Knowledge Mobilization Down Under / La mobilisation des connaissances prend la route du Sud

David Phipps (RIR-York) recently took the message of ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) down to Australia. There is a growing interest in knowledge mobilization as a means to enhance the economic, social and economic impact of university research. Six days. Four presentations. One workshop. Fourteen meetings. About 180 people.

Tout récemment, David Phipps du RIR-York a porté le message du ResearchImpact – RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) jusqu’en Australie. La mobilisation des connaissances soulève de plus en plus d’intérêt en tant que moyen de décupler l’impact social et économique de la recherche universitaire. Six jours. Quatre présentations. Un atelier. Quatorze réunions. Presque 200 personnes.

David Phipps & Tamika Heiden

David Phipps & Tamika Heiden

Thanks to Tamika Heiden of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research (TICHR in Perth, Australia) for securing funding from a variety of sources to bring the Canadian perspective in knowledge mobilization to our colleagues in Australia. Leaving Canada on November 5 and returning on November 18, I had the chance to meet with research administrators, senior research leaders and individual research teams. To a person there was interest in how universities could demonstrate various impacts arising from investments in university research. In general there was a lack of understanding how universities could support this impact.

TICHR has started on the right path. They have identified knowledge translation throughout their strategic plan 2013-2017.  In five years they will “Have developed the systems and processes to enable us to report on specific outcomes of our research during the previous five years, and to document how our work has contributed to improvements in health and health services”. This is underpinned by explicit knowledge “translation” goals throughout their strategic plan. Getting KMb/KT into your strategic plan is the first step. If it isn’t there then it is just marketing because the plan drives the investment of resources. Next TICHR needs to settle its organizational design and make those investments that will support the KT goals outlined in its strategic plan.

Quokka

Quokka

I met with the University of Western Australia industry liaison/technology transfer office and their research services group. It is clear that both the industry liaison office and the office of research services are measured by funding and investments brought into the university. In knowledge mobilization money is a metric we count but it shouldn’t be the goal of our activities. Money is a tool that enables us to accomplish goals such as maximizing the impacts of research but it is only a vehicle to support impact. It is not itself a measure of impact.

I presented to the Western Australia chapter of the Australian Research Management Society (ARMS). There were 21 people in this group and while a Toronto example of the impact of urban heat on vulnerable citizens didn’t resonate in a country that every year sees plus 45 degrees Celcius, nonetheless, they were interested in a broader conceptualization of research support services that complement the pre-award and industry liaison activities currently underway. Edith Cowan Unviersity reached out and asked for more information as they consider with how to support researchers and maximize the economic, social and environmental impacts of research.

Curtin University has a long tradition of engaging in research partnered with industry; however, coming from a tradition of extension work (a close cousin to knowledge mobilization practiced primarily in the agricultural and international development sectors) they have also had ad hoc examples of researchers working with communities and local governments to inform social services.

Koala

Koala

A national conference, Knowledge Commercialization Australasia, heard I was “in town” so I dropped by and participated in a panel on models of commercialization for the 21st Century. I learned of one Australian university that was supporting social enterprises mainly from student startups…one example being a student group that is selling sustainably made socks with a portion of each sock sold helping to feed or school children in developing countries.

Many Australian researchers are already doing knowledge mobilization. Some are working closely with non-academic partners throughout the research process. Some are seeking to connect the outputs of their research to decision makers. None of them had either the frameworks or the literature to describe their work. Much of my time with research projects was sharing ideas and literature to help them describe their work in grant applications…something York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit does and has helped to attract over $33M in research funding for researchers and partners over the last 7 years.

So lots of interest and good will in Australia. Good on ya, mate! But what seemed to be wholly missing from the Australian context was the understanding that there is an entire science backing the practice of KMb/KT. There appears to be a globally developed practice of technology transfer with some but little formal scholarship to support this practice. For KMb/KT it is the opposite. There is lots of scholarship but compared to ubiquitous institutional investments in university technology transfer there appears to be very little institutional KMb/KT practice that is informed by KMb/KT scholarship.

See Knowledge Hypocrites for more on this.

Australia has kangaroos, quokkas, koalas and amazing sunsets. It also has a great appetite for knowledge mobilization. And Canada is happy to help. Give us a call…anytime. We’re only 35 hours travel from Toronto to Perth!

For more on extension as one “flavour” of knowledge mobilization please see: Ward, D. & Stone, K. (1992) Serving the state: the Wisconsin Idea revisited. Educational Record, 73 (2), 12-16.

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