KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

The Politics of Austerity, Research & Knowledge Mobilization

Austerity

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is slowly emerging as a process to connect academic research with evidence-based policy-making since the emergence of KMb over the past decade. KMb was cultivated in earlier forms of evidence-based practice, and recent initiatives across sectors of public administration indicate a move towards creating new policies based on research that produces social benefit as an impact. (For more in-depth reading on the historical development of KMb, I continue to recommend an excellent longitudinal analysis paper written by Carole Estabrooks and colleagues that traces the historical development of the knowledge exchange field between 1945 and 2005 with an author co-citation analysis of over 5,000 scholarly articles).

The term knowledge mobilization (KMb) evolved following the publication of an evaluation report of the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2004. This led SSHRC to create a division of Knowledge Products and Mobilization to enhance and accelerate the movement of research findings into policy and program development.

However, the politics of austerity continues to affect the types of research deemed more beneficial than others. In terms of research, austerity describes government policies used to reduce research funding as part of maintaining government budgets. The effects of austerity measures on research by decreased funding is seen as direct attacks on public services, whose primary mission is to reduce social inequalities – which social science research, in particular, seeks to address and understand.

Is it because of this obvious link – and full-circle connection – between social science research and public services that politicians wish to ignore when they implement austerity measures that leads to a decrease in research funding?

Research funding and policy are politically guided and frequently challenged as a means to deliver public services due to a growing disconnect over the past decade between researchers and the Canadian government. The current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power in 2006 – two years after SSHRC’s CURA evaluation and KMb momentum began. Since then, many Canadian researchers and knowledge brokers have gained an international reputation for broadening the research path based on the development of KMb; however Canada’s government has also gained an international reputation for ignoring KMb recommendations and silencing scientific experts who seek to make their work public – causing a rift in the relationship between academia and government. (Further articles on Conservative government cuts to science research can be found here and here and here).

In an effort to reduce government spending, many researchers have been affected by a decrease in research funding. The ongoing transformation of the academic sector has been most apparent with the many challenges created by financial struggles with universities seeking evidence-based reform with initiatives such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK or a Program Prioritization Process (PPP) such as Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR) in Canada. There has been increased pressure on universities for financial income and resources along with increased pressure from government granting agencies that expect a valuable public and/or private return of investment for providing research funding.

Considering the continuing decrease in research funding, should researchers (particularly social science researchers) wish to maintain a prominent role in the pursuit of research for social benefit they need to develop broader partnerships – with the use of knowledge brokers – to not only advance wider knowledge networks and broader connections for research, but also establish collective lobbying voices for government policy change.

But first, researchers must understand that integrating KMb strategies into their own research plays a crucial role in creating these connections of influence.  KMb must start as an institutional capacity that involves public, private and community sector partners. Then, by incorporating a social media element, the connections, conversations and collaboration aspects of social media work together to help establish Communities of Practice online and can support the social and influential nature of KMb on public policy. These vital links of KMb are illustrated in Applying Social Sciences Research for Public Benefit Using Knowledge Mobilization and Social Media. Governmental, corporate, academic and community partners need to intersect and work together to help research organizations and society reorient themselves.

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Researchers alone are incapable of influencing political strategies that continue to decrease funding. This requires a movement through broader partnerships that can serve as a collective point of community engagement and pressure politicians to increase research funding and lead to policy change.

The Conservative government’s political agenda in Canada remains largely unabated as policy makers decide which resources Canadian researchers (and society) “needs” to be allocated for the next big political game.  Changing this will require a cooperative movement that transcends individual academic, corporate and community sectors to make political demands and build the social-benefit capacity of research that has been historically entrenched in university/institutions which requires further continuing expansion to society beyond. Without a strong KMb strategy, deeply rooted in community-engagement and forging new partnerships to lobby government for increasing funding, it would appear that the under-funding of research from government sources will continue.

Canadian researchers (particularly social science researchers) face an historic opportunity with an upcoming Federal election on October 19th, 2015 which may well change the Conservative precedent of decreasing Federal research funding in Canada. Future research depends on the extent of decreasing the financial pressures that continue to be based on the politics of austerity that overlook the social benefits of research.

 

 

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”?