KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: social science

What Is Research “Success”?

Research Success

Every day when we read or listen to the news on the radio, television or on our digital devices there are reports of poverty, homelessness, hatred, crime, violence, or wars. Many in this world are not safe, secure or educated – and despite advances in modern technologies that create broader knowledge exchange (more people are much more aware of what’s happening around the world than any other generation before us) we are still faced with wicked problems that continue to plague us.

Although knowledge mobilization has contributed to making research useful to society, we are still faced with the challenges of healing our social problems to bring about broader peace and happiness worldwide. As someone who has written about the value and benefits of incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies by researchers – particularly social science researchers – to contribute to improving our human experience, I recognize that basic human problems like fear, suffering, ignorance, prejudice, bigotry and discrimination still exist.

I know many people who share my concern about the many difficult social conditions that we still face on this planet and those who also share in my hopes that knowledge exchange has greater value when applied on a worldwide scale. As a humanist, I strongly feel that global knowledge mobilization is necessary to overcome wicked problems – but as I’ve stated in previous blogs, knowledge mobilization without compassion, without being motivated by kindness, without seeking benefit beyond our own communities is extremely limited.

Each person, whether researcher, practitioner, community member or policymaker has a responsibility to exchange our knowledge to benefit all human beings – by thinking about ways to scale up the research benefits gained at our local levels.

When individuals choose to hate and fight each other or discriminate based on opposing ideologies, selfish gains or ignorance, there is a common human imperative that calls us to change such limiting knowledge. Our common humanity implores us to find solutions through cooperative knowledge exchange as a fundamental objective.

Researchers have a particular responsibility inherent as scientists to influence change for global benefit by working with community members to inform policy. If we understand the causes of problems that continue to hold us back globally without gaining cooperation through knowledge exchange – research remains limited and – on a broader-scale – practically useless.

Whether we think so or not – human suffering inflicted not by physical illness but by other humans is the worst human illness that continues to affect all of us. We spend billions of research dollars to rightly find cures for physical illness – but let’s not forget to also focus research resources on curing our more general human illness of wicked problems.

Every researcher hopes to achieve “success” from their research. But what is research “success”?

  • Is “success” limited to finishing a graduate degree as a Masters or PhD student?
  • Is “success” limited to publishing peer-reviewed papers in academic journals?
  • Is “success” limited to inspiring other future researchers to carry on finding a cure?

What if researchers thought beyond limited “success” to the ultimate success in research? In the quest for “success” in research, researchers have used different methods – sometimes even unbecoming in their status as scientists – for their own self-centred gains. Ultimately, when research becomes short-sighted without a broader perspective of benefit beyond the academy – global problems will continue to exist.

Over the past decade, the development of knowledge mobilization has helped bring researchers, practitioners, community members and policymakers closer together – not just locally, but internationally. Broader community engagement results in greater research impact by creating more global knowledge exchange for social benefit. Many researchers are no longer as siloed in their disciplines and research interests as they once were. Old-school research was very much dependent upon the research being done by researchers in one particular field of study. New-paradigm research is now more interdisciplinary and community-engaged. Today, research – through knowledge mobilization – has made academia more closely interconnected with and inclusive of community.

Without a sense of scaling-up this new-paradigm of research we cannot expect to overcome our global problems. Too much depends upon continuing to shift our research perspectives to pursue only one’s own research interests without considering how to also apply this research on a broader-scale. If researchers continue to approach problems considering only temporary gains, research may continue to perpetuate itself – but will always remain limited.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it again, researchers who connect the intellect of their minds with the development of a kind heart make the best knowledge mobilizers. When we embrace knowledge mobilization for social benefit with both brains and heart, with both thinking and action there is an opportunity to reinvent our ideas of knowledge to ultimately make the world a better place for everyone.

World conflicts and wicked problems that persist globally continue due to a failure to remember our common humanity. An answer to address these concerns is doing research with both intelligence and compassion. It’s time for researchers to transcend our usual research methods and regard research as a responsibility to benefit individuals, communities, nations and the world together.

To improve research globally in the world, I continue to encourage researchers to adopt knowledge mobilization strategies that can make considerable contributions to social benefit internationally – and focus research on addressing the wicked problems that still continue to plague us. The ultimate research “success” is about doing research that gives global humanity precedence – and knowledge mobilization has a large role to play in this process. In order to solve our human problems globally we must challenge current researchers and develop future researchers to combine their interests with those of our common humanity.

In the new-paradigm of research perhaps global knowledge mobilization will help overcome the wicked problems that continue to exist and new researchers will take on the challenge of doing research for greater social benefit worldwide.

21st Century Research: Interdisciplinary Scholarship & The Third Sector

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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.

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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!

Rethinking The “Old-School” Graduate Degree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KMb grant support

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

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.

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.