Which Comes First – Knowledge or Mobilization? / L’œuf ou la poule – la connaissance ou la mobilisation ?

David Phipps, RIR – York

David Phipps (RIR-York) had eggs for breakfast. He thought about that old paradox of chickens and eggs and mused about knowledge and mobilization. It might have taken over 2000 years to answer for chickens and eggs but the answer for knowledge and mobilization is more simple… it depends!

David Phipps (RIR-York) a mangé des œufs au déjeuner. Il a songé au vieux dilemme de l’œuf et de la poule ainsi qu’aux connaissances et à leur mobilisation. Cela a peut-être pris 2000 ans afin de répondre à la question de l’œuf ou de la poule, mais dans le cas des connaissances et de la mobilisation, la réponse est plus simple… cela dépend !

Which came first, the chicken or the egg is a questions dating back to Aristotle (384 BC) and the Greek historian, Mestrius Plutarchus born 46 AD (remember, Google is your friend).  The good people at The Guardian answered this in 2006 but it inspires me to wonder what comes first – knowledge or mobilization?

The answer is it depends (which is the answer to most things).

In a knowledge transfer, translation or exchange paradigm (and here I am using the terms specifically, not generically as they are often used) the knowledge has to come first and then it is mobilized. Academic knowledge is “translated” into a policy brief or a ResearchSnapshot clear language research summary.  The academic researcher might become connected to a decision maker and the knowledge “transferred” to them (a common practice in technology transfer that uses patents as one tool to transfer knowledge from the academic researcher to industry). There may be some knowledge exchange event where academic knowledge and non-academic expertise work together to translate and then transfer the knowledge one to the other… but the knowledge still came first. In these paradigms the knowledge brokers are working with existing knowledge and making it accessible to decision makers.

The exception to this is the example of sponsored research.  Bringing a decision maker’s knowledge needs together with academic research capacity is an example of mobilization. In this example the decision maker pays the academic to generate new knowledge that is then translated and/or transferred to the decision maker sponsor. This is one of the methods used by Research Into Action and Centre for Research in Families and Relationships. But…if the contracted academics do not produce new, original research but synthesize existing data sets and academic literature into an answer for the decision maker’s needs then the knowledge does come before the mobilization. For more on sponsored research and whether you are a consultant or a knowledge broker see a previous blog from January 28, 2011.

However, the situation is reversed in a co-production paradigm. When researchers and decision makers collaborate to generate new knowledge that has the potential for both academic and non-academic impact then the mobilization must come first. Knowledge brokers such as those in the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche network broker relationships instead of knowledge and seek to develop collaborations between researchers and decision makers. It is through these collaborations that new knowledge is created. Therefore the mobilization (the connecting of the researcher to decision maker) comes first and the knowledge is a product of that collaboration. And we know from the literature that co-created knowledge has a greater chance of informing decisions. Michelle Gagnon summarized the literature saying, “involving knowledge users such as partners in the research process is a strong predictor that research findings will be used and that the research endeavor will achieve a greater impact (Knowledge Dissemination and Exchange of Knowledge, in Knowledge Translation in Health Care, eds. S. Strauss, J. Tetroe, I.D. Graham, Wiley Blackwell, Chichester, UK, 2009, p. 240).

So the answer is “it depends”, but in a co-production paradigm the mobilization comes first. But is that all?  Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog where I will discuss what is more important – knowledge or mobilization?

Oh yes… and about the chicken and the egg?  It was the egg, according to The Guardian.