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

Tag Archives: Faculty of Graduate Studies

Generations, Perspective, Choice & Knowledge Mobilization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Students As A Knowledge Mobilization Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Active Listening As A Knowledge Mobilization Skill

Active Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge Mobilization Post With The Most 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Rethinking The “Old-School” Graduate Degree

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Universities have become more challenged in their approach to the expectations and greater competition in their own institutions and with other universities. The many challenges within the past few decades have created financial struggles for universities requiring evidence-based reform 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. How this plays out in relation to graduate degree programs means that some universities are now examining a substantial decrease in graduate student enrolment.

Rethinking the value of traditional graduate degrees and the types of research being done cannot be ignored in this development as there is a continuing gap between “old-school” research paradigms and an emerging paradigm-shift in the demand for quality research that also provides social benefit.

Universities see themselves to be in a risky situation as a result of economic pressures combined with this increasing demand for community-engaged scholarship to provide social benefit. In a climate of uncertain funding and a greater demand for valuable research, understanding how knowledge mobilization (KMb) can bring opportunities to improve research, create social and economic innovation and affect government policy needs to be considered.

While graduate programs that struggle to attract students might have been retained in the past, there is increasing evidence that this is no longer the case within some universities. Graduate student numbers drop as universities seek to compete with one another for different revenue streams.

Does this mean that we have to simply drop these graduate programs or can we infuse a new sense of value into them by rethinking how the research within these programs is being done?

Do struggling graduate programs need to reduce entry standards to attract more students or is there another way to attract top quality students by articulating the value of receiving a graduate degree while also creating benefit to society?

The role of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into the types of graduate research cannot be ignored. Not doing so continues to have serious implications for universities. York University is an example of how incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies into faculty research contributes to an increase in receiving large-scale funding to do more research. By integrating a knowledge mobilization unit within the university structure and specifically creating a senior research officer position to support large-scale grant applications initially increased large-scale funding by 300% per year – and over 8 years (from 2006-2014) has supported successful community-engaged scholarship grant applications that has secured over $43-million dollars. Since this funding is engaged with community it therefore is intended to create social benefit. Since a large portion of these grant budgets are for graduate students they also get to participate in this engaged scholarship.

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As a further example, York University holds 62.5% more SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) grant awards that contain a knowledge mobilization component than other major Canadian universities.

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So why not extend knowledge mobilization strategies beyond just faculty research to include graduate student research?

Having a strong enrolment base may be good for graduate programs – having a strong research base with a knowledge mobilization strategy is good for increasing funding – including funding for graduate programs. In turn, increased funding for graduate programs can contribute to increased graduate student enrolment.

Universities that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into faculty research to create social benefit are becoming very different from other universities who still place emphasis on research for research sake only. The old paradigm of doing research for research sake only, going through the grant application process for funding, having it peer-reviewed only to have the research sit on a shelf with no practical application is changing.

A helpful and colorful example of this comes from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health who not only have developed a very useful knowledge mobilization toolkit that any researcher can use (including university faculty and graduate student researchers) – but also a humorous animated video demonstrating “old-school” thinking versus emerging thinking in the demand for action from research. It’s about “what you do with what you’ve learned” thanks to the Knowledge Ninja.

Universities that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into graduate student research – not just faculty research – to create social benefit become very different from other universities who still place emphasis on vocation, training and education only as a means to just simply getting a graduate degree. Perhaps it’s also a way for universities to become more attractive to prospective graduate students who want to study at universities who can create community engagement opportunities through their research – and ultimately social benefit while getting their graduate degree.

York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit is collaborating with the Faculty of Graduate Studies to explore specialized training and support services for graduate students. This includes training in clear language writing and social media and serving as brokers of research collaborations for graduate students.

The combination of market forces and government policies has put higher education on a more competitive path that reduces opportunities for graduate students. Those universities who ignore community-engagement as part of reform strategies as part of a new university paradigm will be those still struggling to achieve reforms and fulfill public accountability and support over the next decade.

Some of the best training and preparation we can offer graduate student researchers is to make their research useful to society. It’s time the graduate student path includes a knowledge mobilization strategy in the pursuit of a graduate degree to rethink the value of traditional graduate degrees and the types of research being done.

Building A Knowledge Mobilization Strategy In The Research Process

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I was recently involved in a professional skills development day for graduate students, hosted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. After a session titled Building a Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Strategy presented by Michael Johnny, Manager of the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University, I spoke with several grad students who had only vaguely heard of KMb. It seemed as if a light-bulb had suddenly brightened their thinking after the session as they began to understand and got excited about how to develop KMb strategies in their own research. One grad student confessed she had no idea that the KMb Unit existed at the university and it was available as a valuable research resource. It also never occurred to her to think of her research with a community engagement perspective.

This got me thinking about what are still the obstacles to building a knowledge mobilization strategy within the research process and how we can instill in future researchers the value of incorporating KMb strategies into research for social benefit.

Thankfully, many community-based and university-based research is now focused on incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies to improve the research process. Over the past decade as the field of KMb has emerged, a range of factors – including a need to improve community/university relations with greater community engagement and broader evidence-informed practice has led to a desire to deliver research with more inclusive collaboration and larger impact.

In many cases, knowledge mobilization has meant adopting new research methods that involve a variety of stakeholders – such as knowledge brokers, community organizations, business associates and policy-makers – as intermediaries, research partners, social innovators and receptors. Historical research methods have a limiting pathway to impact and some university/research institutions are still struggling to develop research with an integrated KMb approach.

Incorporating KMb into research methods is not always easy and takes time. There are many stakeholders to involve, a full range of needs to meet – including institutional demands – and often multifaceted academic and cultural concerns to take into consideration.

Knowledge mobilization is about institutional, cultural and strategic practices that must be considered to improve the research process within universities and communities. Universities and research institutions are now confronted with how to best develop and integrate successful KMb strategies – not only for faculty but also for student researchers as well. As mentioned, developing an effective KMb strategy takes time – which can be problematic when thinking about how best to incorporate such a strategy specific to the life cycle of a graduate student.

Problems incorporating a KMb strategy into the research process can include:

  • Varied research projects may not align with community engagement
  • A lack of interdisciplinary coordination and collaboration among researchers – sometimes due to internal politics and beliefs
  • Little understanding or knowledge of the value of KMb
  • A more competitive rather than cooperative view among researchers that excludes various stakeholders
  • No clear strategic research plan that incorporates KMb strategies at the outset of a research project
  • Poor quality of research with the use of out-of-date research methodologies
  • A lack of recognition and support for KMb strategies from academic leaders
  • Limited institutional and financial resources to establish KMb Units and knowledge brokers within the organization
  • Difficulty in changing work practices of faculty and students as well as staff within academia and community organizations

Universities and other research institutions can be very complex and competitive environments in which to develop and deliver evidence-based research with a focus on broader solutions and impact for real-world problems. The list of problems mentioned above need to be overcome when planning KMb strategies within the research process.

Most importantly, successful KMb strategies need to be supported by strong institutional leadership and are only successful if they are actually implemented by researchers and staff with active participation throughout the university/research institution. The challenge to gain sufficient implementation is by ensuring a broader understanding of KMb and establishing support services within the university/research institution. Without such critical support institutional research remains limited and of little value outside the institution.

This creates a considerable change in thinking about research projects. In practice it means that research projects must be carefully designed to incorporate KMb strategies from the outset to ensure the involvement of a variety of stakeholders to create the broadest impact and social benefit.

This includes:

  • Thinking about the value factors of the research for all stakeholders
  • Clear communication to all stakeholders about the purpose and benefits of the research project
  • Building momentum by including other researchers and community partners throughout the entire research process – including input and recognition in the publication and implementation of research findings

It’s not simply enough to improve KMb strategies within a handful of research projects within the university/institution. While this will deliver greater benefit from certain research projects it will not create the required cultural change within the institution or assist with gaining adoption by institutional leadership. While these may be valuable research projects it may be difficult to demonstrate the social benefit to university/institution management as a return on investment unless they can demonstrate how such research projects can also gain create opportunities for funding.

This is why inclusion and interaction with community, business and government stakeholders in the research process is essential as a vital link to also demonstrate social benefit within and beyond the institution as part of a return on investment. Delivering clear impact by incorporating KMb strategies into research projects involves identifying from the outset concrete social needs that must be met. This provides meaningful measurement of the research projects and value for the university/institution – and for society.

Research projects can target issues that are visible within society with solutions that are valuable to society. There is no single research project that will address and resolve all social problems. Wicked problems – as they are often referred to – are too complex to consider all the factors to overcome when planning and developing KMb strategies within research projects. The answer is to seek out collaborative research that can address such social problems from many angles with many stakeholders. This may mean letting go of a perfectly planned research approach in a timely manner to allow for a more adaptive and long-term research plan. This approach recognizes that there are hundreds or even thousands of often small, collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects that are needed to improve social conditions.

This is the crux of a KMb strategy – to implement research that involves a cross-pollination of university/research institution, community, business and government sectors to create social benefit and systems-change on a wider-scale.

Again, building a knowledge mobilization strategy within research in a complex and ever-changing world is not easy. The social and time challenges inherent in research projects that incorporate KMb strategies mean that new approaches at the researcher and university/institutional levels need to be taken if they are to be successful in creating social benefit from research. Social benefit from incorporating KMb strategies into research is taking place with clear examples of social innovation and benefit occurring. Homeless Hub, Green Economy Centre, Peterborough Youth Emergency Shelter, and Toronto’s Heat Registry are several examples.

Building a knowledge mobilization strategy into the research process means thinking about doing research differently than that done in the past. It means involving a wider range of stakeholders, and getting buy-in from university/institution leadership to create not just internal benefit but external benefit. It means thinking about value as not just a financial return on investment but a social return on investment that can lead to financial and social benefit on a wider-scale for researchers and society today and tomorrow.

Graduate Studies: Critically Thinking About Community-University Engagement Research

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Every day I assist university students as part of my work at the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. I am a member of the dean’s office and deal with students, faculty and staff – including grad program assistants and directors as representatives helping almost six-thousand Masters and PhD students make the most of their educational experience.

With so many aspiring graduate students I sometimes see students with something special – exceptional intellectual qualities and research skills that are often revealed by their national scholarships and awards, valuable research or examination results. These students display a self-confidence and level of academic success that leaves faculty, staff and peers alike very proud and in admiration.

These fortunate graduate students appear to be the winners in the race we have made of higher education. Yet the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in my interactions with many other students. Our education system continues to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness – one type of knowledge over other knowledge. Our education system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, but also nervous, fearful, confused – and sometimes even smug or arrogant. There are some graduate students with little research curiosity and an underdeveloped sense of purpose and an overdeveloped sense of privilege – students who are stuck in a cycle of doing research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate.

Is it possible that these students – heading in the same direction – are great at what they’re doing academically, but have little idea of why they’re doing it, or how to engage in real, meaningful research that matters to them, their community, and our world?

The standard admissions process creates a brand of graduate students that seek opportunities that come only after a degree. Traditionally, students are pushed into the machine of higher education with little regard or encouragement to identify and seek real-world solutions to real-world problems during their studies to make a more immediate difference on a broader scale today.

In my job I come in contact with many grad students who are bright, thoughtful and inspired whom it’s a pleasure to talk with, exchange knowledge and learn from. But many seem comfortable to maintain an education marked out for them with no thought towards doing research that can create community-university engagement for impact beyond the university. This is why creating knowledge mobilization opportunities and strategies for graduate studies is so important.

The primary purpose of getting a degree is to teach a person to think critically. This doesn’t simply mean developing academic skills specific to an individual discipline. A new university paradigm is about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations and connections to provide differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit through community engagement within and beyond the walls of the university.

Learning how to think critically is only the beginning. There’s something particular you need to think critically about – building a better world for everyone. That notion may sound too idealistic, yet given the fact that we are still faced with sexism, prejudice, bigotry and hatred that lead to modern extremists and territorial wars that continue to threaten world peace, shouldn’t teaching our students to think critically about creating real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures be a top priority in education?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our students to develop research that can make a difference in addressing these real-world problems?

Most universities claim to teach students how to think critically – but all they mean is that they train them in systematic and competitive skills that are necessary for success in business and professions post-graduation. Education seems to be based on developing expertise that is ultimately justified in getting a graduate degree for the sake of getting a degree as a means of making a difference in the future – not in the moment.

Universities that consider students as “commodities” rather than challenging students to be critical-thinking researchers making a difference in the world in the moment may continue to be financially stable, yet fall short on a broader scale. Graduate students are rewarded for research yet the whole incentive structure is biased against doing research that can make a deeper impact for society and our world. The result is trading off getting a degree in the future for doing research now – with greater community engagement – that can make a difference in the world today.

It’s true that some of today’s students appear to be more socially engaged than students in the past and that they are more apt to have more social or entrepreneurial instincts. But it’s also true that many universities continue to follow an historic, narrow view of what constitutes getting a graduate degree.

Application numbers for graduate studies continue to fall in many universities as a sign of the system’s alleged lack of developing students for opportunities post-university. What about creating opportunities to increase graduate studies applications with a focus on creating knowledge mobilization and social innovation opportunities while in university to do research that can make a difference during graduate studies today?

Graduate studies admissions should not necessarily be about maintaining higher numbers for the statistical sake of competition. It’s about creating opportunities to cultivate research that can make a difference on a broader scale. Accepting graduate students who seek to make a difference in doing research while in university not simply for doing research as “a means to an end” for post-university needs to be considered during the admissions process.

Instead, the higher education system continues to impair community engagement opportunities, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from society instead of contributing to it.

The reason is clear. Universities are manufacturing graduate students who aren’t challenged to make a difference in the world – only churning out students with Masters or PhDs based on a field of research that has little impact beyond the university.

Students need to be encouraged to do research that involves people of different backgrounds. Students need to interact with community stakeholders directly as part of their research, and it has to be on equal ground – not as a “subject” of study. Students need to work with and within community as part of the university experience to gain insight into other people – exchanging knowledge to show them that intelligent people actually exist outside the academy who perhaps didn’t have opportunities to gain a graduate degree – but are nonetheless intelligent in different ways.

When universities provide graduate students with such community-university engagement opportunities as part of their research they create students who are less entitled and competitive, genuinely more open, more interesting and more curious – and far more wanting to make a difference in the world in the moment rather than later on.

The time has come, not simply to reform the higher education system, but to plan our future with another kind of education system that embraces knowledge mobilization strategies more deeply within academia to transform our society altogether.

More broadly, we need to rethink our concept of merit within graduate studies. If universities are going to train a better class of graduate students than the ones we have today, we’re going to have to ask ourselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote to do research that makes social impact. Those universities that select students simply by GPA or “original” research more often benefit the statistical competition rather than develop graduate students who are critically-thinking researchers engaged with local and global communities.

It’s time for universities to provide opportunities for graduate students to exchange knowledge through greater community-university engagement and develop knowledge mobilization strategies as part of the graduate student experience to create greater value of a graduate degree – and greater value for the world in general.

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.

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(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.

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.