KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: research impact

Knowledge Brokers – A Solution For Social Benefit

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Thankfully, there are many Social Science and Humanities researchers today who imagine new possibilities to understand and improve social issues – ultimately it’s hoped to overcome some of the world’s wicked problems.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences states the world needs “agile and well-rounded thinkers who can assess and adapt to change, analyze trends, communicate effectively, and consider the past to better prepare for the future.” These are people who think about social issues and benefits that go far beyond currently available resources, approaches and sectors.  Such researchers imagine new methods through knowledge mobilization (KMb) that produce evidence-informed results to create social benefit and change more holistically – even beyond the original research itself.

Sadly there are other researchers still stuck in the past using the same archaic research techniques that have worked for them for decades without any use or regard for knowledge mobilization (KMb). These “comfortable” researchers simply churn out results with the same limiting research methodologies – paper after paper, conference after conference. Similarly there are research institutions which churn out unengaged policy after unengaged policy.  Both institutions and researchers within them think this is sufficient enough for “social benefit and change” in today’s research world without any regard for the broader benefit to the world at large beyond their own limiting research circles.

For researchers adopting KMb approaches their research is informed by a wider range of multi-directional knowledge exchange. These KMb Social Science and Humanities researchers scale and scope knowledge as broadly and efficiently as one possibly can to include others in their research methods and knowledge translation – not just “professionals or colleagues”.

That’s where knowledge brokers come into the research process.  They bring in knowledge of networks. They bring in connections. They bring in understanding of new technologies for knowledge translation and exchange. They make sure that research ideas can be widely disseminated, evidence-informed from a variety of stakeholders, and then made openly available to society in the most effective manner in ways that bring wider benefit not just in the researcher’s realm but across sectors. Social Science and Humanities research is inherently broad in its social and human elements, stemming from many different contexts to help us understand our common social context of humanity.

Isn’t that the point of Social Science and Humanities research in the first place? To help us understand social issues in our own context and in other contexts, comparing and contrasting to somehow find solutions that can create the greatest research impact locally and ultimately globally?

There are some who still think it “idealistic” for researchers to make use of knowledge brokers as recently pointed out in a compelling blog. The blog suggests the possibility of cutting out knowledge brokers as a “cumbersome link to the chain of knowledge translation” by asking: “What if several researchers and decision makers met regularly to monitor and discuss ways of managing access to knowledge, to solve practical problems?”

What if I want to get from point A to point B without a map, a directional or transportation device or other resources to do so? Would simply wishing this to happen without the appropriate tools or resources make it happen? What about some of the obstacles that I might encounter along the way from point A to point B that might require new ways, inputs and detours to eventually get me to my destination?

Knowledge translation isn’t just linear A to B (researcher to decision maker).  This appears even more idealistic.  Knowledge brokerage is professional, intermediary support to guide as a map, tool or resource required to help traverse the structural issues around professional boundaries and organizational norms and environments of researchers, policy-makers and many other stakeholders. Cutting the knowledge broker link in the chain only destroys the strength of the chain and leaves incomplete loops in the intersecting circles.

One of the better definitions of a knowledge broker is from The in-between world of knowledge brokering by John Lomas that I mentioned in an earlier blog about the history of KMb. Knowledge brokers “link decision makers with researchers, facilitating their interaction so that they are able to better understand each other’s goals and professional cultures, influence each other’s work, forge new partnerships, and promote the use of research-based evidence in decision-making.” The irony of this often-quoted and important definition from Lomas is that this article – and many of the articles that continue to quote this definition – are still behind pay-walls and accessible only to “professionals” instead of being open-access. The 2007 article was forward thinking for researchers then and now about knowledge brokerage and KMb – yet it’s still stuck in the past using an old form of knowledge “translation” behind a research repository.

Together researchers and knowledge brokers create knowledge for social benefit with a variety of partners and stakeholders and create change that didn’t exist before. Together researchers and knowledge brokers broaden the research process that differs from research being done in the past.

However, as with all things, there are times when great research remains locked away on the shelf as policy makers decide which resources society “needs” to be allocated for the next big political game.  As illustrated in the model above, this is when governmental, corporate, academic and community leaders need to intersect and work together to help research organizations and society reorient themselves to recognize that what had been great research methodologies and translation/dissemination techniques for the last 20 or 30 years are no longer as effective for social benefit as they used to be.  Knowledge brokers are an important part of the solution for social benefit if researchers – especially Social Science and Humanities researchers – sincerely want to make the world a better place.

Whose Knowledge Is It Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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