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

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Missing Conferences 2015: UK & Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forums

UK Forum Logo Cdn KMb Forum Logo

 

Sometimes missing conferences can’t be helped. Such is the case with two conferences this year – the 2nd annual UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum in Edinburgh, Scotland (13-14 April, 2015); and the 4th annual Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum taking place this year in Montreal, Quebec (14-15 May, 2015). Despite the advance planning and my previous attendance and support, I just cannot make it to these conferences this year due to my new job at the Faculty of Graduate Studies and work commitments involved.

Although I am disappointed that I can’t attend, I wholeheartedly encourage anyone interested in learning about enhancing knowledge exchange or knowledge mobilization practice – including graduate students thinking about putting current or future research into practice with impact – to register and go.

You can be sure that I will be spending some time assessing what activities took place. For previous events, I have blogged about the UK KMb Forum here and here; the Cdn KMb Forum here and here; tweeted about the UK Forum here, here, and here, and the Cdn Forum here, here and here, including participating in a Speakers Corner here. I even wrote two reports for the previous Canadian KMb Forums – 2013 Cdn KMb Forum Report; 2014 Cdn KMb Forum Report. (Link here to see more about the 2014 UK KMb Forum Report).

I’m sure someone else will be taking notes this year on the presentations and discussions of topics and outcomes of conversations for a report, and I look forward to reviewing what transpired. I’m also looking forward to following up with the amazing organizers Cathy Howe (UK KMb Forum) and Peter Levesque (Cdn KMb Forum), and I hope to be involved again at future events.

So why should you attend (again – or for the first time) either or both of these KMb Forums? The UK and the Canadian KMb Forums are a continuum of engaged relationships that have developed out of previous events, and an opportunity to develop new partnerships and valuable multi-sector and international connections.

Last year’s participants at the inaugural UK KMb Forum, included a mix of individuals from government policy, economics and evaluation, health research, youth & criminal justice, cancer research, social investment, women’s health, prison & corrections, freelance writing, science, non-governmental organizations, knowledge management, families & relationships, pharmacy, along with a variety of university scholars, administrators and community organizations – an incredibly successful session that brought together a wide range of knowledge exchange all in one place at one event! I heard someone say that they had not heard of any other multi-sector conference like this ever taking place in the UK, as events always seem to be so “specialized” and discipline-specific.

Extending on last year’s theme of Making Connections Matter, the 2015 UK KMb Forum focuses on four key areas of such connections:

  • Making Connections Matter: Knowledge Producers – helping researchers connect with those who help turn research into practice and impact beyond just publication
  • Making Connections Matter: Knowledge Brokers – providing opportunities for brokers to share their learning and lived experiences with other brokers and a wider audience
  • Making Connections Matter: People Who Use Knowledge – enabling practitioners from a wide range of sectors to meet academics, researchers and policy makers
  • Making Connections Matter: People Who Want To See Knowledge Used – giving public service, third sector and industry workers a chance to tell their own stories to influence future research

Last year’s Canadian KMb Forum was also another successful interdisciplinary conference with attendees from a mix of sectors including health, academia, children & youth services, workplace safety, environment, addictions & mental health, education, disability services, business, agriculture, and childhood development. The theme of the 2015 Canadian KMb Forum is Creativity as Practice: Mobilizing Diverse Ways of Thinking. This year’s Canadian KMb Forum will emphasize how creativity is a necessary part of knowledge mobilization practice in order to build capacity and improvement for knowledge mobilization by engaging with researchers, practitioners, knowledge brokers, community members and policy makers in more creative ways to enable partnerships and collaboration.

Even though I can’t attend either of these valuable knowledge mobilization forums this year – if you’re interested in effective ways of exchanging knowledge and helping to make research useful to society you can be part of one or both of these important events that bring people together locally, nationally and internationally to establish connections and form new relationships that I have found continue to influence my own work in very important ways.

And of course, you may even get a chance to see KnowMo!

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.

kmb-model-final1.png

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.

 

 

Shifting Funding & Academic Priorities

lightbulb funding

Universities face financial challenges in maintaining institutional and academic success while also seeking solutions to fulfill public accountability for a return on investment. According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) there are 1.2 million students in degree programs in Canada with 42,000 full-time professors. Universities are a $30-billion dollar enterprise (including faculty/staff salaries, buildings/maintenance, supplies and other infrastructure) – with $10-billion worth of research activities. Approximately $2.5-billion of research funding comes from federally-funded granting agencies such as the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) – while the remaining $7.5-billion comes from institutional investments and other sources such as industry, other government-funding and donations.

To break this down further, The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) reports that Federal, Provincial, Territorial and Municipal funding – including funding for research – accounts for approximately 55% of revenue; student fees account for only 20% of revenue; and bequests, donations, non-governmental grants, sales of products and services, and investments bring in 25%.

Despite these revenue sources, universities continue to struggle to overcome an economic crisis which has been driven by balancing institutional/labour costs and sustaining or increasing student enrolment. Maintaining fiscal feasibility is a crucial challenge for the future of Canadian universities as universities have recently been faced with a decrease in funding (specifically in real dollars) – particularly federal funding from Canada’s Tri-Councils.

Granting Councils SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR Base Funding 2007-2014:

Change
2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 (2007-14)
SSHRC 383.7 358.1 368.1 359.4 355.6 351.5 344.8 -10.10%
NSERC 1057.9 1051.5 1042.3 1050.2 1030.8 1018.9 990.3 -6.40%
CIHR 1017.8 989.8 1020.1 1026.9 953 969.4 941.4 -7.50%
Indirect Costs 327.9 335.7 330.9 324.9 322.6 318.9 302 -7.90%
TOTAL 2787.2 2735.0 2761.5 2761.4 2662.1 2658.7 2578.4 -7.50%
Source: SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR Departmental Performance Reports, Budget 2012 and Budget 2013

 

 

What this means is that universities continue to place reliance on government funding – yet funding continues to decrease each year.

What this also means at the same time is that there is great potential for universities (Canadian or otherwise) through opportunities provided by new forms of innovation through private-sector and community-engagement.

Supporting inclusive, innovative and responsive universities is a prerequisite for sustainable institutional and academic quality and success.

The emergence of knowledge mobilization as a priority embedded in university planning, the changing approach to research as more inclusive of community partners and other key stakeholders, and the need for more innovation call for a renewed understanding of the rapidly changing academic world.

This understanding is reinforced by greater interdisciplinary approaches within various academic programs – including such areas as Critical Disability Studies and Technology/Communications Studies. University policies need to continue to recognize the value of interdisciplinary approaches while dealing with the economic challenges to improve knowledge exchange about how our modern universities now work.

University research and innovation can address many social issues and challenges. Research that incorporates knowledge mobilization strategies can explore new forms of innovation and strengthen the evidence-base for broader application and other relevant professional practice, social services and public policies.

Such research that promotes clear and effective community-campus cooperation can create new ideas, strategies and policy structures for overcoming a financial crisis by creating a growth agenda in research that focuses on knowledge mobilization integration and the promotion of emerging technologies and entrepreneurial-skills investments by current and future students.

A new generation of students – dubbed by Maclean’s magazine as “Generation Z” – appears to be more socially engaged than students in the past and these students are more apt to have more social and entrepreneurial instincts. These students are more innovative and inclusive by being more socially and entrepreneurially engaged. The effects of harnessing and focusing this approach into cooperative research and innovation for community-campus partnerships requires universities to also adjust to a new approach to university research and financial sustainability.

In short – this new university paradigm of research needs to foster a greater understanding of academic funding that may be less reliant on government sources by providing solutions that support inclusive, innovative and responsive partnerships with more community and private stakeholders in the context of unprecedented academic transformations and shifting academic priorities.

 

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!

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?

Rethinking The “Old-School” Graduate Degree

grad picquestion mark

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.

KMb grant support 2

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.

Getting Closer To Understanding The Value Of Knowledge Mobilization In Research

Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Evidence-Informed Research versus “Best” Evidence Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shift In Academic Thinking About Knowledge Exchange

War

Exchanging Knowledge. I love this phrase – yet it can conjure suggestions of elitism and competition in many circles. Which is unfortunate because it’s one of the most important ways of thinking to save our world. Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is about exchanging knowledge to create new knowledge that is useful to society; not just our own societies but as a whole as human beings on this planet. It’s not about whose knowledge is better. It’s about exchanging knowledge to make the world better for everyone.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War which saw death and mass destruction on a global scale. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. We managed to destroy each other and create devastation on our planet with over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded – ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. You would think the knowledge gained from the First World War would have prevented any Second World War (the deadliest military conflict in history with over 60 million people killed).

Wrong. War continues today.

Yet, the 20th Century was also a time of great innovation, enabling social and technological advancement. With knowledge exchange we have been able make incredible scientific breakthroughs to eradicate disabling and fatal disease, and bring about social change for greater equality for many in society.

Despite these advances, knowledge exchange can still remain limited due to selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred. As these negative influences again become acceptable in the eyes of a new generation, the idea of exchanging knowledge for world benefit starts to disappear. Many forget the tragedies of devastating wars as this new generation sees them as ancient and part of the past (or worse, want to repackage the hatred of the past in a modern way)  – while technological advancements can be used for even greater opportunities for death and world destruction.

On a more personal level we often do not recognize the need for openness and knowledge exchange with others. If you ask someone why do selfishness, greed, prejudice, bigotry and hatred still exist, the reply is usually, it’s something other people do, not me – as if that response alone negates one’s own responsibility to create change on this planet. It seems only a few people stop to ask if a return to a world of hatred based on a lack of openness and knowledge exchange is actually worth the energy and money we’re expending for other things instead of what can create change for good on this planet.

How, when we are faced with our own modern extremists and territorial wars, can we seek calm to try and create real and meaningful connections with people from different ideologies and cultures?

Fortunately within much of the academic research environment over the past decade in Canada and the U.K., as a profession and a practice, knowledge mobilization has emerged to present the idea of exchanging knowledge beyond the academy so as to build community engagement and participation from a variety of stakeholders to make research useful to society for real-world solutions for change on a broader scale. It’s about breaking down barriers and historical ideas of elitism, exclusion – and even extremism. The knowledge mobilization movement is growing to include individuals in countries around the world, yet needs to continue to be part of a new generation of scholarly research education.

In higher education, knowledge mobilization attempts to wipe out any of the elitism or selfishness of learning. KMb attempts to cultivate knowledge exchange with a deeper, holistic love of learning, research and respect for others that touches every aspect of our humanity, by learning to apply research on a greater, more inclusive human scale. As we allow this to happen, we enact a more caring view within learning (which on a more global scale is largely ignored and at great cost).

Our education systems continue to adopt methods that reflect competition rather than cooperation, elitism rather than inclusiveness, one type of knowledge over other knowledge.

KMb has developed the idea that research can be better utilized by connecting it with community partners to create new and more innovative research. Instilling the idea of community-campus connections within our education systems helps to develop our students into thoughtful, ethical citizens who can critically evaluate through broader systems thinking rather than doing research with little regard for broader application.

Can this community-campus strategy create a generation of better, more caring researchers? When teaching students to do research simply as a means of getting a degree for some greater reward after they graduate, a horrible disconnect occurs in students. It becomes about just getting the degree – where the end justifies the means of simply doing research with no greater purpose than what is mostly a rather selfish one.

It’s clear that the long term costs of continuing to ignore teaching methods to students without consideration of how we exchange our knowledge with others beyond the academy to something more inclusive of community – and worldwide can be dire. There is a requirement to not be overly-focused on developing our own knowledge for more selfish reasons such as simply receiving a degree. What about teaching students to do research that has some broader, practical application – such as eliminating the extremisms that can lead to hatred and war? Teaching cooperative knowledge exchange through knowledge mobilization can create a shift in academic thinking that has effects far beyond the academy.

So what does knowledge mobilization mean for education? It asks us to reimagine what it means in exchanging knowledge. It requires us to embrace being open and unselfish in our learning and knowledge exchange. It requires admitting that a large part of what continues to happen in our world isn’t good for our students, our teachers, our communities – or our world.  It means creating change in our education systems or risk the return to the tragedies of the early 20th century.

Higher education needs to take into account what real learning looks like – with more passion and compassion – and why research really needs to be more focused on community-engagement to bring systems change on a global scale. It needs to be more than just receiving a degree to hopefully get a job after graduation.

By developing knowledge mobilization strategies within graduate research programs we can teach students to engage in real, meaningful work that matters to them, to their community, and our world. As a result, graduates gain an authentic purpose and a role in society other than academic-in-training.

Becoming involved in knowledge mobilization allows students to discover everyday citizens in their community and how they can work together to make the world a better place. It provides students with the opportunity to identify and seek real-world solutions to wicked problems by reinforcing the idea that their research efforts can make a difference. At the same time we are including communities to work with grad students and researchers as authentic, viable and active participants in community and academic life throughout the world.

 

Knowledge Mobilization & The Cure For Hatred

Hatred

Why is knowledge mobilization important to help overcome hatred in our world?

When I was a university student studying psychology the question of “why can’t we all just get along in this world?” frequently lingered under my attempts to understand our human condition through my studies. Although I did not pursue a career as a psychologist, my psychology degree continues to influence my knowledge mobilization work in helping make research useful to society. I still ask this question frequently whenever I see the daily news coverage of hatred and the world battlegrounds of war that continue to make headlines and wonder if what researchers call wicked problems of the world can ever be overcome.

It turns out that research is being done by a group of international researchers linking hatred to health by asking the research question:

Is there a cure for the disease of hatred?

In the trailer for the Captain America movie, senior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) states “To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down…and that makes enemies.” The teaser ends with a question from Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the first African-American superhero who asks Captain America, “How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?” to which Captain America replies, “If they’re shooting at you then they’re bad” (at 2:15 on the timer).

The movie captures the essence and complication for researchers and ourselves in trying to understand the basic question of why people hate. (Spoiler Alert) Supposed “good guy” agent Alexander Pierce plays one of the “bad guys” who wants to build “a better world” by tearing it down without a broader regard for everyone in the world and the diversity of human contexts and conditions that can breed hatred. Hatred does not always come from the supposed and stereo-typed “other” who lives on the other side of the world. Sadly, hatred is universal and in our own backyards. Researchers seeking to find the cure for the disease of hatred now understand that hatred needs to be approached from a variety of disciplines working cooperatively across sectors and borders on the problem as a universal health issue that – like any disease – can affect anyone.

The question “why can’t we all just get along in this world” isn’t new. Theologians, philosophers and social activists have been asking this question for centuries. It’s research looking at hatred and violence as a public health issue that has now taken on an interdisciplinary approach – which is at the heart of knowledge mobilization (KMb). KMb is about breaking down barriers to create deeper understanding in the varied contexts of our human condition by exchanging multi-directional knowledge across boundaries that define the diversity and commonality of our human condition.

The International Network for Hate Studies was founded in 2013 in Europe and hosted its first conference in 2014 in the UK.  The Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum hosted its third conference in June 2014 in Saskatoon, and helped establish the first UK Knowledge Mobilization Forum in 2013. The value of incorporating a knowledge mobilization strategy into research (both community-based and academic) is now well-established for creating social improvement, implementation and innovation to make the world a better place.

Scientific discovery that includes knowledge mobilization can cause paradigm shifts in human thought, drive technological revolutions – and perhaps save humanity from the hatred that continues to paralyze all of us. In a previous KMbeing blog post I wrote that the best efforts to combat social problems always include both thinking and action in doing some good for others and creating social benefit…yet there is also an underlying aspect to both thinking and action that is required for effective knowledge mobilization – love.

Being able to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of research by linking hatred to health and knowledge mobilization which includes the diversity and commonality of our human experiences will ultimately lead to greater scientific literacy and the development of personal skills to conquer hatred and violence. It doesn’t mean tearing down the world to know the “good” guys from the “bad” – it just means tearing down the universal human barriers that lead to understanding and stopping the hatred that can exist in every one of us.  Just as most people try to avoid getting a disease – perhaps someday no one will want to get the disease of hatred.