KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: government

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.

 

 

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!

Getting Closer To Understanding The Value Of Knowledge Mobilization In Research

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Evidence-Informed Research versus “Best” Evidence Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Can Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Make A Difference For Universities?

KMb Difference

University faculty have long considered tenure to be their right – something they deserve as dedicated researchers and hardworking teaching professionals. And a new generation of graduate students are finding it not so easy to get on the “tenure-track” due to greater competition and sometimes misguided expectations of success post-graduation. There are many challenges to the contemporary academy as shown by the recent example at the University of Saskatchewan, and the many challenges within the past few decades that have created financial struggles for universities requiring evidence-based reform – such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK, or in Canada, the Program Prioritization Process (PPP) or Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) and U of Sask’s TransformUS. These recent academic/economic checks are informed by the Dickeson prioritization process started in the United States more than a decade ago based on the methodology of Robert Dickeson’s Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services.

As university budgets grow tight, they look at what universities spend in all areas – both academic and administrative – and want to know if these investments yield clear returns or could that money be spent in better ways? Such questions make effective knowledge mobilization (KMb) within the university more important than ever.

Traditionally, academics haven’t paid much attention to knowledge mobilization and community engagement. Many consider KMb a time-consuming process that diverts efforts from more important activities of the customary research cycle of hypothesis, study and peer-review publication – as well as research strictly for the sake of research regardless of the “value” of the subject matter.

Other researchers think they lack the skill and expertise to become involved in KMb and community engagement. As a result, they either neglect the potential for community engagement completely or leave it to “KMb experts.”

Effective KMb doesn’t have to be complicated. It simply requires incorporating KMb into the research planning stage, the ability to do some interdisciplinary networking within and outside the university, and a basic understanding of how to find these contacts by connecting with a good knowledge broker. Using knowledge brokers can provide meaningful information and networks that researchers can use to make thoughtful, responsible decisions about the professional development processes of their work and the potential impacts of research.

What is Knowledge Mobilization (KMb)?

In simplest terms, knowledge mobilization is making research useful to society.

Useful implies a dedicated, attentive, and purposeful process where research creates impact for social change and benefit. Academics conduct research for clear reasons and with explicit intent.

Impact can be defined as: a powerful or major influence or effect; a force or impression of one thing on another – or an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society.

If we apply this to the potential impact of research – in addition to traditional academic impacts, impact can be defined as a measurable change in policy, services or products. However, researchers don’t make policy, they usually don’t offer services, and they generally don’t produce products. It is government (public sector) who makes policy, community organizations (voluntary sector) who mostly deliver services, and industry (private sector) who create products. Researchers develop knowledge which can lead to impact, but remember that some research knowledge has only academic impact.

Questions Researchers Need To Ask At The Beginning:

Some researchers understand the importance of KMb for community engagement and research development activities for social benefit/impact. Effective KMb requires researchers to ask important questions at the beginning of the research cycle that focus on basic human needs and benefits. How can the research being done address an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society?

In addition to asking this initial question as part of the research process we also hope that researchers ask a further question: How can the research process create community involvement in the research being done? This question focuses on inclusion of knowledge and skills from outside the university that can add value. Depending on the goals of the research activity, this can involve anything from asking community stakeholders to describe the crucial attributes of their own knowledge to provide examples of how these might be applied to the research process, or to a full-scale inclusion in the research process. Some researchers talk about including community stakeholders throughout the research process yet fail to include community stakeholders in the final research publications. (See this example and this example).

University Academic and Administrative Leadership Support for KMb:

As I mentioned, researchers don’t make policy, they usually don’t offer services, and they generally don’t produce products. This is where the focus shifts to the university administration and collaborative efforts outside the university. Lack of university academic and administrative leadership support has the potential to sabotage any knowledge mobilization efforts, even when all the individual aspects of academic research and community engagement are done right.

Suppose for example that many academic researchers contribute to KMb efforts and create community engagement in their research. They gain a thorough understanding of the benefits of KMb and develop a variety of community/university activities based on cooperative knowledge. Following these efforts they try to implement relationships with community stakeholders in universities where researchers are credited strictly according to their relative standing among other faculty and the great importance attached to churning out research publications without any thought towards how research is being done to address economic, social and cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society – let alone the university.

University policies and practices such as these make research highly competitive and will impede the most valiant efforts to have researchers cooperate and help one another and learn from community engagement – as well as potential sources of revenue that can be generated through being collaborators in funding programs such as Mitacs and SSHRC partnership grants. The lack of KMb in this case doesn’t reflect community engagement opportunities to create value for the university, but rather university policies challenge KMb implementation efforts.

Lack of buy-in at the university leadership level can essentially hold back any gains made at the community/university engagement level. That’s why knowledge mobilization efforts must include university academic and administrative leadership support.

Supporting and Measuring Student Knowledge Mobilization Efforts:

Supporting students is “the bottom line” of any university. How can knowledge mobilization efforts include, affect and benefit students? Student learning opportunities and research contributions depend of course on the goals of specific professional development efforts of the university – particularly at the graduate level. In addition to these goals, knowledge mobilization efforts may result in important unintended outcomes and benefits – such as greater network opportunities to extend their research during and beyond their academic program, as well as meeting potential employers leading to post-doctoral or other non-academic employment opportunities (see comment above about the challenge of grad students getting on the tenure track).

Consider, for example, how to motivate graduate students to participate in research dedicated to finding ways to improve the quality of life in society. It’s essential to help graduate students devise research strategies that are geared towards addressing wicked problems that continue to hinder us worldwide. Measures of student learning typically include student achievement such as grades through subjective examinations of knowledge and measurements of any type of research out-puts. In addition to pan-university measurement tools such as AAPR, universities might also measure impacts of student (particularly graduate student) community engagement through KMb and collaborative research efforts to produce new knowledge that can bring a return on investment (beyond simply receiving a degree) for both the student and the university.

Knowledge mobilization as part of student development can increase academic and non-academic achievement. An important thing to remember is that nearly all professional development – for students or otherwise – takes place in real-world settings, not sheltered away in institutions. The relationship between professional development and improvements in student knowledge in these real-world settings depends on the openness of universities that are willing to create KMb opportunities for community engagement. Since most universities are instigating systemic reform initiatives such as AAPR, underestimating the important link between community/university partnerships for various returns on investment can lead to further limiting financial consequences in today’s highly networked world of creating social and economic innovation.

Effects of KMb for the University:

Three important effects for the university stem from knowledge mobilization:

First, making research useful to society is important. Knowledge gathered through university research provides vital data for improving the quality of society and life beyond the university.

Second, seeking systemic reform without effective measurement of external impact tells you nothing about the greater impact that can be achieved through creating and enhancing community/university partnerships as a further source of improvement, reputation and potential revenue. Although success within the university may be necessary for positive administrative and financial results it’s clearly not sufficient if a university wishes to create greater and lasting societal impacts beyond the university.

The third consequence, and perhaps the most important, is planning and implementing professional, graduate student development to improve student knowledge, experience and interdisciplinary networks that are now essential in a world that measures the impacts of research beyond simply receiving a degree in one particular field of study.

Universities must consider the student learning outcomes they want to achieve with a new university paradigm that includes knowledge mobilization.

When universities work successfully with community partners and other key stakeholders to improve academic reforms beyond an internal prioritization process, wider social and economic benefits occur.  However, this process is not always easy – and takes time. Establishing a knowledge mobilization unit within the university (sooner than later) with dedicated knowledge brokers who offer insights about why and how to engage community, and what strategies and approaches are effective, creates value and success for the university – but again, this doesn’t happen overnight.

Those universities willing to devote their energy and passion to community-university engagement as part of reform strategies need to act now to develop the next generation of successful universities and graduate students for academic and non-academic success.

 

 

 

Community BUILD Includes All Sectors Of Society

Community BUILD

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

“Is teaching science knowledge mobilization?”

Knowledge Exchange + Action = KMb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Collective Impact Of Research Over Isolated Impact Of Research

Pepsi Coke Hatred

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

So….

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

Why isn’t healthcare a universal human right?

Why is climate change still a problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Knowledge Brokers – A Solution For Social Benefit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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