Q. What sits at the intersection of political participation and community engagement? A. Knowledge Mobilization

Hernando Rojas, H. and Puig-i-Abril, E. (2009) Mobilizers Mobilized: Information, Expression, Mobilization and Participation in the Digital Age. J. Computer-Mediated Communication, 14: 902–927.

“We contend that through these mobilization efforts the mobilizer is ultimately mobilized.”

Not even I could use the word mobilize or derivatives thereof that many times in a sentence. “We contend that through these mobilization efforts the mobilizer is ultimately mobilized” is one of the conclusions of Rojas and Puig-i-Abril from University Wisconsin-Madison in their study on the role of social media and portable media in political participation in Columbia. The essence of their findings is that access to social media and cell phones enhances political participation but in so doing it has spill over effects into the individuals offline worlds resulting in civic engagement and the concomitant mobilizing efforts of self and others.

Through efforts to mobilize politically online, the mobilized becomes mobilized offline.

So what does this have to do with knowledge mobilization and the two way engagement of researchers and decision makers to move research into action?

Reading the paper I was struck by the similarities of the processes of political engagement and knowledge mobilization.

1- interpersonal networks of political discussion… result in increased community integration and civic participation

  • similarly interpersonal networks of researchers and decision makers result in integration of research and capacity building at the community level

2- Communication practices can have direct effects on participatory behaviors

  • As Wenger points out in his dissertation found at www.ewenger.com/pub/index.htm, knowledge brokers sit at the periphery and intersections of communities of practice. Participation in such communities is sustained through transparency (see post from August 25, 2009) that is mediated through effective communication

3- Use of online media supplements interpersonal relations

  • Nothing beats a face to face meeting; knowledge mobilization in the AM wouldn’t work using skype.

4- Use of online media is correlated with increased social capital

  • Social capital equates to trust which is essential if knowledge mobilization is to successfully broker relationships between researchers and decision makers.

5- Political activity is correlated with community/civic engagement with the community, not the elected office, being the locus of political mobilization and action

  • This conclusion was really interesting and makes us realize that the real locus of knowledge mobilization engagement is in the community, not at the privileged university. Impact of knowledge mobilization is measured by changes in the decision maker organization not by tenure and promotion through the professoriate, although this does happen and has a positive impact on the scholar’s career as well.

One concern I had with the paper is their model of mobilizing (albeit political).

INFORMATION →EXPRESSION →MOBILIZATION →PARTICIPATION

This model is too linear for KM and possibly even for political participation. The authors might consider creating a feedback loop so that participation in political action resulted in more information which reinforces (or sometimes changes) expression, resulting in different mobilization, influencing further participation, etc.

And this brings us back to the wonderful sentence, “we contend that through these mobilization efforts the mobilizer is ultimately mobilized”. What this is saying is that there is a positive feedback loop whether in political action, civic engagement or knowledge mobilization. Successful knowledge mobilization breeds more knowledge mobilization. As trust from both faculty and decision maker develops for the honest knowledge broker, knowledge mobilization become increasingly in demand. We have seen this in an increase in demand for brokering service and in our hits on our web site where hits grew from 215,873 in 2007 to 439,961 in 2008 to 1,256,870 in 2009!

And like digital democracy, ResearchImpact is employing social networking and new communication technologies to supplement, not replace, the human touch of knowledge brokering.

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