 or 30 years are no longer as effective for social benefit as they used to be.  Knowledge brokers are an important part of the solution for social benefit if researchers – especially Social Science and Humanities researchers – sincerely want to make the world a better place.

Knowledge Mobilization & Social Media

social media

Value is added to knowledge mobilization (KMb) by adding a social media strategy. Using social media to connect with a variety of sources on topics of interest is a great way to start and nurture valuable knowledge exchange relationships, and allows knowledge to be shared more quickly than through traditional modes of knowledge exchange (academic/institutional environments).