Re-imagining the ivory tower / Reconcevoir la tour d’ivoire

By David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York)

KMb is enhancing transparency and access to universities but as we work hard at engaging we remain struck in silos inside the ivory tower.

La mobilisation des connaissances accroît la transparence et l’accès aux universités. Toutefois, malgré le travail acharné que nous accomplissons en ce sens, nous demeurons prisonniers des silos à l’intérieur de la tour d’ivoire.

Recently I attended a curling bonspiel in Ottawa and because my team lost as soon as they could I ended up on twitter and saw this @fedcan tweet

Good morning all! We’re live blogging @fedcan‘s annual conference this morning at

The Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences (FedCan) was holding their Annual Conference,  which featured a talk by SSHRC President, Chad Gaffield. The theme of the conference was “The Humanities Paradox: More Relevant and Less Visible Than Ever?” and the title of Chad’s talk was “Re-imagining Scholarship in the Digital Age“, both of which had a theme of exploring the relevance of academic research outside of the academy. Chad’s talk was wide ranging but for anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing Chad speak as many times as I have his observations were familiar. They were all linked by the theme of “re-imagining”, imaging a new paradigm of scholarship that is emerging on campuses across Canada. Specifically, Chad spoke of re-imagining in three areas: teaching, research and campus-community connections.


  • The old “professor push” method of teaching is evolving into a student centred, inquiry based method of learning. Text heavy, power point slides are being replaced by image heavy and digital rich media. Students are exploring problems rather than being told solutions.


  • Researchers are pursing horizontal connections across different ways of knowing. This means that researchers are not only reaching out to other scholarly disciplines but they are embracing community, Aboriginal and other traditions of knowledge. Continue reading

On the building of silos and bridges

I am writing this on vacation – a few days away in Vancouver….rain, rain and more rain…but it’s not home and that’s important. I always try to catch up on some reading while away and this week I read a lengthy paper from the Research and Policy in Development (RAPID) programme at Oversees Development Institute (a UK independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues) and it reminded me of two blogs I had previously posted. In my blog about Sarah Michael’s work on knowledge mobilization for environmental policy and in an unrelated post, I wrote about how we need to use evidence to inform our own KM services. As I read the piece from RAPID I came back to a synthesis of these two previous blogs.

RAPID produced the paper “Knowledge, policy and power: Six dimensions of the knowledge–development policy interface” available here. The paper explored the six key areas of the knowledge–development policy interface including: Types of Knowledge; Political Context; Sectoral Dynamics; Actors; Innovation Frameworks and Knowledge Translation. Three key things I took away from this article:

1- The authors cite Ian Graham’s knowledge generation and translation cycle model. I am continually impressed how Canadians are among global leaders in thinking about and doing knowledge mobilization.

2- The section on Innovation Systems (IS) aligns well with ResearchImpact’s KM philosophy. To summarize:

  • IS emphasizes the supply as well as the demand for knowledge, and the need to strengthen the voice of knowledge users
  • The importance of tacit knowledge
  • The importance of networks and linkages as channels for increasing the uptake of knowledge, and the need to facilitate trust and interaction
  • The need for ‘intermediary functions’

3- The role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to support the work of intermediaries.  “Rather than trying to bring audiences into an organization’s own space, ICTs have enabled them to take its messages to the audience.”  ODI cites use of RSS feeds, video streamed public meeting, Facebook, the production of short research summaries and Wikipedia.  Click on the “Web 2.0” tag cloud on the blog and see what we have written on ICTs and KM.

The work and writing of ODI from the perspective of International Development is evocative of the writing of Sarah Michaels on Environmental Policy. There is convergent evolution of tools and processes for KM regardless of the discipline. Here’s the first issue: SILOS. On October 7, 2009 Jason Guriel wrote in Mobilize This! about KM as a means of breaking down silos. If we continue to read, write and speak in silos we will not maximize learning opportunities to continually improve our own KM services by using evidence from any discipline to inform our own KM practice.

Here’s the next issue: BRIDGES. As ODI writes, intermediaries are critically important in knowledge-policy interface, “Empirical research on intermediaries is urgently needed given the high level of demand for such a brokering role by analysts, policymakers and practitioners alike, as are efforts to assess and share lessons with regard to new approaches to capacity building.” Knowledge brokers such as those developing within the ResearchImpact network and the networks forming amongst York’s KM associated research projects (see here) are intermediaries. We can build bridges between our own silos.

So a charge to all knowledge brokers: you may need to live in a silo for your own professional service delivery but build bridges between the silos.

And a question: who sets the table that allows diverse knowledge brokers to share a meal? Where can the brokers in nursing talk to the brokers in environmental policy? Where can knowledge brokers in mental health sit down with those in international development? Any thoughts? Use the comment feature above to let us know what you think.

P.S. While in Vancouver check out the Pacific Palisades Hotel. It looks like a converted apartment building just off Robson St. so your hotel room is actually an apartment and centrally located. Come to Vancouver and check out the Pacific Palisades and go to the Vancouver Aquarium where you can participate in “sharing knowledge”.

Knowledge Brokers and the Metaphors They Love

The following is a guest blog from Jason Guriel. A Research Assistant in the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University, Jason works to summarize and communicate the results of York research. He is also a PhD Candidate in English at York and has published two collections of poems.

As a graduate student at York University, the Knowledge Mobilization (KM) Unit has provided not just summer work but an opportunity to learn about some of the more policy-relevant research being carried out on campus. But as a PhD candidate in York’s Department of English, my relationship to KM is a bit murkier. Scholars, critics, professors, and graduate students who study literature are not typically engaged in research that is obviously policy relevant or that has much of a direct, material impact on, say, a local community. The same is probably true of academics in other areas, such as the fine arts. KM encompasses a pretty broad suite of services, but what can it offer disciplines like English – disciplines where research, though valuable in and of itself, does not necessarily always aim to have an explicit social use?

SilosWell, one thing KM offers – or, at least, one thing it has offered me – is a better understanding of the nature of collaboration. There’s a lot of chatter, in the world of research, about the need to break through the silos in which academics are often isolated, and to bring these supposed hermits blinking into the light, into contact with others. Of course, the image of the researcher in the silo has become a cliché, and clichés can grate a bit, especially when you study poetry, as I’m fortunate enough to do. (Poetry, see, often tries to avoid clichés in pursuit of some more memorable way to say what amounts to the same old thing.) But when I really think about the cliché of the silo, I can’t help but picture an academic in an actual grain silo, up to his Adam’s apple in sorghum or something. As I picture it, this poor professor (or graduate student, or researcher) is talking and talking, saying important things even though the words remain trapped in the silo, caroming around, echoing uselessly. Outside of the silo, passing pedestrians hear only muffled noises, if they hear anything at all – if they even notice the silo! The silo, I should add, isn’t necessarily the academic’s fault; it may be the result of a discipline’s insularity, or the rigidity of institutional barriers, or any number of roadblocks for which there may be good reasons.

Knowledge brokers would seem to be those folks intent on knocking some holes into the silo – not just to let some beams of light in but also to let some beams of light out: out of the silo and into the community. They don’t want to dismantle the silo per se; they just want to help spread the sorghum. Or something.

SilosSo the silo metaphor, though a little cliché and unwieldy, is not so bad, if you really think about it (and, by doing so, rehabilitate it). And KM people, like poetry people, are always, it seems, thinking in metaphors and analogies and similes. One of the better metaphors sees knowledge brokers as agnostics: in other words, they believe in collaboration but have no firm, orthodox ideas about the form that collaboration should take. Another good one: knowledge brokers are especially imaginative matchmakers. They’re always looking to manufacture novel matches between researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners. They’re open to different, Twister®-like relationships.

Whatever else KM represents – and this may include many things – it surely represents the potential of two-way relationships, the potential to learn from others even as they learn from you, the opportunity not just to mobilize knowledge (like the cliché of the rolling, moss-less stone) but to share knowledge. To engage in activities that are mutually beneficial. To make, I suppose, metaphors. A metaphor, after all, enables us to see one thing in terms of another. It enables a connection.