KMbeing

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

Tag Archives: wicked problems

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.

Scaling Up Knowledge Mobilization Globally

peace

For the past decade I have been involved with people developing and working in the field of knowledge mobilization (KMb). I started this blog to provide greater understanding of why KMb is important in connecting diverse knowledge from a variety of disciplines, social sectors – both community and university – and even from various countries to make the world a better place. I intend to continue doing this. But I’ve been having concerns this past week – given the recent so-called terrorist attacks in Quebec and Ottawa. Homegrown terrorism and self-radicalization are now words more Canadians are becoming familiar with.

Under Canada’s Criminal Code, terrorism is defined as a violent act committed “in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of “intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act.”

In this I see the “dark side” of knowledge exchange for terrorism that is not connected with the reasons for knowledge exchange as I understand it. There is an important difference between knowledge exchange for radicalization and knowledge exchange for mobilization.

Radicalization has to do with knowledge exchange that brings about insecurity and danger – with knowledge that people acquire to intimidate, create fear and do terrorist acts. It results from social and political structures that do not guarantee human rights.

Knowledge mobilization has to do with knowledge exchange for goodwill or social benefit. It results from worthy attempts to create more useful and constructive knowledge in trying to overcome wicked problems and make the world a better place. It begins within our own communities and hopefully finds ways to scale up the benefits and impacts of knowledge exchange to effect positive change for greater worldwide benefit.

Can knowledge mobilization make a difference in the realization of human rights?

This is a question about our own personal commitments to human rights. Throughout my years in contributing to knowledge mobilization I have yearned for it to make the world a better place. I have hoped that my contributions might bring attention to how we can exchange knowledge to address the plight of the poor or the homeless, to the voices and knowledge of everyday people and so contribute to justice – not just in my own community but beyond.

In the world of research, knowledge mobilization is about making research useful to society. What about making research useful to all of our humanity?

Does knowledge mobilization actually offer something useful to poor or homeless people? Does knowledge mobilization actually help them? From a local perspective, I like to think so when I see the valuable efforts of organizations like The Homeless Hub or the United Way York Region that incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into the work they do.

Many years ago I spent time working in a soup kitchen helping the poor, the homeless and the hungry. Yet over twenty-five years later there are still poor, homeless and hungry people. It makes me think of the biblical passage “there will never cease to be poor people.” While I don’t claim to be a religious person (I consider myself a humanist), I believe in justice for the poor and homeless by challenging the structures of our society that continue to deprive them of that justice and ignore human rights. I do believe that knowledge mobilization can make a difference, but in fact I also understand that knowledge mobilization can only offer a means of bringing extremes of ideologies, objectives or causes and knowledge closer together in attempts to work more cooperatively together.

My deeper concern is that current knowledge mobilization efforts only serve to relieve the more immediate and local socio-economic pressures rather than bring about more fundamental global changes. As a Canadian, in light of the closer-to-home radicalization that is occurring among our youth, it makes me realize that creating knowledge exchange more broadly worldwide can also influence some to adopt more radical belief systems instead of the type of knowledge exchange that brings more cooperative humanitarian efforts and approaches worldwide.

Are knowledge mobilization efforts making research useful and visible to society only in our local environments by creating the illusion of effective knowledge to action with strictly local impact? Have we created a culture of knowledge exchange only in social circles that bring change and benefit locally yet have normalized for us the destitution in developing and war-torn countries?

I was reminded of this with the recent Canadian media frenzy around homegrown terrorism and self- radicalization. Is the reason why some of our radicalized youth are willing to leave the safety and security of a country like Canada to fight in radicalized wars because we’re not doing enough to mobilize knowledge worldwide? What can bring us closer together in understanding and addressing the fundamental issues that affect all of us on this planet as collective human beings if not knowledge exchange?

How many of us promoting knowledge mobilization efforts – researchers, practitioners, clinicians, community organizers, business leaders, policy makers – end up feeling that our participation fulfills our local responsibilities to the poor, homeless, and those with mental health issues? We do our work in knowledge mobilization for a while, we see local social changes and benefits and it makes us feel good and we gain a sense of satisfaction. But in the process we risk forgetting about the greater global needs that continue to contribute to these wicked problems – even now in our own backyard – in the first place. It’s easy to lose sight of the fundamental reason why we do knowledge mobilization. It’s not just about making research useful to our own society – how about making research useful to all of humanity? How about exchanging knowledge to eliminate radicalized thinking? Is this even possible? Sadly, it takes an openness to want to exchange knowledge for this to happen.

People who incorporate knowledge mobilization strategies into their work do so as a response to local problems to help ensure that people in our communities have a voice and can exchange knowledge to create social benefit and policy change in the here and now. Perhaps it’s time we consider these strategies as appropriate solutions to greater worldwide problems. We can tout the fact that community-university knowledge exchange has replaced an ivory-tower entitlement to knowledge that has slowly toppled many of our knowledge silos but it doesn’t camouflage our greater worldwide problems. We still require even broader thinking and knowledge mobilization approaches if we are to eliminate radicalized forms of knowledge and create more cooperative knowledge to action worldwide.

If we are only busy mobilizing knowledge in our local systems who is going to do the time-consuming work of knowledge mobilization for social benefit for our human system?

It’s working with a variety of global stakeholders through knowledge mobilization in conjunction with policy makers that will motivate governments to act together locally, nationally and internationally to guarantee rights, to create or oversee programs that assure everyone adequate access to what they need on a broader scale. Government leaders need to take a more open approach to work together – not a more divided and oppositional approach – only this will bring about a complete human system change – if it’s even possible.

And what of knowledge mobilizers who work diligently on creating greater knowledge exchange? Knowledge exchange is necessary to create greater understanding, but sometimes knowledge exchange may cause harm if not done with openness.

We hear much talk these days about knowledge mobilization as a tool for dealing with social ills – working with policy makers to provide services to the needy. But while local knowledge mobilization strategies may play a role locally they cannot be a substitute for greater worldwide knowledge mobilization strategies.

As for local organizations providing for all the needs of the poor, the chances are even more remote. The magnitude of the problem requires something beyond any local actions. However, a recent report on homelessness in Canada by researcher Stephen Gaetz suggests that $46 more per Canadian per year can vastly cut homelessness in this country. Could this type of thinking be scaled up worldwide to address homelessness or even other social issues?

Perhaps, but I suggest the fundamental problem for the poor in our country and in our world is not homelessness or other wicked problems themselves – rather the problem is injustice. In promoting knowledge mobilization as cooperative efforts of knowledge exchange in our institutions and communities to create local policy change we think that distributing enough food, creating enough shelters or producing enough homes in our communities – that is, if we just treat the symptoms in our own communities we will have solved “the problem.” The problem is we haven’t solved the problem worldwide.

Unfortunately, injustice is deep-rooted in every society. It is the inevitable result of the structures within our communities – social, economic, political and religious that reinforce inequality and lead to extremism and radicalization. These are the structures that keep wicked problems alive.

Local knowledge mobilization strategies do little to change the wider social and political systems that sustain injustice. Even if we perceive the need for systemic change worldwide, we can do little beyond a few cooperative borders.
Knowledge exchange for social benefit within our own communities offends almost no one. Seeking justice beyond our own borders offends many.

I’m not suggesting we abandon knowledge mobilization efforts. In addition to establishing justice within our communities, broader knowledge mobilization efforts are both necessary in our own communities and a requirement within the broader global community. We need to start thinking about ways for knowledge mobilization strategies within organizations to support those who work for justice worldwide.

We must continue to engage with policymakers to think beyond our own borders to create worldwide knowledge mobilization efforts.

Working for justice worldwide is not an easy task. There are no quick fixes and the most common reason for abandoning efforts is discouragement due to a lack of openness from others who are radicalized in their thinking. But we have little choice. Within an unjust world there are limitations to knowledge exchange. We need to continue in our attempts to join others in every part of this planet in the struggle for justice for everyone. It is a fundamental requirement of our humanity.

Building A Knowledge Mobilization Strategy In The Research Process

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I was recently involved in a professional skills development day for graduate students, hosted by the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University. After a session titled Building a Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Strategy presented by Michael Johnny, Manager of the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University, I spoke with several grad students who had only vaguely heard of KMb. It seemed as if a light-bulb had suddenly brightened their thinking after the session as they began to understand and got excited about how to develop KMb strategies in their own research. One grad student confessed she had no idea that the KMb Unit existed at the university and it was available as a valuable research resource. It also never occurred to her to think of her research with a community engagement perspective.

This got me thinking about what are still the obstacles to building a knowledge mobilization strategy within the research process and how we can instill in future researchers the value of incorporating KMb strategies into research for social benefit.

Thankfully, many community-based and university-based research is now focused on incorporating knowledge mobilization strategies to improve the research process. Over the past decade as the field of KMb has emerged, a range of factors – including a need to improve community/university relations with greater community engagement and broader evidence-informed practice has led to a desire to deliver research with more inclusive collaboration and larger impact.

In many cases, knowledge mobilization has meant adopting new research methods that involve a variety of stakeholders – such as knowledge brokers, community organizations, business associates and policy-makers – as intermediaries, research partners, social innovators and receptors. Historical research methods have a limiting pathway to impact and some university/research institutions are still struggling to develop research with an integrated KMb approach.

Incorporating KMb into research methods is not always easy and takes time. There are many stakeholders to involve, a full range of needs to meet – including institutional demands – and often multifaceted academic and cultural concerns to take into consideration.

Knowledge mobilization is about institutional, cultural and strategic practices that must be considered to improve the research process within universities and communities. Universities and research institutions are now confronted with how to best develop and integrate successful KMb strategies – not only for faculty but also for student researchers as well. As mentioned, developing an effective KMb strategy takes time – which can be problematic when thinking about how best to incorporate such a strategy specific to the life cycle of a graduate student.

Problems incorporating a KMb strategy into the research process can include:

  • Varied research projects may not align with community engagement
  • A lack of interdisciplinary coordination and collaboration among researchers – sometimes due to internal politics and beliefs
  • Little understanding or knowledge of the value of KMb
  • A more competitive rather than cooperative view among researchers that excludes various stakeholders
  • No clear strategic research plan that incorporates KMb strategies at the outset of a research project
  • Poor quality of research with the use of out-of-date research methodologies
  • A lack of recognition and support for KMb strategies from academic leaders
  • Limited institutional and financial resources to establish KMb Units and knowledge brokers within the organization
  • Difficulty in changing work practices of faculty and students as well as staff within academia and community organizations

Universities and other research institutions can be very complex and competitive environments in which to develop and deliver evidence-based research with a focus on broader solutions and impact for real-world problems. The list of problems mentioned above need to be overcome when planning KMb strategies within the research process.

Most importantly, successful KMb strategies need to be supported by strong institutional leadership and are only successful if they are actually implemented by researchers and staff with active participation throughout the university/research institution. The challenge to gain sufficient implementation is by ensuring a broader understanding of KMb and establishing support services within the university/research institution. Without such critical support institutional research remains limited and of little value outside the institution.

This creates a considerable change in thinking about research projects. In practice it means that research projects must be carefully designed to incorporate KMb strategies from the outset to ensure the involvement of a variety of stakeholders to create the broadest impact and social benefit.

This includes:

  • Thinking about the value factors of the research for all stakeholders
  • Clear communication to all stakeholders about the purpose and benefits of the research project
  • Building momentum by including other researchers and community partners throughout the entire research process – including input and recognition in the publication and implementation of research findings

It’s not simply enough to improve KMb strategies within a handful of research projects within the university/institution. While this will deliver greater benefit from certain research projects it will not create the required cultural change within the institution or assist with gaining adoption by institutional leadership. While these may be valuable research projects it may be difficult to demonstrate the social benefit to university/institution management as a return on investment unless they can demonstrate how such research projects can also gain create opportunities for funding.

This is why inclusion and interaction with community, business and government stakeholders in the research process is essential as a vital link to also demonstrate social benefit within and beyond the institution as part of a return on investment. Delivering clear impact by incorporating KMb strategies into research projects involves identifying from the outset concrete social needs that must be met. This provides meaningful measurement of the research projects and value for the university/institution – and for society.

Research projects can target issues that are visible within society with solutions that are valuable to society. There is no single research project that will address and resolve all social problems. Wicked problems – as they are often referred to – are too complex to consider all the factors to overcome when planning and developing KMb strategies within research projects. The answer is to seek out collaborative research that can address such social problems from many angles with many stakeholders. This may mean letting go of a perfectly planned research approach in a timely manner to allow for a more adaptive and long-term research plan. This approach recognizes that there are hundreds or even thousands of often small, collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects that are needed to improve social conditions.

This is the crux of a KMb strategy – to implement research that involves a cross-pollination of university/research institution, community, business and government sectors to create social benefit and systems-change on a wider-scale.

Again, building a knowledge mobilization strategy within research in a complex and ever-changing world is not easy. The social and time challenges inherent in research projects that incorporate KMb strategies mean that new approaches at the researcher and university/institutional levels need to be taken if they are to be successful in creating social benefit from research. Social benefit from incorporating KMb strategies into research is taking place with clear examples of social innovation and benefit occurring. Homeless Hub, Green Economy Centre, Peterborough Youth Emergency Shelter, and Toronto’s Heat Registry are several examples.

Building a knowledge mobilization strategy into the research process means thinking about doing research differently than that done in the past. It means involving a wider range of stakeholders, and getting buy-in from university/institution leadership to create not just internal benefit but external benefit. It means thinking about value as not just a financial return on investment but a social return on investment that can lead to financial and social benefit on a wider-scale for researchers and society today and tomorrow.

Knowledge Mobilization & The Cure For Hatred

Hatred

Why is knowledge mobilization important to help overcome hatred in our world?

When I was a university student studying psychology the question of “why can’t we all just get along in this world?” frequently lingered under my attempts to understand our human condition through my studies. Although I did not pursue a career as a psychologist, my psychology degree continues to influence my knowledge mobilization work in helping make research useful to society. I still ask this question frequently whenever I see the daily news coverage of hatred and the world battlegrounds of war that continue to make headlines and wonder if what researchers call wicked problems of the world can ever be overcome.

It turns out that research is being done by a group of international researchers linking hatred to health by asking the research question:

Is there a cure for the disease of hatred?

In the trailer for the Captain America movie, senior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) states “To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down…and that makes enemies.” The teaser ends with a question from Falcon (Anthony Mackie), the first African-American superhero who asks Captain America, “How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?” to which Captain America replies, “If they’re shooting at you then they’re bad” (at 2:15 on the timer).

The movie captures the essence and complication for researchers and ourselves in trying to understand the basic question of why people hate. (Spoiler Alert) Supposed “good guy” agent Alexander Pierce plays one of the “bad guys” who wants to build “a better world” by tearing it down without a broader regard for everyone in the world and the diversity of human contexts and conditions that can breed hatred. Hatred does not always come from the supposed and stereo-typed “other” who lives on the other side of the world. Sadly, hatred is universal and in our own backyards. Researchers seeking to find the cure for the disease of hatred now understand that hatred needs to be approached from a variety of disciplines working cooperatively across sectors and borders on the problem as a universal health issue that – like any disease – can affect anyone.

The question “why can’t we all just get along in this world” isn’t new. Theologians, philosophers and social activists have been asking this question for centuries. It’s research looking at hatred and violence as a public health issue that has now taken on an interdisciplinary approach – which is at the heart of knowledge mobilization (KMb). KMb is about breaking down barriers to create deeper understanding in the varied contexts of our human condition by exchanging multi-directional knowledge across boundaries that define the diversity and commonality of our human condition.

The International Network for Hate Studies was founded in 2013 in Europe and hosted its first conference in 2014 in the UK.  The Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum hosted its third conference in June 2014 in Saskatoon, and helped establish the first UK Knowledge Mobilization Forum in 2013. The value of incorporating a knowledge mobilization strategy into research (both community-based and academic) is now well-established for creating social improvement, implementation and innovation to make the world a better place.

Scientific discovery that includes knowledge mobilization can cause paradigm shifts in human thought, drive technological revolutions – and perhaps save humanity from the hatred that continues to paralyze all of us. In a previous KMbeing blog post I wrote that the best efforts to combat social problems always include both thinking and action in doing some good for others and creating social benefit…yet there is also an underlying aspect to both thinking and action that is required for effective knowledge mobilization – love.

Being able to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of research by linking hatred to health and knowledge mobilization which includes the diversity and commonality of our human experiences will ultimately lead to greater scientific literacy and the development of personal skills to conquer hatred and violence. It doesn’t mean tearing down the world to know the “good” guys from the “bad” – it just means tearing down the universal human barriers that lead to understanding and stopping the hatred that can exist in every one of us.  Just as most people try to avoid getting a disease – perhaps someday no one will want to get the disease of hatred.

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.

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(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.

Knowledge Mobilization with a K.I.S.S.

keep it simple

We live in a complex world and think that only a few “expert” people have the “intelligence” or “best” knowledge to teach us how to deal with the complexities on this planet if we’re to survive and thrive in this world. That seems to be what many people want us to believe – that only a few people have “expert” knowledge to share that can make a difference. What really matters is not how much knowledge we have but how knowledge is shared in order to improve our lives, our communities and our planet and make things better for ourselves, our humanity and our world. That is what knowledge mobilization is all about.

We diminish each of our lives when we think that the knowledge we have to share for social benefit isn’t “good enough” or we’re not “smart enough” by not committing ourselves to many causes and activities of global knowledge sharing to make the world a better place for everyone. Every bit of knowledge that is shared for social benefit and combined with someone else’s knowledge brings us closer to global understanding – despite living in a complex world. Knowledge sharing is about being open to the knowledge of others and knowing that even the “limited” amount of knowledge that you have to share can make a difference when it’s connected to the greater good of global knowledge sharing for social benefit to make the world a better place for everyone.

There are many who think that the world is too complex to create global change through global knowledge sharing. There are many who think that the world is made up of too many differences in customs, beliefs and ideologies that ultimately lead to extremes and insurmountable conflicts that overwhelm us and condemn us to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again and never learn from the knowledge of the past. There are many who think that society has too many wicked problems to overcome. Yes, the reality is that these wicked problems exist and the complexity of these wicked problems continues to create barriers to social improvement and global peace. But thinking that these problems are too complex for us to make a difference by not even contributing and sharing from the experiences and knowledge that each of us has to make the world a better place – or by simply leaving it to the “intelligent” knowledge “experts” to figure out only adds to the barriers that already exist.

Knowledge sharing for social benefit is actually simple, and only through the simple will we overcome complexity. Of course, we have to be open-minded and recognize that the differences that lead to our global complexities, fears, hatred and violence stem from ignoring our common humanity and opportunities to focus on combining our knowledge globally.

There is an expression keep it simple, stupid – or K.I.S.S.

I think that the “stupid” are those too close-minded to share knowledge for social benefit, who ignore opportunities for each of us to combine our knowledge globally rather than being too caught up in the personal insecurities about the value of our own knowledge or default to the knowledge of the “experts”.

Knowledge sharing for social benefit is simple. That doesn’t mean that we will avoid the complicated when it’s necessary to face it, but that we realize that the very action of making a start to share knowledge for global understanding can make the world a better place. It’s a simple thing and does not need to be complicated, for all of our knowledge has value when we share it and are open to the knowledge of others. When we combine our knowledge differences to focus on our common humanity we can create change or improvement for all in the world – and in so doing we can create knowledge with a K.I.S.S.

Whose Knowledge Is It Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Regard Sharing Knowledge As Something Only “Intellectuals” Can Do

Never regard sharing knowledge as something only “intellectuals” can do. Sharing knowledge – for anyone – is a daily opportunity to influence and contribute to the knowledge of the world if we share knowledge with the intention of social benefit.

Sharing knowledge is not just about sharing knowledge from our minds – it’s also about sharing knowledge from our hearts. We can all contribute to social benefit by sharing knowledge from our own personal experiences. When we share knowledge for social benefit our own communities benefit and – in turn – the greater community of humanity can benefit, making the world a better place.

Why do we have a tendency to ignore the value of sharing our own knowledge? During our years of education, most of us learn the value of sharing more formal or academic knowledge. We read, we write. But in our everyday lives we also have opportunities to share informal knowledge about life experiences that can literally change our lives – and the lives of others. By sharing knowledge and being open to the knowledge of others we can open up channels for creating new knowledge, broadening our perspectives – making all of us happier and healthier people on this earth.

When we share knowledge, we see further into the depths of the diversity of life experiences and knowledge on this planet. Seeing the possibilities from knowledge sharing can help us recognize the inherent value of each person’s existence, and help us realize the amazing way that people in our universe exist and grow and change. Seeing another human being is an incredible experience if we open our eyes up to understand how every human being has knowledge to share – regardless of complexity or simplicity.

 It’s how we combine our knowledge that will make us all better people.

Sharing knowledge pulls us out of our limited perspectives and takes us into another world in which the “impossible challenges” and wicked problems can become one step closer to being solved.

 Sharing knowledge can sometimes be the bare minimum of commenting on how we identify with another person’s experience through our own. Whatever effort we put into sharing knowledge will definitely pay all of us back dividends if we do so as a way to make the world a better place.

David Phipps: Promoting KMb-Knowledge Mobilization (Or Mobilisation) Across The Ocean

David Phipps, Director of Research Services & Innovation Services at York University in Toronto has recently been published as a guest writer in the Higher Education section of The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.

In the first of a what promises to be a very interesting four-part series, Phipps introduces the concept of knowledge mobilization (KMb) or mobilisation – with an “s” as the British like to spell it – writing about the use of KMb within institutions to maximise the impact of academic research on public policy and professional practice.Phipps emphasizes the importance of Social Sciences & Humanities (SSH) within academia as a mode of research that can embrace KMb to help solve wicked problems “such as poverty, housing, immigration, climate change, security, Aboriginal issues and social determinants of health” – to name a few. (See my previous blog for a further perspective on wicked problems).

Phipps rightly points out that universities are the main producers of new SSH research knowledge, but that they will not benefit society if scholars limit themselves to traditional academic approaches of communicating such new knowledge. Phipps states, “Knowledge mobilisation is the process of connecting academic SSH research to non-academic decision-makers so that this research informs decisions about public policy and professional practice. Knowledge mobilisation (the process) can enable social innovation (the outcome).”

Phipps writes from an academic perspective focusing on how universities and other formal institutions can benefit from KMb to create social innovation. Social innovation is for social benefit – combining existing knowledge to create new knowledge to overcome the wicked problems that continue to plague our world, and ultimately to make the world a better place.

 My more informal and holistic approach asks how each one of us can mobilize our own knowledge to connect with others – even in more familiar environments – to contribute to this process of social benefit.

What are you doing in your own life to use your own knowledge to connect with the knowledge of others? What are you doing in your own life to combine your own knowledge with the knowledge of others to create new knowledge to overcome wicked problems?

The Phipps articles take the concept of KMb across the ocean – from Canada to the UK – hopefully promoting a valuable tool for social innovation and social benefit that perhaps might begin to spread globally to help address and overcome many of this planet’s wicked problems. The rest of the series takes a past, present and future approach to include the past origins of KMb, present KMb services, and the future of KMb with predictions on where the field is going or needs to go.

I agree with Phipps that traditional and formal academic approaches have not been successful in solving many of these social problems. Perhaps it’s time to also include informal and personal approaches to knowledge mobilization in each of our lives to address such social problems in order to make the world a better place for everyone.

I hope you’re looking forward to reading the rest of the articles as much as I am.

Overcoming Wicked Problems

One of the unfortunate contradictions of our time is that we have more knowledge and the ability to share our knowledge faster with greater numbers of people in the world than ever in our history – and yet we still have poverty, homelessness, climate change, hatred and war. These harms are referred to by social scientists as wicked problems.

It’s pretty amazing to think about the vast amount of knowledge that we have available to us to share with billions of people to make the world a better place than ever in the history of humanity.  Social media, for example, gives us huge amounts of knowledge – global knowledge to share, to share more quickly, to translate more easily – and yet, these social problems still exist.

We can communicate with people anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, and we have almost instantaneous access to knowledge that years ago would have taken a long time to receive or translate – but what is the purpose of sharing knowledge so quickly, what is the purpose of sharing knowledge if we still can’t overcome these wicked problems?

These are questions I ask myself quite frequently. Why are we still grappling with these wicked problems if we have the ability to share knowledge so much easier today? What is the connection between shared knowledge and wicked problems? Ultimately, I think it comes down to the deeply ingrained human failings of greed, control and abusive power. Will such human failings ever be eliminated? Probably not. Does that mean we should just give up? Certainly not. For those who want to continue to be part of the solution and not the problem -the answers are social innovation and knowledge mobilization.

Social innovation is finding new ways to address persistent social, cultural or environmental challenges. Knowledge mobilization is the process of sharing knowledge for social benefit.

We’ve heard that old saying knowledge is power. I think this an out-dated understanding of power that needs to go. It’s time to replace this old selfish notion with sharing knowledge is power – but in the sense of a collective power for social benefit for all humanity. It’s the way we share our knowledge that’s important.

How do we share our knowledge?  How do we use social media? To communicate understanding? To spread peace, love and compassion? To focus on eliminating poverty, homelessness, hatred or war? Or do we try to control the many things that we think we need to control – promoting ideologies and doctrines that are more divisive than inclusive? Sometimes we spend so much of our knowledge and energy selfishly wasting time or trying to control things and other people that we end up seeming like we have power or “the truth”. Forget about “the truth”. Truth is different for everyone. Sharing knowledge to create understanding and overall social benefit is what brings us together.

Until we can overcome the things that divide us, we are still powerless – we only seem to have power but our energies are still misdirected. When we find positive ways to share our knowledge for overall social benefit we can begin to eliminate wicked problems, and the more we’re able to do so – as each person recognizes our collective humanity – the more our knowledge will grow, and the less wicked problems will occur . . . it’s one of those very positive cycles that only each of us contributing together for everyone on this planet can put into motion.
We all have the knowledge of what needs to be done to overcome wicked problems – even in the very face of otherwise overwhelming human impulses.  What are you doing to share this knowledge to overcome wicked problems?