KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: social

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.

 

How Do We Define Effective Impact Of Research Knowledge?

Impact

Impact can be defined as: a powerful or major influence or effect; a force or impression of one thing on another – or an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society.

If we apply this to the potential impact of research – impact can be defined as a measurable change in policy, services or products. However, researchers don’t make policy, they usually don’t offer services, and they generally don’t produce products. It is government (public sector) who makes policy, community organizations (voluntary sector) who mostly deliver services, and industry (private sector) who create products. Researchers develop knowledge which can lead to impact, but remember that some research knowledge has no impact at all.

Impact is not measured by the production of knowledge alone. Impact is measured by the application of knowledge. Impact is measured not at the level of research knowledge-producer but at the level of the end-user.

An excellent framework demonstrating impact comes from the knowledge mobilization unit at York University. This framework, called The Co-Produced Pathway to Impact was developed by David Phipps, Executive Director, Research and Innovation Services at York University in collaboration with PREVNet (a Network of Centres of Excellence promoting research and KMb to prevent bullying).

To understand how impact is measured at the level of the end-user, it’s important to understand the beginning process of KMb that leads to social innovation.

How and What KMb

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) helps make research useful to society with the HOW of creating a shared space of collaboration between community and campus…that leads to the WHAT of social innovation.

Co-production to Impact

The shared space of collaboration creates the Co-Production of research knowledge leading to the Activity of knowledge Dissemination. The Output of KMb is the Uptake of this knowledge by the public, voluntary and private sectors to assess its value, leading to the Outcome of Implementation of the research knowledge. The measureable change in policy, services or products is the Impact. However, it is the on-going Co-Production through the process that leads to Impact.

The measure of effective impact is both social and economic, such as an increase in constructive public policy and services creating wider benefit for a full range of people, as well as the measure of competitive municipal, regional and national economic performance on a global scale.

From a healthcare perspective to enhance the quality of life, Alain Beaudet, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) makes it easy to understand the process of KMb to Impact in his message in CIHR’s recent five-year strategic plan:

“Ultimately, health research is about helping people to be healthier. But while there is one definitive destination (Impact), there are many paths to get there. It may be through the development of new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease, or promote population health. It may be through providing the evidence that supports the delivery of the health services Canadians need, when and where they need them. And it may be through the commercialization of a health research discovery to make a new product or service available in the marketplace.”

The social and economic impacts on health include the improvement of outcomes for patients, enhanced disease prevention, a change in healthcare practice that leads to greater public awareness of health risks and benefits, and constructive behavioural changes in such things as diet, exercise, habits and routines. This also includes having the costs of treatment or healthcare become more accessible and affordable as a result of changes in policy and practice.

Other social and economic impacts occur when there has been an influence on the development of policy (including a better understanding of policy) by providing services or products that shape legislation and change behaviour – including the development of personal and practical skills, as well as the on-going training of highly skilled people.

The challenge of creating effective impact is that impact is not something that happens quickly. Just as change takes time to achieve – so too, effective impact takes time.

As CIHR President, Alan Beaudet states, “there are many paths to get there” so effective impacts may occur more readily in some sectors or disciplines and not so much in others.

Impact may also change over time, so there is also a need for monitoring and re-evaluation.

There are also different contexts and diverse perspectives on what can be considered effective impact.

The bottom line of how to define effective impact of research knowledge is obviously the end result. Has there been an economic, social or cultural change or benefit to the quality of life within society? And has this change been scalable and sustainable to achieve wider benefit?

Ultimately, we need to be open to the possibility that impact is limited to different contexts (thank you PARIHS model) and can change based on new, emerging research knowledge, socio-economic shifts – and varying human behaviour – that creates a continuous cycle of co-produced pathways to impact every day.

Thanks for Putting Research to Work at The 2014 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum

CKF 14

Another successful Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum took place on June 9th and 10th in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The theme of the 2014 Forum was Putting Research to Work: Social & Economic Innovations – and lived up to its name as an effective gathering of knowledge workers and learners who exchanged valuable ideas and visions of ways to put our knowledge into practice for social & economic benefit.

I was busy creating a draft of the final report – you can link to it here. (I also drafted last yea’rs report and you can view the 2013 report here).

Tremendous thanks again goes to Peter Levesque, CEO of Knowledge Mobilization Works and President of the non-profit Institute for Knowledge Mobilization – which is now the host organization and organizer of the Forum. Each year Peter’s drive and energy to bring together a wide-range of attendees from across Canada and around the world pays off. Thanks also to David Phipps, Executive Director of Research and Innovation Services at York University who worked with Peter to enlist the support of an extensive group of sponsors without whose generous support the forum could not take place.

David Phipps along with Amanda Clarke, Cathy Howe, Fleur McQueen Smith, Christine Provvidenza, Ashley Townley, Rick Riopelle and Bonnie Zink also deserve recognition for being on the planning committee to shape and guide the event.

A very special thanks goes to Colleen Christensen, Industrial Technology Advisor from the National Research Council who stepped up to the challenge of being this year’s Forum Chair. Colleen’s experience as a knowledge broker embedded in the practice of technology and innovation was an ideal person for this position. Colleen’s insight, comments and direction throughout the event helped keep the Forum running smoothly.

Many thanks to our Inspirational Speaker, Donald Nicholls, Director of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services with the Cree Regional Authority who spoke about using Knowledge to Create a Better Future for Cree Youth; our Experiential Speaker, Shauna Kingsnorth, Evidence to Care Lead & Clinical Study Investigator at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital who shared the success of the Evidence to Care program developed to mobilize childhood disability research into practice; our Leadership Speaker, Robert Haché, Vice-President of Research & Innovation at York University who presented a great example of building a culture of knowledge mobilization; and our Action Speaker, Michelle Gagnon, Vice-President of Norlien Foundation and Senior Program Manager of Alberta Family Wellness Initiative who shared a valuable example of how their innovation has helped build the foundation for healthier children, families and communities.

Special thanks also to Cathy Howe who travelled from London, U.K., and was this year’s Chair of the first UK Knowledge Mobilization Forum (helping the Canadian Forum branch out and build a growing international KMb community). Thanks to Cathy and the generous efforts of Sue Cragg who both helped facilitate and create genuine connections at our KMb Innovation and Value Creation World Cafés. (A complete bio of our speakers and facilitators can be found by following this link).

Most importantly, a huge thanks to all of the people who attended this year’s event. Each year the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum builds on the momentum of previous years and we look forward to seeing you at next year’s Forum in Montreal!

Collective Impact Of Research Over Isolated Impact Of Research

Pepsi Coke Hatred

We live in a knowledge society with the technology to exchange our knowledge faster with greater numbers of people around the world than ever in our history.

So….

Why can’t we develop skills and opportunities to break the cycle of poverty, hunger and homelessness that still exist?

Why isn’t healthcare a universal human right?

Why is climate change still a problem?

Why can’t we provide students with all the support and services they need to stay in school and graduate?

Why can’t we avoid prejudice, bigotry, bullying and hatred that leads to war?

These persistent global harms are what social scientists refer to as wicked problems. Many academic researchers, community workers and social innovators have spent countless hours and years studying why wicked problems still plague humanity. An abundance of words have been written in an abundance of scholarly journals about an abundance of studies, and there are many community-based examples of localized success stories – yet wicked problems still exist worldwide.

Just when you think we might learn from past generations in history and begin to overcome wicked problems it begins to look like history repeats itself in our own generation. History may not repeat itself but rather rhyme as Mark Twain observed.  Repeating or rhyming – will we ever be able to eliminate these wicked problems? What needs to be done? When it comes to prejudice, bigotry, bullying and hatred – sadly, these are easily learned in childhood as adults pass on their views to children. Thankfully, such views can change and are not always maintained into adulthood. There are many reasons why prejudice continues to be a ubiquitous social phenomenon, and some international researchers even think hatred should be treated as a disease – approaching the problem from a healthcare perspective. Yet wicked problems are also interconnected to the cycle of poverty, hunger and homelessness which stems from economic competition and greed that can then cycle back into prejudice, bigotry, bullying hatred and war.

It would appear that within wicked problems there are two major underlying and interconnected reasons:

1)      Teaching our children to hate and “pass on the disease” by not thinking more broadly beyond exaggerated group categorizations or stereotypes and

2)      Economic conditions that lead to financial disparity and greed.

When we create mental categories and social barriers by grouping into similarities or stereotypes without being open to and understanding our differences, ridiculing or exploiting characteristics of others and exaggerating differences among us – we contribute to wicked problems.

When we maintain economic conditions that only help specific populations without regard for broader solutions that do not lead to lasting benefits for everyone- we contribute to wicked problems.

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is about breaking down barriers – social and economic. It’s not just about sharing diverse knowledge in our knowledge society – it’s also about moving knowledge into action for broader benefit in society. Without turning knowledge into action knowledge is useless. We can begin to conquer the enormous social and economic challenges that create wicked problems when we begin to implement knowledge mobilization strategies to maximize the impact of research in order to change policies and systems within our world for lasting benefit.

It’s not just about doing research on the problems – it’s about taking that research and turning it into action by creating community/university collaboration, transferring and exchanging knowledge skills and experience to develop ethical business and technology partnerships, and advocating for policy change within government. It’s about connecting and collaborating across sectors to create social benefit that also leads to economic benefit. Knowledge mobilization when linked to social and economic innovation can create far-reaching and lasting change to overcome wicked problems on a broader scale.

kmb-model-final1.png

(Link here for more information about this knowledge mobilization model)

Overcoming wicked problems is not just for one sector of our world, one community, one country, one nationality. To overcome wicked problems we need to break down barriers and push beyond our individuality, discipline or region to focus on the larger scale of our commonality as human beings. We need to set our sights on collaborative action for ultimate collective benefit as a primary means to overcome wicked problems – which begins with knowledge mobilization. This includes innovation to make change – both social and economic innovation – which also begins with knowledge mobilization.

I currently work in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University and see so many graduate students interested in creating and contributing to our knowledge. I see great aspirations for the future as Masters and PhD students want to have an impact on our collective knowledge – while also wanting to create social and financial value from their research. If we are going to succeed in creating impact we must also start to encourage our students to be visionary in their approaches to knowledge mobilization and community-engagement by thinking about ways of turning their knowledge into action.

York University grad student Bart Danko is a recent and outstanding example of a student presenting his research with broader social and economic impact. Bart has not only pursued his interests in the interdisciplinary subjects of Environmental Studies and Law through York’s unique MES/JD program (the only program of its kind in Canada), he has also harnessed the power of social media by creating a film and website about his research. Like Bart, current and future students need to become more collaborative and networked in the knowledge and innovation society in which we now live by presenting research in broader and technological ways. It’s what is referred to as doing research with collective impact over isolated impact.

As with teaching our children to think beyond limiting and stereotypical categorizations and become more inclusive, we need to teach our students to think beyond their disciplines and think about research that advances knowledge to create not just social change but also economic change on a wider scale – to create collective impact over isolated impact. We need to teach our students to think about becoming boundary spanners from academia to community to business to government when they do research.

We must sustain economic conditions that continue to make it possible for student research to be financially supported by granting agencies while also creating collaborative and funding opportunities with philanthropists, business and industry to deploy their research in providing data and analysis to make informed economic decisions that decrease financial disparity. Students need to think about the potential extra-academic impact of their research across disciplines, sectors – and even social media networks.

Living in a knowledge society with technology to exchange knowledge faster and broader does not necessarily mean breaking the cycle of wicked problems. Knowledge mobilization takes that knowledge sharing one step further to action and impact. Research without knowledge mobilization has isolated impact. Research with action, community-engagement and public-private partnerships has collective impact. Connecting research to knowledge mobilization and scaling it broader to innovation in business and industry leads to wide-ranging social and economic changes that will then begin to break the cycle of wicked problems. It takes a commitment to educate our children, our students and our communities to create knowledge that ensures the cycle of wicked problems will not continue in the future so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Universities & Research In A Knowledge Society

paradigm shift

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) produces the potential to “cross-pollinate” knowledge and address complex challenges confronting society. KMb actively encourages making research useful to society. As such, both universities and communities have an important role to play in this process.

Today universities are no longer the strongholds of exclusive research and learning. We now live in a knowledge society that has created a variety of ways of doing research and developing knowledge – from socially conscious business development research to community-based participatory research to MOOCs to individual research online – all contributing to social benefit beyond the once elite-world of university-driven research.

KMb enables a multi-sectoral production to developing knowledge in our new knowledge society that can inform policy-makers in supporting the ability to create social change for social benefit. Because of this, KMb has reshaped the way universities need to think about community-university relations by creating opportunities of interdisciplinary engagement (within universities) and cross-sector engagement (externally).

Yet, just because we have experienced a knowledge revolution and now live in a knowledge society doesn’t mean universities don’t have a continuing and valuable research role to play. It just means universities need to adapt to this new paradigm as many industries needed to adapt during the industrial revolution.

Universities are the primary generators of new talent. Universities provide leverage, consistency, and the infrastructure that can’t be matched by the new knowledge society model of non-university research. It’s one of the extraordinary success stories of academia throughout the ages that they’ve been able to have such a worldwide impact with established structures and resources. As our research choices and our knowledge society continue to increase (yes, non-academic research continues to grow) it gets ever more important that universities make conscious choices about what knowledge mobilization strategies they want to support and how. Added to this are the pressures from grant funding agencies that require a social and economic return on investment from universities.

2014 saw the completion of a new approach (and pressures) in the UK with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to assess the quality and impact of research being done by UK universities. Assessment outcomes are now being done and UK funding agencies intend to use these assessment outcomes to inform the selective allocation of their research funding to universities beginning in 2015-16.

Australia also has the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) with the next round of research evaluations scheduled for 2015.

Although no such frameworks exists for universities in Canada or the Unites States, granting agencies are now requiring university researchers to articulate knowledge mobilization strategies in their grant applications to achieve outcomes of social and economic excellence.

Sociologist Joseph Ben-David – who died in 1986 – was prophetic in his book The Western University on Trial. Ben-David pointed out the then-emerging circumstances leading to these current pressures on universities today by identifying the shifting movement towards inclusion of non-academics in the decisions affecting university research. He saw the initial pessimism about the decline of university research (particularly scientific research) during his time in the 1970s and 80s which has now lead to the inevitable paradigm shift in university research that we see today.

Almost 30 years later there are still universities who are falling behind without a focus on research excellence and multi-sectoral, non-academic engagement to develop research in our knowledge society through knowledge mobilization strategies. Like industries lost in the industrial revolution, these universities will be left behind, shut down and forgotten if they also don’t adapt.

The thing about paradigm shifts is that they don’t happen overnight, yet those that don’t adapt die out. So, perhaps there’s still time.

The following are a few questions that may help universities and researchers think about how they want to allocate knowledge mobilization strategies and develop research excellence for social and economic benefit:

  • Is your university drawn to research that meets the needs of institutional “self-interest” right now, or to research that works towards long-term solutions that benefit society (not just the university) for the future?
  • Does your university prefer to support proven community-research partnerships or does more inward-focused research appeal to you?
  • How much institutional research impact and leverage do you seek?
  • Is your university still a research “spectator” watching how other universities excel in community-university partnerships or is your university more actively involved in creating potential community engagement?
  • How much of your university research activity is the result of opportunities and outreach from the university, and how much from unprompted funding? (Hint: universities do a lot of outreach because it benefits society, not because a granting agency tells them to. Universities will get more recognition by how they engage.)
  • What story do you tell yourself about your university and your community-university engagement?
  • Are you overly-focused on the number of peer-reviewed publications from your university researchers? Or does it make more sense to focus on the university’s research impact as it goes about creating social benefit? How will you decide to measure that research impact for social benefit, or does it not matter to you?

There are no perfect universities just as there are no perfect human beings. But the imperfection of human beings doesn’t keep us from engaging with each other – we just pick the “right fit” that best serves our mutual needs. The same goes with community-university engagement. Not every “cross-pollination” of knowledge will work in each context – but engaging with others outside the university to find the “right fit” in research is better than being isolated and being the university left behind in this new paradigm our knowledge society.

A New University Paradigm

university

Universities are considered one of our most reliable and cherished knowledge sectors with great expectations of delivering quality education and world-leading research. 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. With the creation of CIHR in 2000, Canadian health researchers were required to articulate knowledge translation strategies in their grant applications. Some NSERC funding programs require commercialization strategies. In 2011 SSHRC launched its renewed program architecture which requires all grant applications to have a knowledge mobilization strategy. This created an expectation that universities will effectively address social and economic issues and spend their money wisely – along with a mandate from the granting councils to incorporate knowledge mobilization and technology commercialization strategies into research grant applications.

So why aren’t some universities still not doing this?

If universities are to deliver the most promising benefits of knowledge and research for society and meaningfully follow funding guidelines an approach needs to be considered about how research is conducted. This approach needs to include those inside and outside the university who contribute to the research and social/economic innovation process. This is where knowledge mobilization comes in.  Yet many universities still have an unenthusiastic and unresponsive attitude to integrating knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies into the university structure itself.  Many universities still do not have an actual knowledge mobilization unit within their university, or worse have a great misunderstanding of what knowledge mobilization actually is and how to do it successfully – which is also often the reason why they fail to receive funding from granting agencies and continue to struggle financially.

The old university paradigm of receiving funding without a knowledge mobilization strategy is dead.

Universities see themselves to be in a risky situation as a result of economic pressures combined with increasing demand for quality research to provide social benefit.  In a climate of uncertain funding and a greater demand for valuable research, understanding how knowledge mobilization can bring opportunities to improve research, create social and economic innovation and affect government policy needs to be considered. When this is done it leads to important social and economic change.

Community-University partnerships and engagement are not new and have been around for at least a decade. Some examples include CUPP Brighton UK, CUP Alberta, Canadian Social Economy Hub, Emory University Center for Community Partnerships, and Concordia University’s Office of Community Engagement. In an informative journal club post David Phipps also discusses Mobilising knowledge in community-university partnerships.

So some universities get it and are definitely ahead of the game as the public sector benefits from these community-university collaborations.  Yet there are other universities who continue to ignore the broader benefits of such synergies. This is where greater work needs to be done to help the universities who continue to be stuck in old academic-infrastructure paradigms and help sustain community-university partnerships programs that do exist by the institutions themselves.

Developing long-term knowledge mobilization and social innovation strategies involves commitment and greater cooperation from all bodies of the university – staff, students, faculty, deans, vice-presidents, and governing councils; and most importantly from the university president.  It’s about multi-disciplinary and inter-departmental conversations to provide differing views from varying capacities to create an academic environment that provides social benefit that includes engagement within and beyond the walls of the university from many directions.

The greater return on investment for social benefit requires a broader approach to have faculty, university research services, knowledge mobilization unit knowledge brokers and university industry liaison offices work together across sectors instead of as separate university contacts and entities. A great start of this integrated approach comes from the University of Alberta which has amalgamated the Industry Liaison Office, the Research Grants Office and components of Research and Trust Accounting into an integrated Research Services Office. U of A thinks “the move to a “one-stop shop” provides researchers with more effective and streamlined services, with enhanced accountability and productivity.” However, a truly integrated approach that maximizes the impact of university research would also include a knowledge mobilization unit.

Canada has ten universities that are part of ResearchImpact – a knowledge mobilization network with further examples of such integrated structures. UQAM engages both research services and technology transfer in their support of knowledge mobilization; Offices of research services at both Wilfrid Laurier University and York University include technology commercialization as well as York’s KMb Unit as research grant support; and University of Victoria combines research partnerships and knowledge mobilization (but this does not include grants).

Another interesting pan university approach to supporting innovation is the appointment of Angus Livingstone and Innovation Catalyst. Formerly head of the UILO, Angus took up this new post in February 2014. It is too early to know what impact this new position will have but one can only hope that it embraces social as well as economic and technology innovation.

A further set-back for Canadian universities is the recent Canadian government announcement in its 2014 budget of a $10-million College Social Innovation Fund connecting colleges with community-based applied research needs of community organizations.  Colleges and polytechnic institutions have traditionally been places for trade learning and apprenticeship. It now looks like they are stepping up into the league of universities to create social and economic innovation. It may be great news for colleges – not so much for universities; especially those who haven’t already started community-university engagement.

This infusion of capital into Canadian colleges for social innovation development has set back any future benefit and funding for Canadian universities who have not yet understood the connection between knowledge mobilization and social innovation, thereby creating a missed opportunity for certain universities to gain the lead on investment in knowledge mobilization and social and economic innovation.

As the saying goes…you snooze, you lose! So is your university a winner or a loser? 

Combining university knowledge mobilization units with university research services and industry liaison offices that engage with both community partnerships and business innovation opportunities all in a “one-stop-shop” can bring great returns on investment – socially and economically – for universities and communities – but some universities are sadly still far behind.

 

Knowledge Brokers – A Solution For Social Benefit

kmb-model-final

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.

Don’t Keep Your Knowledge Secret & Learn Alone

passing on knowledge

Sharing your knowledge and life experience with others is more beneficial to social benefit that keeping your knowledge secret and learning alone.

Social Determinants of Health Explained

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the influences of health systems. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.

Social determinants of health can be divided into 12 categories that contribute to how healthy a person may or may not be.

1) Income and Social Status:

world money

  • Generally, people are healthier when they are wealthier. Individuals with lower socio-economic status experience worse health outcomes than individuals with higher socio-economic status.
  • Income shapes living conditions, such as adequate housing and ability to buy sufficient quality food. When people have little control over their lives and few options, their bodies are more vulnerable to disease. Income also influences psychological functioning and health-related behaviours.

2) Education and literacy:

education

  • Education is closely tied to income and socio-economic status. People with higher levels of education tend to use preventative medical services more frequently, be more physically active, and generally have better health.
  • Low literacy has a negative effect on all aspects of health, including overall levels of life expectancy, accidents and chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Low literacy also has a negative impact on mental health and on the ability to prevent illness.

3) Employment/Working conditions:

jobs

  • Employment allows people to afford basic necessities such as appropriate housing, food, and clothing—all of which are essential for good health. Employment also provides a sense of identity and purpose, social contacts and an opportunity for personal growth.
  • Conditions at work can have a significant effect on people’s health and emotional well-being.

4) Social environments:

social

  • Social environments include immediate physical surroundings, social relationships and cultural environments within which groups of people function and interact.
  • Negative social environments and experiences of discrimination and homophobia is associated with high rates of suicide attempts by lesbian, gay and bisexual youth.
  • Positive social environments include elements such as safety and social stability, recognition of diversity, good working relationships and cohesive communities, and help reduce or avoid many potential risks to good health.

5) Physical Environments:

poor housing

  • Exposure to contaminants in our air, water, food and soil can cause a variety of adverse health effects, including cancer, birth defects, respiratory illness and gastrointestinal ailments.
  • Factors related to housing, indoor air quality and the design of communities and transportation systems can also significantly influence people’s physical and psychological well-being.

6) Personal health practices and coping skills:

smoking

  • Personal health practices and coping skills refer to actions that individuals can take to prevent diseases and promote self-care, cope with challenges, develop self-reliance, solve problems, and make choices that enhance personal health.
  • Making personal health choices about such things as smoking, alcohol consumption, high fat diets, and regular dental health care all influence personal health.

7) Healthy child development:

child development

  • The effects of early childhood experiences have strong immediate and longer-lasting biological, psychological and social effects upon health.
  • The quality of early childhood development is largely influenced by the economic and social resources available to parents.
  • Children living under conditions of material and social deprivation are at higher risk of health problems.

8) Biology and genetic endowment:

genes

  • In some circumstances, genetic and biological factors appears to predispose certain individuals to particular diseases or health problems.
  • Examples of biological and genetic determinants of health include:
  • age—older adults are more likely to be in poorer health than adolescents due to the effects of aging
  • sex—women are at risk of pregnancy and birth-related health problems
  • inherited conditions—examples of inherited disease include sickle-cell anemia, hemophilia and cystic fibrosis
  • abnormal genes—carrying certain genes increases a person’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer

9) Health services:

health services

  • One of the most crucial determinants of health is access to high-quality health services.
  • Men and women from higher income households who are more likely to have insurance are much more likely to self-report that they have visited a dentist within the past year than people with lower incomes.
  • Populations who are underserved by health services include Aboriginal People, members of the LGBTTIQcommunity, refugees and other immigrants, ethnically or racially diverse populations, people with disabilities, the homeless, sex trade workers and people with low incomes.

10) Gender:

gender

  • Gender-based differences—in access to or control over resources, in power or decision making, and in roles and responsibilities—have implications for a person’s health status.
  • Research shows that women live longer than men, on average. Women have higher death rates, but men are more prone to accidents and also more likely to be perpetrators and victims of assault, reducing their overall life expectancy.

11) Culture:

culture

  • Some individuals or groups may face additional health risks as a result of a socio-economic environment that is largely determined by dominant cultural values. These dominant values can contribute to conditions such as marginalization, stigmatization, the loss or devaluation of language and culture, and a lack of culturally appropriate health care and services.
  • Members of racialized groups, recent immigrants and Aboriginal People are often among the most marginalized groups in society.

12) Social support networks:

  • Evidence shows that support from families, friends and communities is a big contributor to better health.
  • The caring and respect that occurs in social relationships, and the resulting sense of satisfaction and well-being, seem to act as a buffer against health problems.
  • Racism is a prominent form of social exclusion. The experience of racial discrimination puts racialized groups at higher risk for physical and mental health concerns.

A Knowledge New Year

face to face

As we begin the New Year 2013, we continue to share knowledge through knowledge mobilization by embracing new social networks like Pinterest – while keeping up with the fast pace of others like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  Sharing and mobilizing knowledge on such platforms makes our local to global communication and collaboration easier and more effective – and has delivered some very tangible national & international knowledge-networking results.

When it comes to today’s fast-paced world of knowledge sharing, there’s no better place for social collaboration than online. These social networks may have made it easier to expand our knowledge networks, but our society has changed from being a more personal, face-to-face world of localized collaborative knowledge sharing activity to a more impersonal and isolated world confined by our digital domains. We went from verbally discussing and sharing knowledge in our in-person environments, around the water-cooler, in meetings, retreats or at conferences to sharing knowledge in a much wider but secluded, online manner of pic-pins, tweets and blogs –away from the very people who we use to bounce ideas off of and exchange knowledge with face-to-face.

When social media advanced to make it possible and easier to automate and broaden our knowledge sharing, it provided valuable knowledge sharing tools – but there is a risk of returning back to the very reasons why online knowledge mobilization/transfer & exchange activities became important in the first place.  In the past, we were often locked in the knowledge-silos of our professional disciplines and institutions where face-to-face knowledge sharing was more closed. There is now a risk that we can become locked behind digital knowledge-silos without face-to-face meetings – even though our knowledge sharing has become more multi-directional and networked.  

Thankfully, in the past few years, in-person and online “networks connected to other networks” – such as EENet – and Communities of Practice (CoPs) connected with other CoPs – such as The Canadian Knowledge Transfer & Exchange CoP (formerly the Ontario Knowledge Transfer & Exchange CoP) have been created to broaden knowledge sharing and engagement. Such knowledge sharing organizations still keep alive – even expanding -opportunities for face-to-face knowledge interactions and collaboration with a variety of stakeholders – while also making use of the value of connecting knowledge online through social media. 

Sadly, in the early race to create an online presence of knowledge links in the digital world, many organizations, institutions and individuals forgot about the value of face-to-face social interactions over social media interactions. The old discipline/institutional knowledge silos were soon replaced with new digital knowledge network silos.

Fortunately, the pendulum has swung back (although some individuals and agencies have yet to even begin to get on the social media page!), and more people recognize the value of both connecting by social media combined with connecting face-to-face to create even broader in-person and inclusive opportunities of knowledge sharing for multiple stakeholders .

In 2012, “social” media was all about collaboration and mobility of knowledge sharing.  Now, by creating both physical and virtual knowledge sharing networks like EENet and communities like The Canadian KTE Cop in-house and remote knowledge sharing have been brought together.

Humans are social beings who enjoy sharing knowledge, and human behaviour will always trump any technology.  Regardless of how sophisticated or user-friendly the technology may be, humans will always need to connect with others in-person. But, we must continue to recognize that we live in a world of diversity and extremes. On any social media platform, there are extreme users, non-users and those that fall in-between – And, there will always be some who feel more comfortable sharing knowledge in-person while others feel more comfortable sharing knowledge online. It makes sense that overly-focusing on one over the other creates missed opportunities.  Combining and expanding both in-person and online connections will enhance the knowledge sharing experiences and increase engagement.

As we begin the New Year 2013, I’d like to wish all of my online and in-person knowledge connections a very happy, healthy and social year of online and in-person knowledge mobilization (KMb)!