Systems Approaches to Knowledge Mobilization / Les approches systémiques de la mobilisation des connaissances

David Phipps, RIR – York

York University, on behalf of the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) network, was consulted by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) as they researched organizations who were taking a systems approach to knowledge mobilization. They have allowed us to comment on and post their report in Mobilize This!

L’Université York, en tant que représentante du RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), a été consultée par l’Agence de la santé publique du Canada dans le cadre de leur recherche d’organisations faisant appel à une approche systémique de la mobilisation des connaissances. Il nous a été permis de commenter le rapport et de l’afficher sur Mobilize This!

PHAC Banner

Much knowledge mobilization happens in the context of a single intervention, study or program. But those programs happen in the context of organizations and those organizations in complex systems. In 2007, Sandra Nutley (yes, Sandra again… amazing how so much of her work informs so much of ours!) wrote in Using Evidence, “the evidence that we have about developing effective organisational – and system – level research use strategies, while emerging, is still fairly thin on the ground”. Apparently not much changed when in 2011 Sandra and her colleague Sarah Morton wrote “systems models of research use are [still] the future” (Sarah Morton and Sandra Nutley. 2011. “What happens next? Getting Research into Policy and Practice” in Jamieson, L. Simpson, R. and Lewis, R.(eds) Researching Families and Relationships, Palgrave MacMillan, UK.). My knowledge mobilization journal club post titled “Systems thinking, knowledge and action: towards better models and methods” received 684 views as of December 1, 2012 and in that journal club I cite another paper, Cherney, A. and Head, B. (2011) ‘Supporting the knowledge-to-action process: a systems-thinking approach‘, Evidence & Policy, 7(4): 471-88. So there has been some thinking and writing done on systems level knowledge mobilization and research use.

And now we have one more piece to add to this thinking. The good folks at PHAC recognize that preventing chronic disease is complex and that approaches to addressing chronic disease prevention need to take a systems perspective. To this end they did a scan of nine Canadian, Australian and UK agencies that are incorporating some aspects of systems thinking in knowledge mobilization. York University, on behalf of RIR, was pleased to be part of this scan that interestingly also included the United Way of Greater Toronto.

 The full paper can be found here- Systems Approaches to KMb

 The authors used a framework for solution strategies for complex problems and illustrated 23 solutions strategies with examples from their scan of the nine organizations. They also presented three broad success factors with sub-components and illustrated each of the sub components with examples from their scan.

  • Lessons about conditions and the business model (i.e. context matters) with seven sub-components
  • Lessons about knowledge mobilization activities with five sub-components
  • Lessons about skills with four sub-components

What I liked most about the scan is it reinforced the role of networks and co-production as being common approaches to systems of knowledge mobilization. Knowledge transfer and translation techniques (i.e. making packaged research accessible to decision makers) were not featured in any of the cases. Undoubtedly many of the organizations do actually make research accessible (for example, our ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries); however, these are likely a means used to support networks and not an end in themselves.

Check out the Summary Table presenting all nine cases as they relate to a ten features of complex systems. One interesting observation is that four of the nine had annual budgets over $500,000. RIR-York has a budget of half that but it is wholly dedicated to knowledge mobilization services.

Sandra Nutley and Sarah Morton suggested in 2011 that systems level research use is still in the future. For some of us the future is now.

Thanks to PHAC for allowing us to present this interesting scan on systems level knowledge mobilization.  For more information on this report please contact Kerry Robinson who has kindly given permission to share her contact information.

Kerry Robinson, Ph.D.

Manager, Interventions & Knowledge Mobilization

Interventions and Best Practices Division

Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention

Public Health Agency of Canada   

Getting Back to Basics / Retour aux fondements

By David Phipps (RIR-York)

Inspired by a campfire and a few beers, David Phipps (RIR-York) reflects on Using Evidence and looks back to the future of knowledge mobilization.

Inspiré par un feu de camp et par quelques bières, David Phipps (RIR-York) réfléchit à l’utilisation des données probantes et jette un regard sur l’avenir de la mobilisation des connaissances.

I was camping this weekend. I have been camping with this same group of friends on this same weekend for years so rain or shine we go and have a great time.  We have a great time doing almost nothing for three days.  We sit around a fire.  We play games.  We get caught up with friends we don’t see too often. We read. And we have a couple of beers (okay, more than a couple).  This year it rained. Our tents were damp but nothing could dampen our spirits (thank you Bud Light Lime). Because it was raining, I took some time out to work on a book chapter we have been invited to write for an open access book titled Social Sciences and Humanities – Applications and Theories. Part of the chapter is, of course, a lit review so I have been revisiting some foundational KMb literature.  

After a lovely time with Sarah Morton and Sandra Nutley this summer (thank you Gary Myers, @kmbeing for your blog), I took some time this weekend and returned to Using Evidence that Sandra Nutley published in 2007 with her colleagues Isabel Walter and Huw Davies. I got back to KMb basics while getting back to the basics of living in a tent and cooking over a camp fire.

When I first read Using Evidence in 2007 York’s KMb Unit had been operating for one year.  We had just hired our second full time staff person and we had more KMb enthusiasm than KMb talent. In 2011, York is leading ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche, we have published on our work, spoken internationally and I have met Sandra twice and look forward to seeing her again as we both speak at the CRFR 10th Anniversary National Conference in Edinburgh in November. It is interesting to revisit foundational literature like Using Evidence and see the literature through a lens of experience. I can now synthesize key messages and see the KMb forest where before I saw only a collection of KMb trees.

There are lots of key messages arising from Sandra’s book.  The three I take home after reflecting on our five years of KMb service are:

  • KMb is a social process
  • Efforts to enhance KMb need to be interactive and focus on the relationships between researchers and decision makers
  • KMb happens at the level of the individual but future efforts will explore KMb at the level of the organization/system

There are two implications of these take home messages for York and RIR:

  1. If KMb is a social process then social media tools should be able to contribute to the process of KMb
  2. Systems level KMb need to use interactive methods to support individual KMb relationships

York and all the RIR universities are building KMb services at the institutional level to serve a system of researchers and their (primarily) local research receptor organizations. We have also frequently blogged about the role of social media in KMb (search the “social media” tag on Mobilize This!) and most recently on August 25. In our book chapter we will present some evidence we have collected about how we are using twitter to support a KMb community of practice for KMb stakeholders.

In 2007 we were learning the basics.  Four years later we return to the basics so we can look to the future.  Interactive relationships between researchers and decision makers are the foundation of KMb. In the future we will develop system level KMb supported by social media so that we can continue to build on the basics and better foster those interactive relationships.