Knowledge Hypocrites / Les hypocrites de la connaissance

By David Phipps (RIR-York; @researchimpact)

We are all knowledge hypocrites.  Neither researchers nor knowledge brokers practice what we preach. David Phipps (RIR-York) reflects on why this is and cites examples from RIR’s work to illustrate some early attempts to effect change.

Nous sommes tous des hypocrites de la connaissance. Ni les chercheurs, ni les courtiers de connaissances ne pratiquent ce qu’ils prêchent. David Phipps (RIR-York) réfléchit sur les causes et donne des exemples issus du travail du RIR pour illustrer les tentatives entreprises pour changer cet état de fait.

Many of us working in knowledge mobilization are hypocrites. I am a knowledge hypocrite. You are likely one as well.

I have previously blogged about the need for knowledge brokers to base their practice on evidence from research. I also charged KMb researchers to connect their research to KMb practitioners. I was recently speaking to a couple of researchers from KT Canada and raised this with them.  I told them that most of the KT Canada research is not helpful to KMb practice. Many KT Canada researchers produce single studies with little systematic reviews to provide actionable messages to knowledge brokers. Although all KMb/KT researchers advocate that research should be made accessible to practitioners, KT Canada researchers rarely do (an exception being John Lavis’ group at McMaster who create user friendly summaries of their systematic reviews). I compared much KT scholarship to grains of sand. Important in their own right but as a knowledge broker I need to know what the beach looks like not understand every grain of sand.

KT researchers do not practice what they preach.

But just so we share this responsibility equally, most knowledge brokers are similarly hypocritical. We advocate for the use of research to inform practice but we don’t pursue KMb/KT research to inform our own practice. We advocate that using research needs to be part of an organization’s culture. Employers need to create incentives and time to engage in research.  At RIR-York we always try to set aside one day per month to engage with the literature.  With our busy schedules it is always the first day to be co-opted for operational purposes.

Most knowledge brokers do not practice what we preach either. There are a few of problems that underpin this hypocrisy.

1) KT researchers in health consider health service providers and policy makers as their audience.  KMb researchers in education consider teachers, school boards and policy makers as their audience. But knowledge brokers are also audiences for all KT/KMb research. At RIR-York we try to make some KMb/KT research accessible to brokers through the on line KMb journal club. Posting one broker interpretation of scholarly researcher each month, the five journal club posts have received over 2250 views. This illustrates that there is an appetite for broker accessible versions of scholarly research.

2) There are few venues for knowledge brokers and KMb/KT researchers to interact; therefore, we rarely do. One exception is the upcoming Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum in Ottawa June 19-20. The conference theme is “bringing the art and science of KMb together”. In my keynote address I shall be challenging the audience to bring KMb science and KMb practice together in an evidence informed way (evidence informed practice and practice informed evidence).

3) Knowledge brokers do not see themselves as researchers, even in a participatory sense. Knowledge brokers have a lot of practice based knowledge to share. We make videos and blogs and tweet and that’s all critical but it doesn’t capture the attention of university based researchers who privilege peer review as their only currency. Taking lessons learned from our community based researcher colleagues we need to think of practice based research in a participatory fashion and collaborate with KMb/KT scholars to develop research evidence that is useful to our practice. Check out RIR-York’s peer reviewed publications posted in York’s institutional repository, and yes, we are developing ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries of these papers such as the one produced on our 2009 Evidence & Policy article.

We remain knowledge hypocrites. Until researchers receive time and incentives for making their research broadly accessible and knowledge brokers receive time and incentives for accessing that research we shall remain hypocritical.  Well-meaning indeed, but hypocritical. The system won’t change overnight but it won’t change at all if we don’t start to seek out KMb/KT researcher/practitioner collaborations.