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

Tag Archives: Program Prioritization Process PPP

The Politics of Austerity, Research & Knowledge Mobilization

Austerity

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is slowly emerging as a process to connect academic research with evidence-based policy-making since the emergence of KMb over the past decade. KMb was cultivated in earlier forms of evidence-based practice, and recent initiatives across sectors of public administration indicate a move towards creating new policies based on research that produces social benefit as an impact. (For more in-depth reading on the historical development of KMb, I continue to recommend an excellent longitudinal analysis paper written by Carole Estabrooks and colleagues that traces the historical development of the knowledge exchange field between 1945 and 2005 with an author co-citation analysis of over 5,000 scholarly articles).

The term knowledge mobilization (KMb) evolved following the publication of an evaluation report of the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2004. This led SSHRC to create a division of Knowledge Products and Mobilization to enhance and accelerate the movement of research findings into policy and program development.

However, the politics of austerity continues to affect the types of research deemed more beneficial than others. In terms of research, austerity describes government policies used to reduce research funding as part of maintaining government budgets. The effects of austerity measures on research by decreased funding is seen as direct attacks on public services, whose primary mission is to reduce social inequalities – which social science research, in particular, seeks to address and understand.

Is it because of this obvious link – and full-circle connection – between social science research and public services that politicians wish to ignore when they implement austerity measures that leads to a decrease in research funding?

Research funding and policy are politically guided and frequently challenged as a means to deliver public services due to a growing disconnect over the past decade between researchers and the Canadian government. The current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power in 2006 – two years after SSHRC’s CURA evaluation and KMb momentum began. Since then, many Canadian researchers and knowledge brokers have gained an international reputation for broadening the research path based on the development of KMb; however Canada’s government has also gained an international reputation for ignoring KMb recommendations and silencing scientific experts who seek to make their work public – causing a rift in the relationship between academia and government. (Further articles on Conservative government cuts to science research can be found here and here and here).

In an effort to reduce government spending, many researchers have been affected by a decrease in research funding. The ongoing transformation of the academic sector has been most apparent with the many challenges created by financial struggles with universities seeking evidence-based reform with initiatives such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK or a Program Prioritization Process (PPP) such as Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) in Canada. There has been increased pressure on universities for financial income and resources along with increased pressure from government granting agencies that expect a valuable public and/or private return of investment for providing research funding.

Considering the continuing decrease in research funding, should researchers (particularly social science researchers) wish to maintain a prominent role in the pursuit of research for social benefit they need to develop broader partnerships – with the use of knowledge brokers – to not only advance wider knowledge networks and broader connections for research, but also establish collective lobbying voices for government policy change.

But first, researchers must understand that integrating KMb strategies into their own research plays a crucial role in creating these connections of influence.  KMb must start as an institutional capacity that involves public, private and community sector partners. Then, by incorporating a social media element, the connections, conversations and collaboration aspects of social media work together to help establish Communities of Practice online and can support the social and influential nature of KMb on public policy. These vital links of KMb are illustrated in Applying Social Sciences Research for Public Benefit Using Knowledge Mobilization and Social Media. Governmental, corporate, academic and community partners need to intersect and work together to help research organizations and society reorient themselves.

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Researchers alone are incapable of influencing political strategies that continue to decrease funding. This requires a movement through broader partnerships that can serve as a collective point of community engagement and pressure politicians to increase research funding and lead to policy change.

The Conservative government’s political agenda in Canada remains largely unabated as policy makers decide which resources Canadian researchers (and society) “needs” to be allocated for the next big political game.  Changing this will require a cooperative movement that transcends individual academic, corporate and community sectors to make political demands and build the social-benefit capacity of research that has been historically entrenched in university/institutions which requires further continuing expansion to society beyond. Without a strong KMb strategy, deeply rooted in community-engagement and forging new partnerships to lobby government for increasing funding, it would appear that the under-funding of research from government sources will continue.

Canadian researchers (particularly social science researchers) face an historic opportunity with an upcoming Federal election on October 19th, 2015 which may well change the Conservative precedent of decreasing Federal research funding in Canada. Future research depends on the extent of decreasing the financial pressures that continue to be based on the politics of austerity that overlook the social benefits of research.

 

 

Rethinking The “Old-School” Graduate Degree

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Universities have become more challenged in their approach to the expectations and greater competition in their own institutions and with other universities. The many challenges within the past few decades have created financial struggles for universities requiring evidence-based reform such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK or a Program Prioritization Process (PPP) such as Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) in Canada. There has been increased pressure on universities for financial income and resources along with increased pressure from government granting agencies that expect a valuable public and/or private return of investment for providing research funding. How this plays out in relation to graduate degree programs means that some universities are now examining a substantial decrease in graduate student enrolment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

KMb grant support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.