KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: History

Generations, Perspective, Choice & Knowledge Mobilization

blame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Whose Knowledge Is It Anyway?

I was recently at a Knowledge Transfer & Exchange Community of Practice (KTE CoP) seminar in Toronto where a University of Sheffield scholar, Kate Pahl (above photo) was presenting a research project about a wide-range of meanings that a community park space in the U.K. has for different people in the park.  Pahl was co-investigator on a project called SPARKS: Urban green-space as a focus for connecting communities and research funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Connected Communities programme which brought together anthropology, geography, linguistics, contemporary science and environment science to look at the role of public parks in language development.

Pahl’s KTE CoP seminar presentation showcased this university-community research collaboration project with an interview-style video (the video can be viewed here: http://youtu.be/7m27DmiBHFQ) showing the usage and values that such a park space have, and the language used to describe the park by both academics and community participants.  (Pahl has also been a guest blogger writing about the value of stories and storytelling as spaces of unknowing and as works of art). The title of the KTE CoP presentation was “whose research is it anyway?” – illustrating the importance of understanding and valuing research (and knowledge) from within both the university and community sectors.

Interestingly, Pahl apologized several times to the mostly health-sciences audience for her somewhat “artsy” ethnographic research project after being questioned by several KTE CoP academics attempting to understand the significance, direction, scientific methodology and impact of the research project. Instead of recognizing the broader value and application of the project for community research participation and knowledge sharing – along with such diverse areas of academic research, including Urban Studies, Water Management, Social Work, Sociology, Linguistics, History, Recreation, Arts & Entertainment, to name a few- the seemingly narrowly-focused health-sciences group failed to look beyond their academic research silos to appreciate the broader fields of study and the more important university-community collaboration possibilities of knowledge transfer and exchange.

This event got me thinking about the idea of “evidence-based” thinking and ideas of “truth” in this world. There are many different people on this planet who think they have “the truth” or ultimate knowledge of life. Because they think that their knowledge is “the true” knowledge they’re always telling others what’s “right” and “wrong” – never being open to the knowledge of others, or learning how to share knowledge to create new knowledge for social benefit and ultimately make the world a better place. Alas, this seems to be the case even among academics purporting to be part of a community of practice open to knowledge transfer & exchange.

No one knows everything – there are many truths and many diverse paths in this life. Some of us do know more information than others, and some of us recognize the importance of evidence-based thinking. But information is not knowledge, and evidence-based thinking depends on circumstances and preferences that still remain subject to input from personal, political, philosophical, ethical, economic, and esthetic values“Best” evidence thinking is now starting to shift into “best” practice thinking as we recognize that “evidence” that may work in one setting may not necessarily work in another.

“Truth” and Knowledge are two concepts that have less to do with information and “best” “evidence”, and much more to do with openness to other human beings, awareness of the diversity of life and circumstances on this planet, and compassion and empathy for others to make this earth better for everyone.

  

Sandra Nutley and colleagues, in their book Using Evidence, point out the diversity of research approaches and uses stating that “research use enhancement strategies that encourage a greater variety of voices in opportunities for dialoge have the potential to give research a substantial, sustained, and sometimes critical, role in debates about public services” and that “research goes much broader than the preoccupation with the ‘what works?’ type of instrumental knowledge central to the ‘evidence-based everything’ agenda.” (Click here for more on the difference between instrumental knowledge and conceptual knowledge).

In my experience, I’ve learned that all people have knowledge to share, and the idea of “truth” is realizing we can never know any sort of absolute “truth” because knowledge is something that is always changing and always evolving as we combine our knowledge with others throughout our human history and create new knowledge each day with each person in our lives – and throughout this planet.

The greatest knowledge we can reach is that of knowing and understanding we all have knowledge to share – whether we’re academics or everyday people in community. It’s how we find a common ground to share and collaborate with this knowledge that is important.

Knowledge is not about judging other people based on our own knowledge of life and living – or judging other people based on their knowledge of life and living.  Knowledge is about being open to each others knowledge (no matter how limited or extensive) to combine our knowledge – not for ridicule or harm – but for social benefit. This is how we can make a difference on this planet. This is what Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is all about.

At a more formal or institutional level, KMb is a collaborative process of exchanging knowledge among academics and non-academics to inform decisions about public policy and professional practice.  At this level, KMb can enhance social innovation and develop long-term solutions to social, environmental, economic and cultural challenges – including many of the so-called wicked problems that continue to hold back our humanity.

At a more informal or personal level, KMb is also a collaborative process of exchanging knowledge – with every person we meet – to inform our personal decisions about “right” and “wrong” with the many truths that exist on this planet. At this level, KMb can enhance our social interactions and develop long-term solutions to the problems that stop us from connecting and finding common ground as human beings.

There’s a great difference between accepting others for who they are and judging them based on our own limited ideas of “right” and “wrong” and “evidence” – there’s a great difference between the many truths that exist on this planet and our own interpretation of “evidence” and “the truth”.