KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: science

Using Storytelling As A Knowledge Mobilization Strategy

Storytelling

When people think about knowledge mobilization they often don’t think about storytelling. Storytelling can be seen as unsubstantiated fabrications or even devious. So how can storytelling play a part in making research useful to society? When the framework of narrative is used to convey research knowledge to research-user audiences.

Research suggests that storytelling is easier for a broader audience to comprehend – and more engaging. So why not use it as part of a knowledge mobilization strategy.

Knowledge requires action to be useful. Knowledge can be shared for benefit or harm. When knowledge is shared for benefit – particularly to broader audiences through storytelling – it becomes more useful. Active and engaging knowledge sharing for social benefit is more likely to create greater understanding between various sectors of society – and greater understanding leads to a more peaceful and civil society.

The challenge for researchers is to decide when and how storytelling can effectively be applied to help communicate their research to non-experts as part of knowledge mobilization efforts. Most people have an understanding of how to tell a story. However, many researchers disregard the power of narrative as a knowledge translation tool.

Sharing knowledge and being open to the knowledge of others (for both researchers and research-users) and listening to the knowledge of others to exchange knowledge on a regular basis is more likely to ensure that common ground can be found between differing views of knowledge – because the world is full of differing views. Having differing views isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that we need to try to continue to find common ground. Knowledge and practice develop together.

Storytelling has a certain structure that describes the cause-and-effect relationships between actions at a particular time that impact particular characters. Using narrative as a knowledge mobilization tool to convey research to a broader research-user audience does not depend on the content being conveyed – unlike the often narrowly-focused scientific communication that most researchers take.

A great example of the effective use of narratives as part of a knowledge mobilization strategy and social innovation platform comes from the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI). Thanks to the Norlien Foundation, the Government of Alberta and other community stakeholders, AFWI is using video narratives to convey research being done to achieve better health and wellness outcomes for children and families. The work of AFWI focuses on the link between early childhood experiences and mental and physical health outcomes throughout life – knowing from neuroscience that what happens in early childhood can subsequently affect health and wellness outcomes later in life.

AFWI follows the early interdisciplinary work of The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child in the U.S. that engaged neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and pediatricians to present synthesized knowledge into working papers for use by non-expert audiences. Through a narrative project called “The Core Story of…” short storytelling videos were created to explain the science behind various research touching on early experiences, brain plasticity, children’s mental health, and the concept of toxic stress.

Videos include The Core Story of Brain Development that explains the science to non-expert, broader public audiences. Using a metaphor of the requirement for a strong foundation for a house, The Core Story of Brain Development narrative video explains the importance of creating a strong foundation for brain architecture in the early years of childhood development. A second metaphor of a serve and return in tennis was also included to stress the importance of a serve and return of interaction and mirroring engagement between infant and parent/caregiver for healthy brain development.

I think of another great storyteller, Peter Levesque, President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization who also uses story telling as a KMb tool. Peter points to digital storytelling as “one of the MOST important forms of knowledge mobilization available to community-based organizations and citizens”. Peter uses a specific example of Aboriginal storytelling combined with digital technology as an effective method for understanding context, and conveying these stories through social media.

Additional examples of using social media for great and effective digital storytelling can be found at MindYourMind and HomelessHub who use both YouTube and Twitter as knowledge mobilization tools.

Although such elaborate and more professional knowledge mobilization tools for social innovation have great research impact – such larger-scale storytelling projects are not always necessary for effective knowledge mobilization storytelling. Even more simplified versions of storytelling can have broader impact as I have shown in a few of my KMbeing blogs.

Research represents a meaningful unit of knowledge and can be difficult to translate from scientific evidence into other messages understood by the general public. In contrast, narrative forms can be more easily understood as research knowledge translation tools because storytelling derives meaning from the ongoing cause-and-effect relationship between actions at a particular time that, again, impact particular characters – and are therefore can create opportunities of greater understanding for broader research-user audiences.

As a knowledge mobilization blogger and as someone who strongly believes in the power of social media for knowledge mobilization, I see the combination of storytelling by researchers using social media to convey context as an essential knowledge mobilization tool. If you’re a researcher, how well are you incorporating this storytelling tool into your knowledge mobilization strategy?

Scientific Experts & A “Cherry-Picking” Prime Minister

Cherry Picking

In a recent interview the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper had many researchers and scientists shaking their heads and wondering if Harper was being hypocritical or serious when he admonished Canadian parents to listen to science “experts” regarding childhood vaccines by stating “don’t indulge non-scientific theories.” Many researchers and scientists wondered how Harper could make such a statement after many years of their research and work continues to be ignored or cancelled due to Harper’s view on scientific experts.

At the beginning of the 21st century a shift occurred in Canadian thinking about the process of research and its use. There was an emerging understanding of the importance of more inclusive knowledge exchange by various stakeholders from university, community and government  to support the use of research in decision-making for social programming, public policy and professional practice. (For more in-depth reading on this shift in research thinking 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).

By 2005 a new focus on evidence-informed research invited public contribution – not as passive subjects in the research process but as active contributors. Research was no longer trapped in siloes with the rather self-serving goal of professional recognition in peer-reviewed journals. Research was no longer being held captive in exclusive research disciplines or sectors – thanks more recently in large part to social media. Research slowly began to be more open and accessible, focusing on broader applications and impacts – turning research into action.

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.

In February 2005, SSHRC hosted a multi-sectoral Knowledge Project – bringing 80 research teams together to discuss issues ranging from cities and the environment to aging and technology. This knowledge expo was attended by academics, the media and members of the public bringing SSHRC’s concept of strategic research sectors to policy-makers – winning the enthusiastic support of the Canadian government at that time. (What is interesting is that SSHRC does not have a website for the “Knowledge Project” even though it had an impressive response for the initiative).

Despite this shift over the past decade to more inclusive research thinking to connect researchers, research-users and policy-makers a growing disconnect occurred 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.

Here are examples of how Harper’s government has ignored expert research findings by placing a roadblock on the broadening KMb research path:

Currently, members of parliament (and the general public) still have no easy access to certain research and no formal help in understanding scientific studies due to the continuing archaic format, accessibility pay-walls and technical jargon used.

Canada prides itself as being a KMbeacon shining its evolved KMb light internationally as a successful example to other countries. However, as a recent article from Australia points out, government policy-makers are not entirely to blame – and this applies back to Canada as well.

Here are examples of how some researchers are still stuck in the past using the same archaic research techniques that continue to shut-out government policy-makers (and the general public) by limiting the KMb research path:

  • research is framed for academic journals rather than policy development
  • research is often not written in clear-language for easier understanding
  • incentives in academia favour restricted peer-review publication over interpretation or open-access publication
  • academics are rewarded for narrowness and depth over multi-disciplinarity and integration

(Also see this relevant blog about Knowledge Brokers Vs Knowledge Blockers and how “Academics lament fading influence“).

A private member’s bill was tabled on December 3, 2013 in the Canadian House of Commons recommending the creation of a parliamentary science officer. The new office would openly provide parliamentarians, researchers and the public with current evidence-informed research and the consequences of ignoring significant research findings. This was an important step to removing obstructions by both the current government and old-style researchers blocking the evolved KMb path. ­­

Sadly, nothing seems to have come from this private member’s bill to critically examine and help avoid the type of “cherry-picking” science that Harper seems to indulge in – or is Stephen Harper starting to finally “listen to the experts”?

 

Community BUILD Includes All Sectors Of Society

Community BUILD

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is about moving available knowledge into active use across a variety of sectors.  I recently made a comment about the requirement of action as part of KMb on a LinkedIn post which asked –

“Is teaching science knowledge mobilization?”

Knowledge Exchange + Action = KMb

KMb is most effective when knowledge is exchanged and co-produced with collaboration among all sectors of society for social benefit:

  • Community/Voluntary
  • Academic/Institutions
  • Business/Private Sector
  • Government/Policy Makers

kmb-model-final1.png

A great recent example showcasing the effectiveness of knowledge mobilization across sectors comes from the collaborative efforts of United Way York Region (Community/Voluntary) working with York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit (Academic/Institutions) and ventureLab (Business/Private Sector) and funded by the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment (MEDTE) through the Office for Social Enterprise (Government, Policy Makers).  Working across all sectors is the development of the Community BUILD program.

“Sitting at the intersection of community engagement and entrepreneurship, Community BUILD is a Collective Impact organization providing a system of supports for social ventures in York Region.

The overall objective of Community BUILD is to continue to develop a Regional system of supports for social enterprise that creates investment ready ventures that will create jobs, develop novel approaches to food security and youth employment in York Region and brand York Region and Ontario as leaders in social innovation.”

The development of such a collaborative knowledge mobilization/social innovation program is an example of creating social benefit that includes all sectors of society.  The Community BUILD program is knowledge mobilization leading to social innovation through action that includes entrepreneurial and government knowledge and investment.  Although MEDTE has provided government backing for the Community BUILD pilot project, there is a continued call to action for government policy makers to sustain such an important program.

Without the inclusion and support of government/policymakers in such programs that can create social and economic benefit knowledge remains limited – like those that consider teaching science as knowledge mobilization.

Trying to get students “interested” in developing knowledge in science, technology, engineering and/or math may be public engagement but it’s not knowledge mobilization without student action. Similarly, trying to get government/policy makers “interested” in sustaining programs like Community BUILD may be government engagement but it’s not knowledge mobilization without policy maker action.

Creating sustainable action beyond mere student interest requires long-term engagement and knowledge exchange.

Creating sustainable action beyond mere initial government funding requires long-term engagement and policy-maker involvement.

The Community BUILD program is an example of effective KMb for social benefit that includes all sectors. Let’s hope government continues to be part of this innovative solution as an included leader in social innovation and a continued part of the KMb model.

 

140 Twitter Characters To Knowledge Mobilization

The use of Twitter as an effective social media tool for knowledge mobilization is still not understood. This was made clear to me by two things that happened this past week:

1)      I was actively involved in a discussion with several members of EENet – the Evidence Exchange Network where the use of Twitter for research dissemination was called into question

AND

2)     I performed a brief Twitter survey of the 16 classic Networks of Centres of Excellence in Canada (NCE) that focus on research-driven partnerships, and found that these NCEs are still not effectively using this valuable social media tool, despite the Government of Canada’s knowledge mobilization mandate for NCEs “to transform these discoveries into products, services, and processes that improve the quality of life of Canadians.

First, the EENet Discussion:

EENet logo

Melissa MindyourMind

Melissa Taylor-Gates, Social Media and Project Coordinator for the award-winning MindyourMind (@mindyourmind_ca on Twitter) was interested in hearing about what other members of EENet are doing “to engage in meaningful knowledge mobilization” and how people use social media to achieve this goal. She started the discussion-ball rolling. The conversation soon focused on the use of Twitter as a key social media tool for academic/institutional researchers to engage with a wider and more diverse audience about research being done. Melissa aptly called Twitter “the great equalizer” and demonstrated this point with an excellent graphic showing the difference between equality and equity (which I gratefully co-opted for one of my blog posts here), making a further point that using social media for research dissemination is “more than just making a paper available to everyone online, it’s translating the information into accessible means.”

Well said Melissa!

These comments sparked valuable discussion – especially around how to sift through the deluge of information to find accurate, evidence-based research findings and trusted sources on Twitter. (For more about sifting through what I refer to as data/information noise, see my previous blog post here). One member’s comment, “I devoutly hope that no-one would assume that they could get sound clinical research information from a tweet” and concerns about the limitations of 140 characters caused a flurry of counter-comments.  Many EENet members pointed out how to find Twitter sources for relevant and useful research to credible peer-reviewed journals and Twitter profiles using hashtags and hyperlinks.

Some of the key messages that came out of this discussion are that Twitter is simply a tool – just another medium of sharing information, good or not so good, that can be used properly or not, requiring further learning and skill to effectively use social media for knowledge mobilization.  In contrast to Marshall MacLuhan, in this case the medium is not the message – the content is the message. Yet, it’s an important social media tool that is no longer a fad or waste of time. Twitter is an effective tool for knowledge mobilization. For my practice as KMbeing, Twitter has successfully created knowledge networking connections with researchers and other stakeholders from Canada, U.S., U.K. and Denmark where we have continued knowledge collaboration offline and in-person at conferences and other events. Yet, like any social relationships, social media relationships also require time and regular tending.

 

NCE

Twitter survey of the core 16 of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE):

 Using social media – especially Twitter – as an effective tool for knowledge translation and mobilization is being adopted more by academics and formal institutions as a way of contributing to greater social benefit. Each day sees an increase in the number of Twitter accounts being created by universities and research organizations, but simply having a Twitter account and only sporadically posting information is not an effective way of using Twitter for knowledge mobilization.

As Canada’s preeminent Science & Technology investments, I was curious to see what type of presence the core NCEs have on Twitter and how they might be using this effective social media tool as one of the products and processes (mentioned on the NCE website) for knowledge mobilizing of multidisciplinary research from across Canada (and from around the world) as a mandate from Canada’s funding agencies:

Although my survey is only a very brief overview of average daily tweets, completed over a day on March 15th, 2013, it does reveal that only 11 out of 16 classic NCEs are easily found on Twitter, and that only four NCEs tweet an average of just over one tweet per day – which is clearly insufficient for effective stakeholder engagement.

NCE Twitter Survey
(click on diagram to enlarge)
(Note: Last tweet = number of hours since or date of last tweet)

Evidence shows that users who tweet between 10 and 50 times per day have more followers on average than those that tweet more or less frequently, and have greater opportunities for knowledge dissemination and engagement.

Tweets per day
So what does this say about missed opportunities for increased research dissemination and collaboration between researchers and research users using social media for knowledge mobilization?

 It appears that the Networks of Centres of Excellence have yet to fully embrace the potential of Twitter (and social media) as a valuable means of addressing key outcomes mandated for NCEs:

  • Mobilizing multi-disciplinary research capacity from across Canada
  • Engaging partners from multiple academic institutions and various public and private-sector organizations
  • Working with end users to accelerate the creation and application of new knowledge
  • Increasing collaboration between researchers in Canada and abroad

This is either because – like some EENet members – they’re not fully aware of the potential for research outreach and engagement using Twitter, or the NCEs have not identified this as a priority despite the evidence (presented in a book chapter that I co-authored) of using social media as a means of applying research for public benefit using knowledge mobilization.

For those still uncertain among Canada’s NCEs (and other researchers) as to how to best approach and develop a social media strategy using Twitter, here are some tips:

  • If your NCE doesn’t have one already – create a Twitter account. For nothing else, protect your brand by reserving your naming rights on Twitter.
  • Use a simple and descriptive name for your Twitter profile that will clearly identify your affiliation with your NCE and include a brief description of the research focus
  • To avoid what is referred to as “shiny object syndrome” – zoom in on pertinent subject matter by using Twitter hashtags which will also establish connections with topics, people and sites that are relevant to your research
  • Designate individuals within the NCE whose primary responsibility is for populating, maintaining and monitoring your Twitter account, ensuring they have the time and enthusiasm to consistently tweet and retweet several times throughout each day. This isn’t a full time job but needs to be someone’s job.
  • Don’t simply tweet without including links (unless you are engaging in the next bullet point)
  • Tweet with a 140 character conversation to connect with other national and international researchers and stakeholders in your discipline to facilitate the social in social media by engaging in dialogue and creating opportunities for further engagement online and offline
  • Regularly schedule a monthly evaluation of your Twitter account’s success and be prepared to realign your Twitter content and approach

Social media is not a fad, and the use of social media for academics and institutions is becoming more incorporated into strategic planning. Many researchers are now recognizing the value of using Twitter in a more consistent and productive manner for knowledge mobilization. Perhaps it’s time that some of Canada’s NCEs and mental health stakeholders do the same.