KMbeing

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

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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?

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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.