KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: Canada

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.

 

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.

 

Scaling Up Knowledge Mobilization Globally

peace

For the past decade I have been involved with people developing and working in the field of knowledge mobilization (KMb). I started this blog to provide greater understanding of why KMb is important in connecting diverse knowledge from a variety of disciplines, social sectors – both community and university – and even from various countries to make the world a better place. I intend to continue doing this. But I’ve been having concerns this past week – given the recent so-called terrorist attacks in Quebec and Ottawa. Homegrown terrorism and self-radicalization are now words more Canadians are becoming familiar with.

Under Canada’s Criminal Code, terrorism is defined as a violent act committed “in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of “intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.”

In this I see the “dark side” of knowledge exchange for terrorism that is not connected with the reasons for knowledge exchange as I understand it. There is an important difference between knowledge exchange for radicalization and knowledge exchange for mobilization.

Radicalization has to do with knowledge exchange that brings about insecurity and danger – with knowledge that people acquire to intimidate, create fear and do terrorist acts. It results from social and political structures that do not guarantee human rights.

Knowledge mobilization has to do with knowledge exchange for goodwill or social benefit. It results from worthy attempts to create more useful and constructive knowledge in trying to overcome wicked problems and make the world a better place. It begins within our own communities and hopefully finds ways to scale up the benefits and impacts of knowledge exchange to effect positive change for greater worldwide benefit.

Can knowledge mobilization make a difference in the realization of human rights?

This is a question about our own personal commitments to human rights. Throughout my years in contributing to knowledge mobilization I have yearned for it to make the world a better place. I have hoped that my contributions might bring attention to how we can exchange knowledge to address the plight of the poor or the homeless, to the voices and knowledge of everyday people and so contribute to justice – not just in my own community but beyond.

In the world of research, knowledge mobilization is about making research useful to society. What about making research useful to all of our humanity?

Does knowledge mobilization actually offer something useful to poor or homeless people? Does knowledge mobilization actually help them? From a local perspective, I like to think so when I see the valuable efforts of organizations like The Homeless Hub or the United Way York Region that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into the work they do.

Many years ago I spent time working in a soup kitchen helping the poor, the homeless and the hungry. Yet over twenty-five years later there are still poor, homeless and hungry people. It makes me think of the biblical passage “there will never cease to be poor people.” While I don’t claim to be a religious person (I consider myself a humanist), I believe in justice for the poor and homeless by challenging the structures of our society that continue to deprive them of that justice and ignore human rights. I do believe that knowledge mobilization can make a difference, but in fact I also understand that knowledge mobilization can only offer a means of bringing extremes of ideologies, objectives or causes and knowledge closer together in attempts to work more cooperatively together.

My deeper concern is that current knowledge mobilization efforts only serve to relieve the more immediate and local socio-economic pressures rather than bring about more fundamental global changes. As a Canadian, in light of the closer-to-home radicalization that is occurring among our youth, it makes me realize that creating knowledge exchange more broadly worldwide can also influence some to adopt more radical belief systems instead of the type of knowledge exchange that brings more cooperative humanitarian efforts and approaches worldwide.

Are knowledge mobilization efforts making research useful and visible to society only in our local environments by creating the illusion of effective knowledge to action with strictly local impact? Have we created a culture of knowledge exchange only in social circles that bring change and benefit locally yet have normalized for us the destitution in developing and war-torn countries?

I was reminded of this with the recent Canadian media frenzy around homegrown terrorism and self- radicalization. Is the reason why some of our radicalized youth are willing to leave the safety and security of a country like Canada to fight in radicalized wars because we’re not doing enough to mobilize knowledge worldwide? What can bring us closer together in understanding and addressing the fundamental issues that affect all of us on this planet as collective human beings if not knowledge exchange?

How many of us promoting knowledge mobilization efforts – researchers, practitioners, clinicians, community organizers, business leaders, policy makers – end up feeling that our participation fulfills our local responsibilities to the poor, homeless, and those with mental health issues? We do our work in knowledge mobilization for a while, we see local social changes and benefits and it makes us feel good and we gain a sense of satisfaction. But in the process we risk forgetting about the greater global needs that continue to contribute to these wicked problems – even now in our own backyard – in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental reason why we do knowledge mobilization. It’s not just about making research useful to our own society – how about making research useful to all of humanity? How about exchanging knowledge to eliminate radicalized thinking? Is this even possible? Sadly, it takes an openness to want to exchange knowledge for this to happen.

People who incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into their work do so as a response to local problems to help ensure that people in our communities have a voice and can exchange knowledge to create social benefit and policy change in the here and now. Perhaps it’s time we consider these strategies as appropriate solutions to greater worldwide problems. We can tout the fact that community-university knowledge exchange has replaced an ivory-tower entitlement to knowledge that has slowly toppled many of our knowledge silos but it doesn’t camouflage our greater worldwide problems. We still require even broader thinking and knowledge mobilization approaches if we are to eliminate radicalized forms of knowledge and create more cooperative knowledge to action worldwide.

If we are only busy mobilizing knowledge in our local systems who is going to do the time-consuming work of knowledge mobilization for social benefit for our human system?

It’s working with a variety of global stakeholders through knowledge mobilization in conjunction with policy makers that will motivate governments to act together locally, nationally and internationally to guarantee rights, to create or oversee programs that assure everyone adequate access to what they need on a broader scale. Government leaders need to take a more open approach to work together – not a more divided and oppositional approach – only this will bring about a complete human system change – if it’s even possible.

And what of knowledge mobilizers who work diligently on creating greater knowledge exchange? Knowledge exchange is necessary to create greater understanding, but sometimes knowledge exchange may cause harm if not done with openness.

We hear much talk these days about knowledge mobilization as a tool for dealing with social ills – working with policy makers to provide services to the needy. But while local knowledge mobilization strategies may play a role locally they cannot be a substitute for greater worldwide knowledge mobilization strategies.

As for local organizations providing for all the needs of the poor, the chances are even more remote. The magnitude of the problem requires something beyond any local actions. However, a recent report on homelessness in Canada by researcher Stephen Gaetz suggests that $46 more per Canadian per year can vastly cut homelessness in this country. Could this type of thinking be scaled up worldwide to address homelessness or even other social issues?

Perhaps, but I suggest the fundamental problem for the poor in our country and in our world is not homelessness or other wicked problems themselves – rather the problem is injustice. In promoting knowledge mobilization as cooperative efforts of knowledge exchange in our institutions and communities to create local policy change we think that distributing enough food, creating enough shelters or producing enough homes in our communities – that is, if we just treat the symptoms in our own communities we will have solved “the problem.” The problem is we haven’t solved the problem worldwide.

Unfortunately, injustice is deep-rooted in every society. It is the inevitable result of the structures within our communities – social, economic, political and religious that reinforce inequality and lead to extremism and radicalization. These are the structures that keep wicked problems alive.

Local knowledge mobilization strategies do little to change the wider social and political systems that sustain injustice. Even if we perceive the need for systemic change worldwide, we can do little beyond a few cooperative borders.
Knowledge exchange for social benefit within our own communities offends almost no one. Seeking justice beyond our own borders offends many.

I’m not suggesting we abandon knowledge mobilization efforts. In addition to establishing justice within our communities, broader knowledge mobilization efforts are both necessary in our own communities and a requirement within the broader global community. We need to start thinking about ways for knowledge mobilization strategies within organizations to support those who work for justice worldwide.

We must continue to engage with policymakers to think beyond our own borders to create worldwide knowledge mobilization efforts.

Working for justice worldwide is not an easy task. There are no quick fixes and the most common reason for abandoning efforts is discouragement due to a lack of openness from others who are radicalized in their thinking. But we have little choice. Within an unjust world there are limitations to knowledge exchange. We need to continue in our attempts to join others in every part of this planet in the struggle for justice for everyone. It is a fundamental requirement of our humanity.

The Importance Of Graduate Students As Boundary Spanners

FGS  (Photo by Shawn Chong)

Knowledge mobilization is about critically examining, extending and exchanging knowledge and values within our world. Together each of us has a role to play in furthering our collective human understanding.

Within human understanding there is a constant and dynamic element of knowledge exchange – which is learning, teaching and research. Learning, teaching and research within our global knowledge society requires inspiration and resourcefulness while seeking to improve communication and co-operation across all disciplines and borders that define us. Furthering our collective human understanding requires us to open up relationships that develop harmony in an interconnected world within our communities – and particularly starting within academic communities where formal learning, teaching and research take place.

Many of our greatest human challenges occur because of our differences within often narrowly focused disciplines and boundaries, while many of our greatest developments occur at the intersections of knowledge uptake (learning),  knowledge transfer (teaching) and knowledge exchange (research) which often is first formally learned within the world of academia. This is why teaching students – particularly graduate students – about this type of broader learning to include knowledge mobilization within our global knowledge society has never been more important than now for the future.

Effective knowledge mobilization requires that graduate students be free within their respective disciplines to learn, teach and research by also developing scholarly inquiry that is interdisciplinary. Effective knowledge mobilization rests on their unique cross-boundary role as learners, teachers and researchers across disciplines and subjects.

Graduate students play an integral part in the ability of universities to provide a broader quality of educational experience by reminding students about the importance of acknowledging our human commonality within our diversity which is often reflected in universities that have very diverse student populations and a full-range of academic subjects and research interests.

Graduate students supplement and complement the teaching and research activities of faculty, while providing the institution with an opportunity to recognize the integral and multiple roles that graduate students play as learners, teachers and researchers in contributing to the university – and more importantly to our global knowledge society.

Universities have the responsibility of providing graduate students with an excellent education and the best possible preparation for their future careers since graduate students can play a crucial link as institutional boundary-spanners (as Angie Hart refers to from the work of Etienne Wenger) not only within the university but also within a new paradigm of community/university engagement. University Faculties and departments should offer suitable training for both academic and non-academic careers that recognize a community/university connection in learning, teaching and research that extends beyond the realm of academia.

Communication between graduate students, faculty and advisors can create opportunities for community contact, collaboration and community-building through student internships which are essential in developing the important learning, teaching and research links between community and university to promote knowledge beyond the university.

For effective knowledge mobilization every human being must understand the universal declaration of human rights to be free from discrimination based on race, colour, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and ability, as well as socio-economic or family status. Like every human being, students have the right to an educational experience that is also free from such discrimination. This fundamental human value is the most important knowledge that the university can teach students – particularly grad students as boundary-spanners – so that students may learn how to improve communication and co-operation across all disciplines and borders for better knowledge mobilization in doing research to make the world a better place for everyone. It is in this way that the university is a microcosm of the world and graduate students have an opportunity to become boundary spanners within the university and beyond by engaging with community.

York University is an outstanding example of a campus that has a very diverse ethnic and cultural student population reflecting more than most universities the progressive and multicultural inclusiveness of Canada. York promotes and protects human rights and values with a strong commitment to social justice, while offering a full-range of academic subjects and research units in developing scholarly inquiry that is interdisciplinary and inclusive. York University is the third largest university in Canada with a student population of over 55-thousand from a wide-range of backgrounds and belief systems.

Celebrating 50 years of the importance of graduate students, York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) promotes graduate student learning, teaching and research within an interdisciplinary university that extends across traditional academic and community boundaries as graduate students pursue professional training for academic and non-academic careers. Examples like FGS at York University help graduate students recognize their potential for knowledge mobilization as learners, teachers and researchers to move beyond fragmented research knowledge and include community in their work.

Assisting universities and graduate students is Mitacs – a Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities for graduate students.

“Through unique research and training programs, Mitacs is developing the next generation of innovators with vital scientific and business skills. In partnership with companies, government and academia, Mitacs is supporting a new economy using Canada’s most valuable resource – its people”…including graduate students.

It’s time all universities and graduate students recognize the importance of being learners, teachers and researchers knowing they are valued and being supported at institutions such as York University and Mitacs. Graduate students need also to go beyond an understanding of a specific discipline and see themselves as boundary-spanners – within the institution and society – by examining, extending and exchanging knowledge and values within our world through knowledge mobilization.

 

140 Twitter Characters To Knowledge Mobilization

The use of Twitter as an effective social media tool for knowledge mobilization is still not understood. This was made clear to me by two things that happened this past week:

1)      I was actively involved in a discussion with several members of EENet – the Evidence Exchange Network where the use of Twitter for research dissemination was called into question

AND

2)     I performed a brief Twitter survey of the 16 classic Networks of Centres of Excellence in Canada (NCE) that focus on research-driven partnerships, and found that these NCEs are still not effectively using this valuable social media tool, despite the Government of Canada’s knowledge mobilization mandate for NCEs “to transform these discoveries into products, services, and processes that improve the quality of life of Canadians.

First, the EENet Discussion:

EENet logo

Melissa MindyourMind

Melissa Taylor-Gates, Social Media and Project Coordinator for the award-winning MindyourMind (@mindyourmind_ca on Twitter) was interested in hearing about what other members of EENet are doing “to engage in meaningful knowledge mobilization” and how people use social media to achieve this goal. She started the discussion-ball rolling. The conversation soon focused on the use of Twitter as a key social media tool for academic/institutional researchers to engage with a wider and more diverse audience about research being done. Melissa aptly called Twitter “the great equalizer” and demonstrated this point with an excellent graphic showing the difference between equality and equity (which I gratefully co-opted for one of my blog posts here), making a further point that using social media for research dissemination is “more than just making a paper available to everyone online, it’s translating the information into accessible means.”

Well said Melissa!

These comments sparked valuable discussion – especially around how to sift through the deluge of information to find accurate, evidence-based research findings and trusted sources on Twitter. (For more about sifting through what I refer to as data/information noise, see my previous blog post here). One member’s comment, “I devoutly hope that no-one would assume that they could get sound clinical research information from a tweet” and concerns about the limitations of 140 characters caused a flurry of counter-comments.  Many EENet members pointed out how to find Twitter sources for relevant and useful research to credible peer-reviewed journals and Twitter profiles using hashtags and hyperlinks.

Some of the key messages that came out of this discussion are that Twitter is simply a tool – just another medium of sharing information, good or not so good, that can be used properly or not, requiring further learning and skill to effectively use social media for knowledge mobilization.  In contrast to Marshall MacLuhan, in this case the medium is not the message – the content is the message. Yet, it’s an important social media tool that is no longer a fad or waste of time. Twitter is an effective tool for knowledge mobilization. For my practice as KMbeing, Twitter has successfully created knowledge networking connections with researchers and other stakeholders from Canada, U.S., U.K. and Denmark where we have continued knowledge collaboration offline and in-person at conferences and other events. Yet, like any social relationships, social media relationships also require time and regular tending.

 

NCE

Twitter survey of the core 16 of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE):

 Using social media – especially Twitter – as an effective tool for knowledge translation and mobilization is being adopted more by academics and formal institutions as a way of contributing to greater social benefit. Each day sees an increase in the number of Twitter accounts being created by universities and research organizations, but simply having a Twitter account and only sporadically posting information is not an effective way of using Twitter for knowledge mobilization.

As Canada’s preeminent Science & Technology investments, I was curious to see what type of presence the core NCEs have on Twitter and how they might be using this effective social media tool as one of the products and processes (mentioned on the NCE website) for knowledge mobilizing of multidisciplinary research from across Canada (and from around the world) as a mandate from Canada’s funding agencies:

Although my survey is only a very brief overview of average daily tweets, completed over a day on March 15th, 2013, it does reveal that only 11 out of 16 classic NCEs are easily found on Twitter, and that only four NCEs tweet an average of just over one tweet per day – which is clearly insufficient for effective stakeholder engagement.

NCE Twitter Survey
(click on diagram to enlarge)
(Note: Last tweet = number of hours since or date of last tweet)

Evidence shows that users who tweet between 10 and 50 times per day have more followers on average than those that tweet more or less frequently, and have greater opportunities for knowledge dissemination and engagement.

Tweets per day
So what does this say about missed opportunities for increased research dissemination and collaboration between researchers and research users using social media for knowledge mobilization?

 It appears that the Networks of Centres of Excellence have yet to fully embrace the potential of Twitter (and social media) as a valuable means of addressing key outcomes mandated for NCEs:

  • Mobilizing multi-disciplinary research capacity from across Canada
  • Engaging partners from multiple academic institutions and various public and private-sector organizations
  • Working with end users to accelerate the creation and application of new knowledge
  • Increasing collaboration between researchers in Canada and abroad

This is either because – like some EENet members – they’re not fully aware of the potential for research outreach and engagement using Twitter, or the NCEs have not identified this as a priority despite the evidence (presented in a book chapter that I co-authored) of using social media as a means of applying research for public benefit using knowledge mobilization.

For those still uncertain among Canada’s NCEs (and other researchers) as to how to best approach and develop a social media strategy using Twitter, here are some tips:

  • If your NCE doesn’t have one already – create a Twitter account. For nothing else, protect your brand by reserving your naming rights on Twitter.
  • Use a simple and descriptive name for your Twitter profile that will clearly identify your affiliation with your NCE and include a brief description of the research focus
  • To avoid what is referred to as “shiny object syndrome” – zoom in on pertinent subject matter by using Twitter hashtags which will also establish connections with topics, people and sites that are relevant to your research
  • Designate individuals within the NCE whose primary responsibility is for populating, maintaining and monitoring your Twitter account, ensuring they have the time and enthusiasm to consistently tweet and retweet several times throughout each day. This isn’t a full time job but needs to be someone’s job.
  • Don’t simply tweet without including links (unless you are engaging in the next bullet point)
  • Tweet with a 140 character conversation to connect with other national and international researchers and stakeholders in your discipline to facilitate the social in social media by engaging in dialogue and creating opportunities for further engagement online and offline
  • Regularly schedule a monthly evaluation of your Twitter account’s success and be prepared to realign your Twitter content and approach

Social media is not a fad, and the use of social media for academics and institutions is becoming more incorporated into strategic planning. Many researchers are now recognizing the value of using Twitter in a more consistent and productive manner for knowledge mobilization. Perhaps it’s time that some of Canada’s NCEs and mental health stakeholders do the same.