upStream Open House – Getting Fresh in York Region / Soirée porte ouverte d’upStream : fraîcheur garantie pour la région de York

Michael Johnny, RIR-York

York Region Food Network is addressing the issue of food security through an interesting and innovative project. Through collaborative partnerships and a grant from the Ontario Centres of Excellence, upStream Aquaponics has been launched to pilot sustainable and healthy food development throughout the year.

Le réseau alimentaire de la région de York (York Region Food Network) aborde le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire par un moyen original et innovant. Grâce à des partenariats et des collaborations, et avec une bourse des Centres d’excellence de l’Ontario, upStream Aquaponics a entrepris de guider, au cours de l’année qui vient, le développement durable de l’offre d’aliments sains.

AquaponicsYork KMb had the pleasure of attending an Open House for a project led by the York Region Food Network (YRFN) which has realized development of an aquaponics lab – an urban agriculture innovation hub.  This facility is located in Newmarket, ON, steps away from the GO train station in Newmarket.   Approximately 30 people attended to learn more about the aquaponics lab and to tour the facilities.  YRFN Executive Director Joan Stonehocker addressed the crowd in attendance, identifying that this experiment is an important step for YRFN and the local community to address sustainable food development, healthy eating and food security for neighboring communities.

The KMb Unit at York University was approached by YRFN to partner in support of a research and development opportunity for their successful Ontario Centres of Excellence application, which provided direct funding support for the development of the aquaponics lab.  According to YRFN, the lab is producing 800 heads of lettuce each month and almost 150 tilapia.  Food is distributed through the Good Food Box program to underprivileged residents in the community, local restaurants as well as through an emerging retail operation.

With food insecurity identified by YRFN and United Way York Region as a community priority, KMb is a proud partner of this project and is seeking engagement from interested researchers on an ongoing basis.  Efficacy, economic, health and environmental themes are all prevalent in the development of an aquaponics lab.  Our office was also proud to support an event on Friday April 4, which YRFN hosted around Food Waste.  York graduate students and researchers from the University of Guelph participated in the presentations and workshops that were aimed to promote education, awareness and an action agenda around food security and food waste management in York Region.

KMb engages in a wide range of activities bridging and enabling research to help inform public policy and professional practice.  Based on the samples I was able to consume following the Open House, YRFN and their upStream project are well positioned to have a significant and positive impact on communities in York Region.  Add a nice balsamic vinaigrette and we’re taking KMb to the next level!

Aquaponic Lettuce

communityBUILD / BÂTIR ensemble

David Phipps, RIR-York

CommunityBUILD is a unique partnership between community, business and the university that is creating a system of supports for social enterprise in York Region. Combining the assets of different sectors creates opportunities that none could support working alone.

BÂTIR ensemble est un partenariat unique entre la communauté, le monde des affaires et l’Université. Son objectif est de créer un réseau de soutien et d’appui aux entreprises d’économie sociale de la région d’York. En alliant leurs atouts, les trois secteurs ouvrent des possibilités qui ne s’offrent pas à chacun d’eux pris isolément.

build: construct (something) by putting parts or material together (Oxford English Dictionary)

BUILD: a program of ventureLAB “designed to support entrepreneurs of technology ventures – especially first time entrepreneurs.” (http://bit.ly/1pKUsW6)

communityBUILD: a program of ventureLAB (VL), United Way York Region (UWYR) and York University designed to create a system of supports for social enterprise in York Region.

This past week communityBUILD ran the first Mash Up. Mash Up sought to identify new ideas to address to grand challenges in York Region: youth employment and food security.

Jeremy O'Krafka, Mentor Network

Jeremy O’Krafka, Mentor Network

An open call was made for innovators and their supporters to submit ideas that addressed one or both of these grand challenges. Twenty nine ideas were submitted. Nine were selected to come to the Mash Up. Within 45 minutes of the first day these were down to four: one addressing food security, one addressing youth employment and two of them addressing both.

Over two days of Mash Up and one day of work the four teams of between three to six team members worked with mentors from VL, UWYR and York to develop their ideas. These four ideas were then pitched to a panel of social entrepreneurs and community builders. Each had the chance to secure $5,000 of consulting services, become a VL client and receive VL mentoring.

  • Upstream New Gardens Initiative is a project of York Region Food Network that sought to build on its existing hydroponics facility and use sale of hydroponic lettuce to fund Jeremy O’Krafka, Mentor Networkfood awareness programs.
  • Mentor Network seeks to match youth job seekers with experienced mentors who will use their own networks to help make a match between youth and the 80% of jobs that are never advertised through traditional recruitment methods such as job fairs. Mentor Network will pilot with Seneca College students.
  • Hon’r Snacks places healthy food snack towers in offices and proposes to use youth from the NEET (not in employment, education, training) group to stock the towers.
  • Cultivating Opportunities builds on the established therapeutic connection between nature and young people living with mental illness and addictions to provide farmers with steady employees. Youth with lived experience of mental illness and addictions will work on the farm and be paid in vegetables that they can then sell as healthy food baskets in farmers markets or to office workers.

From a one minute pitch on Monday morning to a 10 minute presentation on Thursday all four groups successfully went on a journey with their mentors through the Lean Start Up and the Business Model Canvass.

Keys to success of the Mash Up were:

  • A clear call for projects addressing critical issues important to York Region
  • A well structured journey
  • Mentors to guide along the journey so that teams were actively supported every step along the way
  • Experienced judges to provide critical feedback
  • A pool of talent in York Region and the GTA open to growth and opportunity
  • Three partners each bringing unique assets to the table

communityBUILD is a partnership between the academic, community and business sectors. It is not a campus centric incubator. It is not charity. It combines the power of lived experience in community with the discipline of business with the perspective of academia. Each partner contributes unique assets that combine in complementary ways to create a system of supports for social enterprise. The Mash Up is the first roll out of communityBUILD that has already helped four new ideas move toward implementation. They aren’t social enterprises yet but they have started on a path that will support their early exploration.

Neither VL, UWYR nor YorkU have a mandate to support social enterprise. Only by working together and combining their assets could a regional system of supports for social enterprise be developed that promises to grow from the Mash Up into a new player in the social and economic infrastructure of York Region.

See coverage of communityBUILD in the Toronto Star.

 

Commnuity BUILD - Mashing Up at the Markham Convergence Centre

Community BUILD – Mashing Up at the Markham Convergence Centre

 

Imagining Canada’s Future: Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council invites you to look at vital questions impacting Canadians over the next 5, 10 and 20 years…

TundraQuestion: “What knowledge do we need to thrive in an interconnected landscape and how can emerging technology help leverage that goal and its benefits?”

Answer: We need Information and Communication Technologies solutions for Canada’s arctic to mobilize its cultural resources for community development

JOIN US for an in-depth interactive presentation

THURSDAY MARCH 20, 6-8pm

@ MaRS 101 College Street, Toronto

York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit Manager, Michael Johnny, will introduce members of the Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage research team:  led by Dr. Anna Hudson; with co-investigator, Prof. Angela Norwood; doctoral candidate, Erin Yunes; and Industry Partner, IsumaTV, represented by Gabriela Gámez and John Hodgins

RSVP here Light refreshments will be served

A Knowledge Broker’s Perspective on Research / Recherche : le point de vue d’un courtier de connaissances

Michael Johnny, RIR-YorkU

This story was originally posted on the Mitacs website on Janaury 24, 2014 and is reposted here with permission.

Ce récit a été publié la première fois sur le site Mitacs, le 24 janvier 2014. Il est repris ici avec permission.

Michael Johnny

Michael Johnny

I have a unique and enjoyable role at York University as a knowledge broker.  My role is to connect York researchers with community, industry and government for collaborative research on complex social issues, which fits well with the type of work Mitacs does.  Knowledge mobilization is a key way to make the work done at universities relevant to greater society by helping shape policies and practices and by driving technological development through academic and industry collaborations.

There are three fundamental aspects of knowledge mobilization which I feel are important:

1. Co-produced knowledge is the most effective form of knowledge mobilization

Simply put, collaborative research projects provide the best environment for research utilization.  York’s David Phipps has introduced this previously and our work to support graduate student internships has reinforced this.  Bringing together researchers with decision makers at the start of the research cycle creates a clear and common research agenda, to maximize the benefits of outcomes.  There are two examples based on internships which we like to share with people that reinforce this point, one around youth homelessness and the other about green economic development.

2. Benefits of the research can take time

Since 2006, York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit has helped support almost 400 unique collaborative activities and projects.  Almost 50 of these have been internships.  This has not only helped students develop new skills and employment opportunities, it has also helped their non-academic partner organizations through research knowledge and access to university facilities. But while collaborative projects sometimes don’t provide impact immediately upon completion, many benefits can be seen longer term.  Impact can take time.

3. Relationships matter

The ability to facilitate a two-way exchange of knowledge, information and expertise relies on a strong relationship between researchers and decision makers.  Graduate student internships are a powerful mechanism to support knowledge mobilization.  Many of our success stories at York are predicated on successful internships.  If you want to embark on a successful internship, make the time to get to know your partner and understand them – their needs, motivations and assets.

Has your company benefitted from knowledge mobilization with a university?  Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Want to learn more about how Mitacs internships are helping to connect Canadian researchers with industry?  Contact a local Mitacs representative.

Sustainability and Institutionalization of Knowledge Brokers / Permanence et présence institutionnelle des courtiers de connaissances

Human Resources word cloudDavid Phipps (RIR-York) recently posted a knowledge mobilization journal club on “Sustainability and institutionalization of knowledge brokers”. The journal club post discusses two research articles. This blog reflects on the leadership of human resources and knowledge mobilization.

David Phipps (RIR-York) vient de publier un billet sur le thème de « la permanence et la présence institutionnelle des courtiers de connaissances », sur la page du cercle de lecture sur la mobilisation des connaissances. Il y passe en revue deux articles de fond. Le blogue lui-même est un lieu de réflexion sur l’influence des ressources humaines et de la mobilisation des connaissances.

The knowledge mobilization journal club made the following reflection:

What these two articles really demonstrate but do not dig into is the lack of leadership and management of knowledge brokers in these two settings. The brokers at U. Edinburgh are (I am guessing) hired by the researchers who hold the grant funds and (I am guessing) have little experience in knowledge mobilization and knowledge brokering. Effective leadership and management would address a number of the issues identified by the knowledge brokers. Effective leadership and management would:

  • work with HR to clarify roles and ensure that compensation is aligned
  • provide opportunities for training
  • support mentorship and peer networks
  • ensure that evaluation and assessment were aligned with clarity of roles and supported by training and mentoring
  • hire the right people for the right roles

I thought we should check into how we’re doing this at York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit:

  • work with HR to clarify roles and ensure that compensation is aligned
    • We recently (2013) reviewed and updated the job description for the Manager, Knowledge Mobilization (Michael Johnny) and in 2012 we recruited the Knowledge Mobilization Officer (Krista Jensen) into a new unionized position. These roles were rated and banded in accordance with university policies. They are centralized research support services in the Office of Research Services under the Vice-President Research & Innovation. It is important to keep job descriptions current to embrace scope creep and remove redundant tasks.
  • support mentorship and peer networks
    • We have tried to develop a Peer to Peer Network on campus but it has never taken off. It’s not that anyone thinks this is a bad idea but with everyone’s busy schedule it never seems to make it to the top of the priority list. The RIR brokers have an active peer network.
  • ensure that evaluation and assessment were aligned with clarity of roles and supported by training and mentoring
    • We can do better here. Michael is evaluated on outcomes and accomplishments but we have yet to create an environment where he has time, incentives and rewards for engaging in the literature and evidence on knowledge mobilization.
  • hire the right people for the right roles
    • I think we have- both Michael and Krista have a combination of academic and non-profit experience. We have recently hired Anneliese Poetz (KT Manager) and Elle Seymore (KT Coordinator) for NeuroDevNet again with combinations of academic and non-academic expertise. We also work closely with Jane Wedlock, Knowledge Mobilization Officer for United Way York Region who was hired in 2011 to work on joint projects between UWYR and York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit. Jane brings deep experience in community engagement.

It is important to realize we have taken seven years to get here. In the early years Michael Johnny suffered from role ambiguity as we built the role together. Until his position was made permanent in 2009 he was in a limited term contract. We had few role models (thank you Harris Centre and Cupp) and no local expertise to build on. Training was on the job and professional development was non-existent. But seven years on we have a leadership team (Vice-President as Executive Lead, Executive Director and Knowledge Mobilization Manager) that is committed to providing a challenging environment where it is possible to achieve success in knowledge mobilization.

As I reflected in a related post for the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization, “Leadership in knowledge mobilization has less to do with the practice of knowledge mobilization and more with the ‘business’ of knowledge mobilization.” Managing human resources is at the centre of the work of any knowledge mobilization operation. Without happy and hard working knowledge brokers there is no ‘business’ of knowledge mobilization.

Merry Mobilizing from the KMb Unit at York!

Merry Mobilizing picture

Merry Mobilizing from the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University!

From left to right:

Stacey Kimmett, Research Translation Assistant, NeuroDevNet KT Core

Elle Seymour, KT Coordinator,  NeuroDevNet KT Core

Michael Johnny, Manager, Knowledge Mobilization

Paula Elias, Research Translation Assistant,  NeuroDevNet KT Core

Anneliese Poetz, Manager,  NeuroDevNet KT Core

Christina Ransom, Data & Communications Assistant

Hilda Smith, Research Translation Assistant,  NeuroDevNet KT Core

David Phipps, Executive Director, Research & Innovation Services

Krista Jensen, Knowledge Mobilization Officer

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.

Maximizing the Benefits of Research / Maximiser les bénéfices de la recherche

David Phipps, RIR-York

While busy brokering and building capacity for knowledge mobilization York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit has also been publishing peer reviewed articles on their practice. These 10 publications (and more are on their way) are posted in the Knowledge Mobilization community of York’s institutional repository.  This new monthly post will feature a different article and the accompanying ResearchSnapshot clear language research summary.

Tout en travaillant au courtage des connaissances et au renforcement des capacités de mobilisation, le service de MdC de York a publié, dans des revues avec comité de lecture, des articles portant sur ses pratiques. Ces dix publications (d’autres suivront bientôt) sont accessibles à partir de la page thématique de la MdC, dans les archives informatiques de York. Cette nouvelle parution mensuelle sera composée d’un article accompagné de sa capsule “FlashRecherche” – un résumé vulgarisé des travaux présentés.

ResearchSnapshot logo

 

Maximizing the benefits of research 

What you need to know. When research is easier to access, it supports closer collaboration between the different groups that are affected by it. Universities, communities, government agencies and businesses can improve their collaboration with other sectors to apply research findings to real world problems and maximize the impacts of research.

What is the research about?  Knowledge mobilization (KMb) and social innovation gets university research into the hands of policy makers, businesses, and community groups. These stakeholders increase the social, economic and environmental impacts of research by using it to improve the wellbeing of people and our planet. Thus, research must speak to different industries and communities to see its effect on the social economy. A stronger social economy can emerge if we work together, finish projects, join knowledge, and set goals. This study explains the relationship between people doing research, people who need that research, and its relevance to society. KMb and social innovation finds ways to collaborate and communicate it to make the world a better place.

What did the researchers do? The authors studied literature and practices in universities, community groups, and the government. They wanted to see how effectively research was being used after it was completed. They reviewed social innovation trends and suggested ways to make research easier to access and understand for these stakeholders.

What did the researchers find? A brief description of research findings allows interested stakeholders to recognize and access the full report quickly. Social Innovation can thrive when we share our research findings and open up communication between different sectors. Knowledge brokers play an important role in KMb. They help stakeholders in different sectors connect with research to improve its impact. The authors also suggested ways to improve communication and collaboration among government agencies, universities, and community groups. These included:

  • Improve KMb strategies to strengthen the impact of research and social innovation;
  • Develop sustained funding programs to help researchers and their community partners collaborate more effectively;
  • Open and increase communication among government, community groups, businesses and researchers;
  • Train and create a community of KMb and social innovation leaders and practitioners and stay connected.

How can you use this research? Businesses may use this research to improve innovation and social enterprise through access to research. Policy makers may consider developing a strategy to improve relations with universities through KMb. Academic researchers may also use this work to leverage investment in their research and maximize social innovation through their findings. Community groups can access research easily and use it to improve current and future programs and services. Community-based research also becomes more accessible to different universities when partnered with universities through KMb.

About the Researchers:  David Phipps is Executive Director, Research & Innovation Services at York University. Naomi Nichols is a Research Associate for York University and the Canadian Homelessness Research Network. Johanne Provençal is the Acting Director, Strategic Initiatives, Office of the Vice President Research Innovation at the University of Toronto. Allyson Hewitt is the Director of Social Entrepreneurship and Advisor of Social Innovation for SIG@MaRS Discovery District located in Toronto, Ontario.

Reference: Nichols, N., Phipps, D., Provencal, J., Hewitt, A. (2013) Knowledge mobilization, collaboration, and social innovation: Leveraging investments in higher education. Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research, 4(1): 25-42.

The full article is available online here.

Fall 2013 York KMb Learning Events / Les activités d’apprentissage offertes par York MdC en automne 2013

York KMb is offering sessions for researchers, staff and graduate students to help make their research relevant to professional practice and policy development.

York MdC offre des séances de formation à l’attention des professeurs, du personnel et des étudiants gradués afin de les aider à accroître la pertinence de leurs recherches sur le plan de la pratique professionnelle et du développement de politiques.

For Fall 2013, the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York will be offering the following learning sessions:

Social Media

Social Media for Research 101 – This lunch hour session will provide an overview of social media tools and their relevance to collaborative research projects. September 9 noon-1:00; November 12 noon-1:00 Register now!

Social Media for Research 201 – This session will provide more detailed information on the strategies and tools for social media tools and their relevance to collaborative research projects, such as analytics and partnering strategies. October 9 9:30-noon Register now!

Social Media Strategy Building  – Want to start using social media tools but don’t want to fall victim to “shiny object syndrome”? This hands on session will focus on getting a plan together and planning steps to implement it. September 16 9:30-noon; November 18 9:30-noon Register now!

Facebook – Join us for this hands on session and learn how to set up a facebook page for your KMb efforts, and keep it separate from your personal account. October 3 1:30-4:00 Register now!

Twitter – A 2.5 hour hands-on session where Twitter is introduced within a research context. Participants can set up an account and learn about practical applications for their research. October 30 1:30-4:00 Register now!

O3 – O3 is an online collaborative tool for available free to researchers, which can facilitate effective and efficient collaboration (without flooding your email inbox!) November 27 9:30-noon Register now!

WordPress – Blogging is emerging as a popular medium to share information and express ideas. Researchers are finding interesting uses for blogs to complement their scholarship. Join us and learn what blogging can do to enhance your KMb efforts. September 24 1:30-4:00 Register now!

Knowledge Mobilization

Effective Community Engagement – What are successful practices in engaging community around research? What needs to be considered to effectively engage, build relationships and strong partnerships outside of the university? This 2.5 hour workshop will introduce values, examples of good practices and allow for dialogue to enhance your engagement efforts. September 19 1:30-4:00 Register now!

Good Practices in KMb – Learn from examples at York U and across Canada. What practices seem to work effectively? How can we determine effectiveness? How can I connect need to practice? This 2.5 hour workshop will engage participants in the context of their own research projects. November 20 1:30-4:00 Register now!

KMb and Communications – What are the intersections and where do these two diverge? This 2.5 hour session will introduce you to knowledge mobilization; explore the relationships between the two and share examples on how they can complement one another and how they are unique. October 8 9:30-noon; November 28 9:30-noon Register now!

KMb Strategy Building – Granting councils are asking more and more for research teams to identify their KMb strategy. In this hands on session, learn about strategic elements, create a draft strategy for your project, and tips on how to present your strategy. September 10 9:30-noon; October 10 1:30-4:00 Register now!

Clear Language Writing and Design – Sessions designed to introduce the principles and practical tips on writing for the reader, including diverse audiences. October 25 9:00-noon Register now!

To register for any of the sessions, please visit http://bit.ly/1fjASJn or contact Krista Jensen, KMb Officer, at kejensen@yorku.ca or 416-736-2100 ext 88847

I’m a researcher, why do I blog? / Je suis un chercheur, qu’est-ce que je fais ici à bloguer?

Will Gage, Associate Dean, Research & Innovation, Faculty of Health, York University

This week’s blog post is a guest post from Dr. Will Gage. Dr. Gage is the Associate Dean, Research & Innovation in the Faculty of Health at York University the owner of the blog Don’t Fall, which shares on falls prevention research and expertise.

Le billet de cette semaine est signé par un blogueur invité, le docteur Will Gage. M. Gage est vice-doyen à la recherche et à l’innovation à la Faculté des soins de santé de l’Université York. Son cybercarnet intitulé Don’t Fall aborde des questions de recherche et d’expertise dans le domaine de la prévention des chutes.

Dr. Will Gage

Dr. Will Gage

Six months ago I really didn’t even know what “blogging” was. I’d never read a blog. I knew only one person who blogged – my friend Matt, a photographer who was taking pictures of and writing about the Grand River in Kitchener-Waterloo. I recall from last summer a conversation with Matt about social media. What is this? Why do you “tweet”? Isn’t this a waste of time? He looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t understand, I didn’t get social media, and from my perspective he was the crazy one. How things for me have changed.

Almost two years ago, I took up my current academic appointment as Associate Dean Research and Innovation in the Faculty of Health at York University. At that time I set about trying to have conversations with people across campus, about innovation. I’m a researcher myself, so the “research” part of the title was self-evident. But innovation, this was going to be a challenge. In my conversations, and in my reading on the topic (as any academic would, I attempted to gain a theoretical mastery of the topic while garnering no actual practical ability), I quickly realized that no two people had the same definition of “innovation”. Then I realized that no two industries seem to have the same definition of innovation. But this is a topic of conversation for another day. In these conversations and readings I kept coming across “social media” as an opportunity for academics to share the gospel of their research. Is that how researchers see their work? As gospel? So it was time for me to learn more. Maybe I was the crazy one, not Matt.

David and Michael really introduced me to the idea of academics blogging about their work for the sake of knowledge mobilization. They opened my eyes to the possibilities afforded by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress. I realized that this is innovation, at least by one definition of innovation. Academics can tell the story of their research and share their knowledge with everyone. Okay, it can be done. But why would anyone do this? People are more often than we’d like to believe guided by WIIFM – what’s in it for me? I don’t believe that the answer is self-evident to most researchers. But having said that, the research funding agencies want to know that we can, and do, translate our knowledge and disseminate it for public consumption, so maybe at the very least writing a blog helps a researcher to hone those lesser used skills around lay writing. But in my opinion this is not a compelling reason to write a blog.

I believe that a more compelling reason to write a blog is money. The Benjamins. (Do we Canadians say “The Bordens”? I’ve never heard that phrase used in bank heist movie). Not personal wealth, though that’s not off the table. No, I’m talking about research funding. I’m talking a little bit about peer-reviewed research funding – the Tri-councils and so on – but I’m mostly talking about donor funding. This is a conversation that I’m having with the Advancement Officer in Faculty of Health – can the stories that I’m writing on my blog be useful for informing potential donors about the value of my work, and the work of my colleagues in the field, such that it might make it easier to separate the donor from their dollars?

Dontfall.caWhat I’m writing on my blog are indeed stories. If I’m writing about knee replacement surgery and how the patient demographics are shifting and patients are getting younger and younger around the world (this is actually the topic of the blog post that I’m writing currently), well this can be intensely personal for the reader with severe knee arthritis who thinks she’ll have to live for the next 15 years with excruciating pain because she’s only 50 years right now. Who doesn’t know an older person who has fallen in the past year? If you have anyone over 65 years of age in your life, you probably do, even if you don’t realize it and they haven’t told you. Can this be an effective means to tell the public about our work? Can the material we write for our blogs prove valuable in the constant campaign to raise funding to support research? I think it can. I’m building a library of accessible material that can be repurposed for any number of reasons, one of which may be fundraising efforts.

I’ve come to learn that there are many reasons to adopt a social media strategy for disseminating your research. Thought-leaders like David and Michael have known this for years, I know. And one at a time, they’re converting people like me. I hope that you can take away from this article some ideas and rationale for dedicating some of your time to, perhaps, blogging about your work.

One last thought … as researchers we’re often confronted with collegial (and sometimes not so collegial) criticism pertaining to our work. My blog audience is grateful for the time I take and effort I devote. Their feedback is amazing. Invigorating. And when it follows on the heels of excoriating reviewer responses to my latest journal submission, it’s reinvigorating.