What is Knowledge Mobilisation and Why Does it Matter to Universities?

The following story was written by David Phipps of RIR – York University and first appeared on the Guardian Higher Education Network’s blog on March 9, 2012

In this series of four guest articles, David Phipps, director of research services and knowledge exchange at York University, Toronto, Canada, writes about knowledge mobilisation; an emerging institutional infrastructure designed to maximise the impact of academic research on public policy and professional practice. David spent part of December in Edinburgh, Brighton and London exploring knowledge exchange and knowledge brokering in the UK.

In this first installment in the series, he introduces knowledge mobilisation.

Social sciences and humanities matter because they help us understand and address "wicked problems" such as poverty, housing or climate change.

The social sciences and humanities (SSH) matter. They matter because they help us understand and address “wicked problems” such as poverty, housing, immigration, climate change, security, Aboriginal issues and social determinants of health – to name a few. We can address wicked problems, but we have a tough time eradicating them. In 2008, John Camillus wrote in the Harvard Business Review that wicked problems: “occur in a social context; the greater the disagreement among stakeholders, the more wicked the problem. It’s the social complexity of wicked problems as much as their technical difficulties that make them tough to manage.” Wicked problems are social problems. Wicked problems are problems of the social sciences.

Universities are the main producers of new SSH research knowledge and graduate level talent. University knowledge and talent have the potential to contribute to new approaches to wicked problems, but they cannot benefit society if SSH scholars limit themselves to traditional academic paradigms of scholarly communication and dissemination. Knowledge mobilisation is the process of connecting academic SSH research to non-academic decision-makers so that this research informs decisions about public policy and professional practice. Knowledge mobilisation (the process) can enable social innovation (the outcome).

Since 2006, York University, Canada, has employed a knowledge-mobilisation unit to broker relationships between university research and expertise (both faculty and graduate students) and non-academic partners. York University described its work in 2009 and recently published details about its knowledge mobilisation services and lessons learned. York’s knowledge mobilisation unit currently houses three full-time knowledge brokers, one of whom works in the community at York’s primary community partner, the United Way of York Region. York’s knowledge mobilistion unit is part of the university administration working under the auspices of the vice-president of research and innovation.

The unit serves the needs of all York University faculty, students and their non-academic research partners and has brokered collaborations in disciplines as varied as mental health, education, geography, immigration, green economy, arthritis, housing, communications, literacy and social determinants of health. The unit is a university-wide research infrastructure analogous to the ubiquitous technology transfer and commercialisation office.

Sandra Nutley and her colleagues from the University of Edinburgh Research Unit on Research Utilisation have published five ways that institutions can seek to enhance extra academic impacts of research.

These include: place value upon and provide incentives for generation of impact; support two-way interactions between researchers and users; provide injections of financial support, dedicated staff and infrastructure; develop the facilitating role(s) of knowledge intermediaries and communicate and increase the accessibility of research.

A note on terminology: many organisations use diverse terms to describe knowledge mobilisation. There are subtle distinctions between knowledge transfer (KT), knowledge translation (also KT), knowledge exchange (KE), knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE), knowledge translation and transfer (KTT), knowledge mobilisation (KM), and knowledge integration (KI); however, they are all terms to describe essentially the same process of connecting research to practice and policy. Recently, an effort to move away from the terminology recommends the term K* (“K-star”) as a solution to those entrenched in their own identities and resistant to other terms. We prefer to use knowledge mobilisation. We also prefer not to get distracted by the debate on terminology because we are busy enough just doing it.

The remaining three articles in the series will reflect on the past (origins of KMb), present (KMb services provided at York University) and future (where the field is going or needs to go).

David Phipps is director of research services and knowledge exchange at York University, Toronto, Canada. For more on knowledge mobilisation at York University, and from David, see the Research Impact blog and follow @researchimpact on Twitter.

To view the original blog post and to sign up for a free membership to the Higher Education Network, click here.

To Blog Or Not To Blog?

David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York) was pleased to be invited to guest blog for Science of Blogging, a science blog run by @TravisSaunders, PhD Candidate, Obesity Researcher and Certified Exercise Physiologist. His blog, below, was posted on May 4, 2011. Check out the blog rolls on Mobilize This! and Science of Blogging. Each is following the other but you’ll see a few other great science and knowledge mobilization blogs there as well.

Dear Professor, To blog or not to blog?  This is not a question that you should worry about…for now. You compete successfully in three peer review arenas: publishing, grant seeking and tenure & promotion (T&P).  These three are interdependent with success in one begetting success in another.  The three are built on the same assumption: that your peers are in the best position to critique and thus make awards of publications, of grants and of tenure.  This isn’t going to change dramatically in the near future, so please don’t fret over all this blogging stuff.  Your klout score is not about to sway your T&P committee.

But note that in Canada, at least, times they are a changin’ (♫)

Canadian research funding is dominated by three federal granting councils (SSHRC, CIHR and NSERC) all of whom are rolling out new funding programs with non-academics on the peer review committees.  As I mentioned in a previous blog some (admittedly only a few) peer reviewed journals are including non academics on their editorial boards.  Campus-community collaborations are increasingly recognized by T&P committees (especially when the university based scholar and his/her community partner receives a $1M Community University Research Alliance) and there is even a national alliance to examine academic reward and incentive structures for community engaged scholarship.

But you don’t have to worry about that…for now.   Continue reading

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 blog.fedcan.ca

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

To each reader, their research / Pour chaque lecteur, sa recherche

By Andrea Kosavic, York University Libraries

Guest blogger and York University Digital Initiatives Librarian, Andrea Kosavic, writes about “York Space”, a repository for academic research that researchers can use to enhance accessibility of their research outputs. By taking advantage of institutional infrastructure such as repositories, researchers can leverage technology to make their findings more visible and accessible to those who seek them.

Bloggueur invité et libraire à l’Université de York, Andrea Kosavic écrit à propos de “York Space”, un dépôt virtuel pour les recherches que les universitaires peuvent utiliser pour améliorer l’accessibilité de leurs résultats. En tirant parti de ce genre d’infrastructure institutionnelle, les chercheurs peuvent utiliser la technologie pour rendre leurs résultats plus visibles et accessibles.

The title of this post is a play on the second law of library science as proposed by S.R. Ranganathan, which is “Every reader, his or her book.” It appears to be such a simple and straightforward concept, but I will argue that it still merits our attention.

Working as a librarian in a university library I am often asked what steps an academic can take to make one’s research stand out and get noticed. Researchers are looking above and beyond leveraging the system of ensuring that their work is published in an influential peer-reviewed journal that is broadly indexed.

While I did recently find an article that exposed some rather twisted examples of how a crooked researcher can “game” their citation counts in Google Scholar, beyond these unscrupulous methods, what other options are there?

I recently experienced a real life example that brought some clarity to that question.

I had been suffering from acute head pain while flying, and was referred to a specialist. After ruling out other possibilities, the neurologist assured me that I was suffering from airplane descent headaches. Using those exact search terms, he found an article in Google that suggested some preventative strategies. Armed with the citation I confidently searched our catalogue only to discover that York University Libraries did not hold a subscription to the journal. This was an eye opening experience, where I realized what the public, who do not have the privilege of our wealth of resources, must be experiencing on a regular basis. I was able to call on my network of colleagues to retrieve the paper, but this experience helped to clarify the question of increasing research visibility.

If we want the best return on our research investment, we need to ensure that the research can be found where researchers, professionals, policy makers, and the general public conduct their searches.

Our research needs to be where our readers are. Continue reading

CU Expo 2011, May 10-14, 2011 / CU Expo 2011, du 10 au 14 mai 2011

We are excited to announce the upcoming CU Expo 2011 taking place in Waterloo this May, which will focus on Community-University Partnerships: Bringing global perspectives to local action. ResearchImpact will be leading a session on tools for knowledge mobilization on Friday, May 13th- hope to see you there!

Nous avons le plaisir de vous annoncer la tenue prochaine de la conférence CU Expo 2011. Cet événement aura lieu en mai, à Waterloo, et portera principalement sur les partenariats milieu-université, des perspectives globales à l’action locale. Le Réseau Impact Recherche organisera à cette occasion un atelier sur les outils de mobilisation des connaissances le vendredi 13 mai. Au plaisir de vous y voir!

CU Expo 2011 is a Canadian-led conference designed to showcase the exemplars in Community-University partnerships worldwide, and together to introduce creative ways of strengthening our local communities.

The conference is expected to draw over 800 people from Canada and around the world who are passionate about the power of community-university partnerships as a vehicle for social change. Students, community leaders, researchers, educators, funders, policy makers and others invested in community-building will be in attendance.

The CU Expo movement began in Canada as a response to individuals involved community-university partnerships needing a forum to share experiences, strategies and ideas. CU Expo 2011 will address the conference objectives, themes and streams through a variety of session offerings and opportunities for dialogue.

CU Expo 2011 will be held at Wilfrid Laurier University and throughout the Waterloo Region community from May 10 to 14, 2011.

Check out the programming schedule here.  Click here to register.

Partnership Practices Call for Posters

Shawna Reibling (ResearchImpact – Guelph) announces a call for posters for the upcoming Partnership Practices: Working with Community, Industry and Government event. See below for full details:

As a new mobilizer at the University of Guelph, I want to get to know the projects, ideas and practices, especially in the area of partnerships, that are on-going within the Colleges and Departments on campus.

Therefore, I am lucky enough to be involved in the Partnership Practices: Working with Community, Industry and Government event. As industry, community, government and university researchers work together in various ways to address complex issues, the need to learn from examples of successful partnership structures, processes, and outcomes, as well as examine challenges and outcomes of complex research collaborations is evident.

We invite poster submissions that have a link to the University of Guelph and have a strong partner, industry or community focus, identify strategies in partnership skills, structure and processes, and will provide clear understanding of the management and outcomes of their work. I hope that many people will submit posters by January 22nd, however please email me if you need an extension: sreiblin@uoguleph.ca.

As an extra bonus to allow people who maybe have not submitted a poster before, assistance will be available to selected submissions to produce the final poster. The full call for proposals is available at www.csahs.uoguelph.ca/pps

Hosts and Sponsors

This event is hosted by the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship (ICES), the Business Development Office (BDO) and Co-operators Centre for Business and Social Entrepreneurship (CBASE) at the University of Guelph. It is supported by the Agri-Food and Rural Link KTT program, funded under the OMAFRA-U of G Partnership.