KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: graduate students

Increasing The Academic & Innovation Grade

Innovation 1

What is innovation? Is it simply coming up with a new idea; is it creating a new design or product; is it developing a new process?

In research terms, innovation is essentially linked to improvements in the application of knowledge towards advancements in science and technology. Knowledge mobilization is making research useful to society. As such, knowledge mobilization is a process that enables innovation that stems from research initiatives between community and academia that is moving beyond community engagement to partnerships that lead to more far-reaching ideas and strategies.

According to Stanford University Centre for Social Innovation:

“A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.”

The Conference Board of Canada defines innovation as:

“A process through which economic or social value is extracted from knowledge—through the creating, diffusing, and transforming of ideas—to produce new or improved products, services, processes, strategies, or capabilities.”

Despite the emerging influence of Canada in the knowledge mobilization field over the past decade, and the impact that university research has had by becoming more accessible and receptive to community partners – recent statistics still show that Canada remains near the bottom of countries with the highest development of successful innovation strategies.

While examples of Canada’s success in the knowledge mobilization field can be seen through the great collaborative work of a pan-university network such as ResearchImpact, why is there still a disconnect with greater successful innovation despite historic investments in Canadian research and development through knowledge mobilization?

Perhaps the answer is in the lack of initiative of the private-sector in working more closely with the public-sector as evidenced by the disappointing grades given to Business Enterprise R&D spending (“D”) compared to Public R&D spending (“B”).

Another key message put forth by the Conference Board of Canada is that Canada must perform at the cutting edge and attract the brightest students to careers in science and engineering or it will continue to fall behind our peers on this indicator.

In these particular areas, York University – part of the ResearchImpact network – continues to lead the way through its knowledge mobilization initiatives creating greater innovation by offering opportunities for graduate students to work more closely with business through research-funders like Mitacs, York’s entrepreneurship program Launch YU, and business mentoring with ventureLAB.

York University has also recently opened the Lassonde School of Engineering which was established, in the words of its Dean, Janusz Kozinsi, “to educate (a) new type of engineer — someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, a social conscience and a sense of global citizenship who is a highly-trained professional in their field and across many disciplines.”

Today, knowledge mobilization provides opportunities for innovation to continue to emerge and address the challenge of improving Canada’s performance on the innovation stage. We may still have a way to go on an international level to compete against other countries for more successful innovation; yet on a Canadian level York University is a clear example of taking the right steps to providing opportunities for future innovators such as graduate students – an example worth following to not only increase the academic grade but also the innovation grade.

 

 

 

 

What Is Research “Success”?

Research Success

Every day when we read or listen to the news on the radio, television or on our digital devices there are reports of poverty, homelessness, hatred, crime, violence, or wars. Many in this world are not safe, secure or educated – and despite advances in modern technologies that create broader knowledge exchange (more people are much more aware of what’s happening around the world than any other generation before us) we are still faced with wicked problems that continue to plague us.

Although knowledge mobilization has contributed to making research useful to society, we are still faced with the challenges of healing our social problems to bring about broader peace and happiness worldwide. As someone who has written about the value and benefits of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies by researchers – particularly social science researchers – to contribute to improving our human experience, I recognize that basic human problems like fear, suffering, ignorance, prejudice, bigotry and discrimination still exist.

I know many people who share my concern about the many difficult social conditions that we still face on this planet and those who also share in my hopes that knowledge exchange has greater value when applied on a worldwide scale. As a humanist, I strongly feel that global knowledge mobilization is necessary to overcome wicked problems – but as I’ve stated in previous blogs, knowledge mobilization without compassion, without being motivated by kindness, without seeking benefit beyond our own communities is extremely limited.

Each person, whether researcher, practitioner, community member or policymaker has a responsibility to exchange our knowledge to benefit all human beings – by thinking about ways to scale up the research benefits gained at our local levels.

When individuals choose to hate and fight each other or discriminate based on opposing ideologies, selfish gains or ignorance, there is a common human imperative that calls us to change such limiting knowledge. Our common humanity implores us to find solutions through cooperative knowledge exchange as a fundamental objective.

Researchers have a particular responsibility inherent as scientists to influence change for global benefit by working with community members to inform policy. If we understand the causes of problems that continue to hold us back globally without gaining cooperation through knowledge exchange – research remains limited and – on a broader-scale – practically useless.

Whether we think so or not – human suffering inflicted not by physical illness but by other humans is the worst human illness that continues to affect all of us. We spend billions of research dollars to rightly find cures for physical illness – but let’s not forget to also focus research resources on curing our more general human illness of wicked problems.

Every researcher hopes to achieve “success” from their research. But what is research “success”?

  • Is “success” limited to finishing a graduate degree as a Masters or PhD student?
  • Is “success” limited to publishing peer-reviewed papers in academic journals?
  • Is “success” limited to inspiring other future researchers to carry on finding a cure?

What if researchers thought beyond limited “success” to the ultimate success in research? In the quest for “success” in research, researchers have used different methods – sometimes even unbecoming in their status as scientists – for their own self-centred gains. Ultimately, when research becomes short-sighted without a broader perspective of benefit beyond the academy – global problems will continue to exist.

Over the past decade, the development of knowledge mobilization has helped bring researchers, practitioners, community members and policymakers closer together – not just locally, but internationally. Broader community engagement results in greater research impact by creating more global knowledge exchange for social benefit. Many researchers are no longer as siloed in their disciplines and research interests as they once were. Old-school research was very much dependent upon the research being done by researchers in one particular field of study. New-paradigm research is now more interdisciplinary and community-engaged. Today, research – through knowledge mobilization – has made academia more closely interconnected with and inclusive of community.

Without a sense of scaling-up this new-paradigm of research we cannot expect to overcome our global problems. Too much depends upon continuing to shift our research perspectives to pursue only one’s own research interests without considering how to also apply this research on a broader-scale. If researchers continue to approach problems considering only temporary gains, research may continue to perpetuate itself – but will always remain limited.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it again, researchers who connect the intellect of their minds with the development of a kind heart make the best knowledge mobilizers. When we embrace knowledge mobilization for social benefit with both brains and heart, with both thinking and action there is an opportunity to reinvent our ideas of knowledge to ultimately make the world a better place for everyone.

World conflicts and wicked problems that persist globally continue due to a failure to remember our common humanity. An answer to address these concerns is doing research with both intelligence and compassion. It’s time for researchers to transcend our usual research methods and regard research as a responsibility to benefit individuals, communities, nations and the world together.

To improve research globally in the world, I continue to encourage researchers to adopt knowledge mobilization strategies that can make considerable contributions to social benefit internationally – and focus research on addressing the wicked problems that still continue to plague us. The ultimate research “success” is about doing research that gives global humanity precedence – and knowledge mobilization has a large role to play in this process. In order to solve our human problems globally we must challenge current researchers and develop future researchers to combine their interests with those of our common humanity.

In the new-paradigm of research perhaps global knowledge mobilization will help overcome the wicked problems that continue to exist and new researchers will take on the challenge of doing research for greater social benefit worldwide.

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.

 kmb-model-final1.png

The greatest advances often occur not exclusively in academia, or private-sector practitioners or business leaders or because of government policies. The greatest advances and social benefit often occur at the intersections and collaborations between borders and boundaries – an important message for anyone in research or also beginning a career in research.

By promoting knowledge mobilization on a broader scale, ResearchImpact has been playing a leading role in cross-sector connections since 2006. ResearchImpact is a knowledge mobilization network of 11 Canadian universities involved in community-university engagement to inform public policy, involve non-profits in the research process and create valuable social change. ResearchImpact has crossed university borders into communities to include all sectors – public, private and non-profit, and has given graduate students opportunities to connect their own research with knowledge brokers and community stakeholders. It gets graduate students thinking and engaging beyond the “traditional” research process.

Such inclusiveness is moving beyond the borders of research disciplines, moving beyond the borders of academia to community, and also moving beyond national borders. How we do research has changed – and how we teach new researchers to do research has also changed.

Welcome to research in the 21st century!

International Students As A Knowledge Mobilization Perspective

flags

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

RePlay pic

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!

 

 

Graduate Studies: Critically Thinking About Community-University Engagement Research

Critical thinking

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.