Work Harder to be More Effective / Travailler plus fort pour être plus efficace

David Phipps, RIR-York

Knowledge mobilization is harder than translation or transfer or even exchange. But it is more effective. Yet we continue to invest so much effort in less effective strategies to promote research utilization.

La mobilisation des connaissances est plus difficile que l’adaptation ou même l’échange de connaissances. Mais elle est plus efficace. Pourtant, nous continuons à investir d’important efforts dans des stratégies moins efficaces visant à promouvoir l’utilisation des connaissances.

I continue to read about researchers who lament how difficult it is to get their research implemented by decision makers. For example, one post and another post on GDNet. But these are just two of many examples of knowledge translation where researchers try to package their research in new forms. A leading university recently lamented to me that they need to find a way to get their research papers more widely disseminated in a form that policy makers will use – see our ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries as one solution, but one that we use to help support collaboration, not knowledge translation. Knowledge mobilization is frequently misunderstood as dissemination or research communications on steroids. But it’s more than that.

ResearchSnapshot logo

The problem isn’t that decision makers aren’t receiving the information. They receive too much information. Perhaps all we need to do is present it in context and then they will understand the importance of the research. So we construct knowledge exchange events where research is provided to decision makers in a forum where they can engage more actively with the researchers. But you can’t change people in one event. Knowledge mobilization is frequently misunderstood as knowledge transfer and exchange where knowledge moves between the research producers to the research uses. But it’s more than that.

More than translation, transfer or exchange, knowledge mobilization helps support research collaborations and co-production of knowledge where researchers and decision maker partners jointly produce knowledge that is relevant to the academy as well as to real world problems. There is lots of literature on co-production being the most robust form of knowledge mobilization. See a knowledge mobilization journal club post on this topic.  Furthermore, knowledge mobilization is not challenged by attribution which is an issue in knowledge translation, translation and exchange.

So if the evidence shows that co-production is the most effective way of using research to inform decision making why do researchers who advocate for evidence based decision making fail to base their own decisions on the evidence? A few reasons:

  1. We are knowledge hypocrites. It’s time to practice what we preach.
  2. Funders reinforce the power structure between the campus and the community by providing funding to academic researchers and not community partners. Recent efforts by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada through their Connections program are starting to address this.
  3. It’s the easy thing to do. It operates within existing academic paradigms. It reinforces the artificial dichotomy of “researcher” and “decision maker” and it doesn’t make them work any differently.
  4. It is also easy because it propagates traditional notions of scholarship and what counts as knowledge. Our institutions don’t help by continuing with centuries old notions of tenure that are only now being challenged by groups such as the consortium on Engaged Scholarship, of which many ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche universities are members.

Bottom line: transfer, translation and exchange are easy compared to mobilization. Telling someone what they need to know is easier than working with them to help co-discover what you both need to know.

Knowledge mobilization is harder but more effective. It is also way more fun.

Hard Work Sign


There really are no new ideas / Il n’y a vraiment pas de nouvelles idées

By David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York)

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) is new but it is founded on established practices of knowledge brokering: linking researchers and decision makers who can co-produce knowledge and information to inform decisions about public policy and professional practice. The idea might not be new but we are implementing it in new ways.

Le réseau Impact Recherche est nouveau, mais est fondé sur des pratiques éprouvées en courtage de connaissances : mettre en lien des chercheurs et des décideurs qui peuvent co-produire des connaissances et de l’information pour éclairer les décisions en matière de politiques publiques et de pratiques professionnelles. Cette idée n’est peut-être pas nouvelle, mais nous la mettons en œuvre d’une façon novatrice.

I was in London, UK recently and I saw “Blood Brothers“, a story of twins separated at birth. It’s not a new story. This archetypal storyline was seen in The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, the film Start the Revolution Without Me and The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas. As much as I enjoyed the show I realized there really are no new ideas (did you notice that Avatar was just Dances with Wolves in space?).

The next morning I came across an article titled Using Knowledge Brokering to Promote Evidence-Based Policy-Making: The Need for Support Structures by Jessika van Kammen, Don de Savigny and Nelson Sewankambo. The article examined two case studies of knowledge brokering, one from the Netherlands and one from The Regional East-African Community Health (REACH)-Policy Initiative. The article concludes that knowledge brokering functions organize “the interactive process between the producers and users of knowledge so that they can co-produce feasible and research-informed policy options” (does this sound familiar?). This article was published in 2006 which means the work was probably done in 2004-2005 before RIR was anything more than a bright idea. The article also summarizes these functions which I reproduce below and align them with the brokering roles we provide at RIR-York. Continue reading

The View from Here – KMb as an ecosystem

I just returned from 5 sunny days in Banff. While there, I enjoyed amazing weather and wonderful sights. I went up the Banff Gondola cable ride to the top of Sulpher Mountain. From the top I looked down on the town of Banff, the TransCanada Highway, the Banff Springs Hotel, The Banff Centre for the Arts, the Banff Golf Club, The Parks Canada Museum, as well as skiing on distant mountains and so much more. All of these make Banff a draw for tourists from all over the world. Banff is not a single attraction. It is a synergistic system of tourist attractions each of which benefit from the active participation of all the sites in the Banff tourist ecosystem.

Similarly – and here’s the KMb hook – knowledge mobilization is not a single event or process. ResearchImpact defines KMb as a suite of services that encompasses methods of producer push, user pull, knowledge exchange and co-production. When developing a KMb strategy for a research project, ResearchImpact recommends developing techniques that practice all four of these methods (see table below). While any one of these methods would provide some degree of knowledge transfer or exchange, when practiced together in a system of KMb, they collectively contribute to enhanced knowledge mobilization.

KMb Method KMb Activity Notes
Producer Push Clear language research summaries Develop clear language research summaries from selected research
Lunch and Learn Seminar series at policy/practice receptor sites: one hour lunch seminars, topic identified by decision maker
User Pull Research Translation Help Desk Use knowledge broker model to assist decision maker partners identify, develop and sustain collaborations with researchers
Knowledge Exchange KM in AM Monthly KMb in AM, topic identified by decision maker; co-present researcher + decision maker
Research Forums Modeled on KMb Expo
Co-production Social media to support collaboration Implement, support and train researchers, graduate students and decision maker partners in use of social media; create a sub-community of
KMb Interns KMb Interns drawn from graduate students of climate change researchers

For example, a research collaboration (co-production) between a researcher and a decision maker is facilitated if they met at a knowledge exchange event that occurred after the decision makers received a clear language ResearchSnapshot (knowledge transfer, producer push) in response to a request for research to the research translation help desk (knowledge transfer, user pull). These KMb methods work synergistically to enhance transparency and trust between researcher and decision maker to greater extent possible than using each KMb method on its own.

ResearchImpact is unique in the KMb landscape. We provide a system of KMb services to support a variety of nascent and established research and KMb projects. We are privileged to hold this view from the top yet we prefer not to look down upon but to have an overview of a large portfolio of engaged research projects such as those we have previously blogged about including Mobilizing Minds and Homeless Hub. As you seek to support KMb activities remember to create a KMb ecosystem and explore a diversity of synergistic KMb services. To illustrate different KMb services and methods, ResearchImpact will be rolling out a series titled KMb in Action. Check after our presentations to Congress where we shall be launching KMb in Action as well as other web-based innovations.

Just Remember that ResearchImpact is here to guide you so that you are never lost in the KMb wilderness.