Reimagining the Concept of a Commonwealth University

This week’s blog post first appeared on The Association of Commonwealth Universities’ blog and is reposted here with permission.

As I have been thinking about a blog for our Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), I got a bit stuck on the concept of commonwealth itself. If you look at definitions for the word commonwealth, you will find that they largely refer to relations between states, such as with our own use of the Commonwealth referring to former members of the British Empire. When one looks a bit further, one finds under the label ‘archaic’, the 14th Century origins of commonweal or commonwealth referring to the common good. The common good is the idea of sharing the bounties among people in an equal or just manner.

What would the concept of a Commonwealth university really mean if we were to refer back to the original meaning for the common good? It would support the idea of the social responsibility of universities. It would support the concept of community university engagement for another. And it would align very closely with the objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), wouldn’t it? The preamble of the Transforming Our World statement, which introduces the SDGs, declares “We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path”. These are goals and ambitions that speak to a deeper understanding of our commonwealth, of recognition of our common place on the planet.

Budd Hall

Author: Budd Hall

A true commonwealth university would share a number of characteristics. First it would be an engaged university, engaged in the way the ACU has articulated in the past: “Engagement implies strenuous, thoughtful, argumentative interaction with the non-university world in at least four spheres: setting universities’ aims, purposes, and priorities; relating teaching and learning to the wider world; the back-and-forth dialogue between researchers and practitioners; and taking on wider responsibilities as neighbours and citizens” (Engagement as a Core Value for the University: A Consultation Document, ACU, 2001).

Secondly, it would be a decolonising university because it would be seeking to recover the rich bodies of knowledge that colonialism and the domination of the western canon has covered over, obscured or in other ways attempted to erase. Third, and growing out of both of the first two characteristics, it would be a place that recognises and celebrates the fact that knowledge is created in community organisations and social movements, among other places. And in this spirit, it would support the co-creation of knowledge on themes that originate in communities themselves. Fourth, a commonwealth university would be a place of action. Students in legal clinics would work on behalf of Indigenous Peoples to fight dangerous extractive industries seeking to ruin the environment. Coalitions of community groups and business school academics would support housing co-ops, community economic development, local food sales and production. The possibilities are endless.

The exciting part of reimagining the commonwealth university is that in larger and smaller ways this is a movement that is already happening. Decolonisation is on the minds of students all over the world. Contributing to the SDGs is in the minds of university leaders and government funding agencies. Examples of the co-construction of knowledge can be found in many places. And exciting actions abound. Moving towards the vision of a commonwealth university means paying less attention to university rankings for example and more to those people in your community who have been excluded historically from the common good. If we do not take passionate care of the common good, then the private good will have little meaning.


Budd Hall is a Steering Committee member for ACU’s Engage Community. Professor Hall is Joint UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education and a Professor of Community Development at the University of Victoria, Canada. His most recent books are: Knowledge, Democracy and Action: Community-University Research Partnerships in Global Perspectives (Manchester University Press), Learning and Teaching Community-Based Research (U of T Press), Higher Education and Community-Based Research (Palgrave-MacMillan) and Knowledge, Engagement and Higher Education’s Contribution to Social Change – with R Tandon and C Esgrigas (Palgrave-MacMillan).

Systems of Engagement

This week’s post first appeared on The Association of Commonwealth Universities’ blog and is reposted here with permission.

Most writing on community-campus engagement focuses on individual projects and practices. This makes sense since most practices are employed at the project level, but what about systems of engagement? Individual projects sit within institutional and community systems. Institutions and communities sit within sector or regional/national systems. Where are these systems of engagement?

David PhippsAs I increasingly engage internationally with like-minded knowledge mobilisers/brokers and impact practitioners (we are a diverse lot!), I am impressed with the networks already working at a system level. Here are some examples (there are certainly more) with brief descriptions from their websites:

Community Based Research Canada: Their intent is to build an inclusive and open network, engaging already existing networks, to build support for community-campus partnerships, community-based research and community engagement.

Development Research Uptake for Sub Saharan Africa (DRUSSA): Funding has ended but DRUSSA was a network of 24 universities building capacity for research uptake.

Engagement Australia: The main objective is to lead and facilitate the development of best practice university-community engagement in Australia. This is done through creating inclusive forums for discussion and development of engagement, promoting practice, fostering awareness, building capacity and developing resources.

Global University Network for Innovation: Their mission is to strengthen the role of higher education in society, contributing to the renewal of the visions and policies of higher education across the world, under a vision of public service, relevance and social responsibility.

Knowledge into Practice Learning Network: Founded in 2016, KIPLN Network is an international online learning network dedicated to sharing advice, expertise, and resources to help people get better at using knowledge to inform practice.

Living Knowledge Network: an international network of science shops, which perform science projects responding to civil society’s needs for expertise and knowledge.

National Alliance for Broader Impacts (US): The goal of NABI is to create a community of practice that fosters the development of sustainable and scalable institutional capacity and engagement in broader impacts activity.

National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE): A national (UK) network that helps universities and the public engage with each other.

Research Impact Canada: A network of universities across Canada investing in support for campus-based knowledge mobilisation to maximise the economic, social, health, cultural and environmental impacts of research.

And don’t forget the ACU Engage Community: an international network of university staff and stakeholders from member universities, who are working or involved in university community engagement and outreach, including public engagement staff, industrial liaison officers, research managers and communications officers, and those specialising in distance or open learning.

One conclusion that can be drawn is that engagement is a global phenomenon, with international networks and national networks existing in both industrialised and developing countries.

How can these system-wide networks help your individual practice? Research on networks shows that membership brings benefits of legitimisation and reduced transaction costs. You can phone up folks around the world to find out their practices, attend international conferences to meet people and learn about their work and practices, and join a network and reduce your costs of obtaining this information.

Networks also enhance the scaling up of promising practices. In a recent example, McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) learned about the ResearchSnapshot clear language research summary method from Research Impact Canada. They adapted this format to their own context and produced research snaps that went on to win a national award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Award of Excellence for communications. This is a clear example of reduced transaction costs.

An additional, and possibly more important, benefit of membership in any of these systems of community-campus engagement is the membership itself. Join a network of like-minded practitioners and you have found your tribe. Many of us work as solo practitioners (see some literature on this). Finding a tribe helps us feel connected to our work, to other practitioners and ultimately will help us become better practitioners, as the McMaster example shows.

What does this mean for the ACU Engage Community? While the Community is a network of ACU members, these members are likely to belong to other national and international networks. We should work to seek out the benefits members derive from other networks and systems, and use this knowledge to inform the work of the Engage Community.

The national and international networks above are just examples. This list is limited by my own experience. What other networks and systems of community-campus engagement can you add? How do you think these could contribute to the Engage Community?

Netherland’s Research Impact Assessment Exercise / Exercice d’évaluation de l’impact de la recherche aux Pays-Bas

The UK has the Research Excellence Framework. Australia launched the Engagement and Impact Assessment exercise. And the Netherlands has the Standard Evaluation Protocol. Canada can learn from these and from the Research Impact Canada network as we implement our own tool for research impact assessment.

Le Royaume-Uni s’est doté d’un cadre pour l’excellence en matière de recherche, le Research Excellence Framework. L’Australie a mis en place un exercice d’évaluation de la participation et de l’impact dans ce domaine, l’Engagement and Impact Assessment. Et les Pays-Bas disposent d’un protocole d’évaluation normalisé, le Standard Evaluation Protocol. Le Canada peut tirer des enseignements de ces modèles et exploiter le Réseau Impact Recherche qui existe déjà au pays afin de mettre en œuvre son propre outil d’évaluation de l’impact de la recherche.

There is increasing global interest in creating socioeconomic impacts from academic research. National networks such as Research Impact Canada and the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (US) invest in methods to create impacts but neither have national systems of impact assessment. The UK and Australia have national research impact assessment (RIA) exercises but no formal structures to create impact.

And new for me is the Netherland’s RIA process called the Standard Evaluation Protocol (no snappy title points for the Dutch…maybe it suffered in translation). Every six years NLD research institutions are required to self-assess and present to external committees on the research from the past six years and plans for the subsequent six years. The assessment returns a rating of unsatisfactory, good, very good or excellent. The submission, the committee report and the institutional response are posted on line creating public accountability.

The assessment reviews research quality, relevance to society and viability (the “extent to which the organization is equipped for the future”).

For readers of this blog the relevance to society will be of greatest interest. Go straight to Appendix D Table D1 which provides a selection (not an exhaustive list) of indicators for societal impact:

Demonstrable products: reports (for example for policymaking); articles in professional journals for non-academic readers; instruments, infrastructure, datasets, software tools or designs that the unit has developed) for societal target groups; outreach activities, for example lectures for general audiences and exhibitions.

Use of products: Patents/licences: use of research facilities by societal parties; projects in cooperation with societal parties; contract research

Marks of recognition: public prizes; valorisation funding; number of appointments/positions paid for by societal parties; membership of civil society advisory bodies

The SEP submissions are reviewed by committee assessing the narratives of research quality and societal relevance. This is similar to the REF. A significant difference is the committee review happens as a site visit to the submitting unit. This face to face element of the assessment creates greater opportunities for evaluation than an arm’s length committee assessing a submission as in the REF.

What is also similar to the REF and the Australian pilot is that the method and the indicators are predicated on the academic research institution describing the impact of the research. But we know that it isn’t the researchers who are making the products, developing the policies or delivering the services that have an impact. Research partners from the private, public and non-profit sectors make the products, policies and services are the ones making the impact. Yet we ask the research institution to step in and tell someone else’s story of impact. That’s ok so long as the indicators come from the non-academic partners; however, the indicators in the SEP all of which are academic centric.

How long before Canada jumps on the research impact assessment (RIA) bandwagon? Alberta Innovates is implementing the Canadian Academies of Health Sciences’ RIA framework. The co-produced pathway to impact is being implemented by some of the Networks of Centres of Excellence including Kids Brain Health Network, MEOPAR, AllerGen, Cell Can and PREVNet who helped conceptualize the pathway. However, these are pathways that help to guide the progress from research to impact. They are not research impact assessment protocols.

Research Impact Canada is undertaking an RIA pilot which we riffed off the REF as explained in Mobilize This! on April 12, 2017. We have used our RIA tool on one example of impact from York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit. Based on that experience we revised the interview questions we derived from Sarah Morton’scontribution analysis. We are revising the guidelines and will develop it as an RIA tool that can be used along your pathway to impact, not just ex post research impact assessment (at the end).

When Canada is ready for a national impact assessment process we will be ready with a validated tool. But Canada, please call us first. Let us help you develop a Canadian research impact assessment exercise.

Universities Create Evidence but Can We Also Use It? / Les universités produisent des données scientifiques, mais savent-elles s’en servir ?

Researchers in higher education (HE) institutions produce lots of research based evidence. When that evidence is about higher education how good are our HE leaders at gathering, synthesizing, assessing and implementing evidence for HE policy and practice? Do they know they need help to do this?

Les établissements d’enseignement supérieur sont la source de nombreuses recherches fondées sur des données scientifiques. Quand ces données concernent l’enseignement supérieur lui-même, dans quelle mesure les dirigeants des établissements réussissent-ils à les rassembler, à les synthétiser, à les évaluer et à les intégrer aux pratiques et politiques ? Sont-ils conscients qu’ils ont besoin d’aide pour y parvenir?

LFHE logoThe Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) is “committed to developing and improving the management, governance and leadership skills of existing and future leaders of higher education.” They have had a long standing interest in the impacts of HE. This includes a recent assessment of the UK Research Excellence Framework impact case studies from legal, governance and management research. You can read more about that study on our Knowledge Mobilization Journal Club. Their latest endeavour concerns a “What Works” centre on HE evidence use. The UK gov’t has sponsored seven What Works centres on topics ranging from education to clinical practice to aging and more.

To help frame their thinking about a What Works centre for HE they performed a quick survey of What Works centres and international KMb organizations, a deep dive into one What Works centre and interview 17 leaders in HE and knowledge mobilization including me and John Lavis (McMaster Health Forum) providing an international perspective. While statements from interviewees are in the report John and I are the only ones quoted in the report which was published on July 20, 2017.

What we said is in the report but two things stand out:

1. The focus of the What Works centre will be on the HE institution with HE leaders as the primary focus. Check out a couple of recent KMb journal clubs here and here on institutional perspectives of KMb.

2. The report highlights the need for the What Works centre in HE to achieve impact on HE practices and policies.

But in this I encourage the authors to go a little further. They quote John Lavis speaking about the need to end a policy dialogue with next steps and assign action items. I recommend they do active follow up to support the uptake of the evidence. We know from models like PARIHS that evidence needs to be facilitated in the context of its use in order to create the conditions for effective evidence use. Bailing on the end users once you disseminate the evidence will not facilitate its uptake. Active facilitation needs to happen in the context (i.e. on site) of its use.

Don’t just send evidence to HE leaders. Do workshops with stakeholders to help them learn the evidence (=uptake). Help stakeholders evaluate the evidence to facilitate implementation into new HE policies and practices. Help stakeholders assess the impact of the evidence on those policies and practices.

Dissemination is necessary but not sufficient to support impact.

I will repeat that because it is key: dissemination is necessary but not sufficient to support impact

LFHE then undertook an ideas lab session to design elements of a successful What Works centre. This ideas lab identified three desirable features of a What Works centre for HE. These include the following and my comments on each:

A knowledge map that would help connect knowledge needs with the people who hold the knowledge

• Maps are hard to keep current and do not easily capture emerging knowledge needs. At York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit we do not rely on codified knowledge maps but on knowledge brokers who know those who have expertise in demand. Speaking of knowledge brokers….

Impact Champions – boundary spanners who would work for the knowledge sharing system appointed for their skills and expertise in line with specific knowledge needs suggested by the system

• Knowledge brokers = Impact champions (although without a cool name!). Like the knowledge brokers connecting the Research Impact Canada (RIC) institutions impact champions will need to be embedded within networks of academic and non-academic experts to enable connections. LFHE needs to support networks of champions, researchers and end users.

A digital dating system which could be developed in the future as an adjunct to the knowledge map to support the impact champions and their work

• Again, RIC has something to contribute to the LFHE What Works centre. performs exactly this function for Memorial University of Newfoundland and we are exploring it as a platform for RIC. LFHE should look to Yaffle as an existing platform and reach out for an introduction. Why re-invent it when you can build on almost 10 years of experience with Yaffle.

Final observation is that the What Works centre should not be predicated on a knowledge supply and demand model. Leaders of HE have their own expertise that needs to be leveraged to implement the evidence in the context of its use. It’s not that HE researchers or the What Works centre has knowledge and HE leaders need knowledge. It’s more about finding the fit between complementary expertise.

The RIC network has much to share to help LFHE in their efforts. It’s not that RIC has knowledge and LFHE doesn’t. It’s that we have certain experiences and expertise that might be complementary to their own experiences and expertise.

That’s mobilizing knowledge about knowledge mobilization.

Knowledge Mobilization Advice From SSHRC / Les recommandations du CRSH concernant la mobilisation des connaissances

Knowledge Mobilization advice from a research funder is necessarily generic but the advice provided by SSHRC is a great starting point for grant applicants to begin to craft a specific knowledge mobilization strategy. Just don’t leave it to the last day to start!

Les recommandations des organismes de subventions concernant la mobilisation des connaissances (MdC) sont nécessairement générales. Celles du CRSH, toutefois, fournissent aux candidats un point de départ solide pour commencer à mettre sur pied une stratégie de MdC. Mais n’attendez pas à la dernière minute pour commencer!

strategyAnyone completing a SSHRC grant application needs to develop a knowledge mobilization strategy. For those fortunate enough to be at a Research Impact Canada university help is close at hand. But for everyone else SSHRC has provided some advice.

SSHRC starts out by underselling their advice. They speak about how the guidelines will help with dissemination of research: “to whom should research results be communicated; how is the process of communicating research results best mapped”. But there is little on dissemination and much on engaged methods of knowledge mobilization.

Don’t get me wrong. Communicating research results to end users/beneficiaries is critically important but it is not enough. We know from the research on research use that making research results accessible is necessary but not sufficient to change behaviour (read anything by Sandra Nutley from Research Unit for Research Utilization). We need to engage with end users to identify their needs so researchers work on what is important to stakeholders not just what researchers think is important (see this article and a stakeholder engagement report by Kids Brain Health Network).

And beyond stakeholder engagement which identifies research priorities we need to practice engaged methods of dissemination and co-production. SSHRC provides a number of examples of this in their advice to grant applicants:

• Meetings with knowledge users, especially at the outset of the project, are an effective vehicle for forging strong and lasting connections.

• When building relationships with organizations, build links across multiple levels, from front-line, program and policy staff to executives.

• To produce knowledge mobilization products that meet users’ needs, researchers can use or repackage existing materials, or develop new ones, in concert with the users and their identified needs.

• Larger projects typically employ a project co-ordinator. The use of knowledge brokers, who have specific skill sets, can be effective.

• Ultimately, the more proactive and multifaceted the approach researchers take with users, the more successful and durable the relationship.

• Successful projects often adopt more than one outreach medium in their knowledge mobilization plan.

• All research teams, but especially those engaging in co-production of knowledge, should outline at the outset of projects the roles and responsibilities of all participants to ensure the voices of all team members, including partners, are represented at all stages of the project.

These are great examples covering the gamut from engaged priority setting to engaged dissemination to engaged co-production of research. Kudos to SSHRC for these.

But here’s the limitation of this advice. It is only generic. Like the impact advice provided by the Research Councils UK, advice from funders to applicants can only be generic. How an applicant in the history of English theatre will mobilize knowledge is different than how an economist working in sustainable business practices will mobilize knowledge. But both need to be informed by the advice from SSHRC.

Applicants need to take the generic advice and develop a specific (“bespoke” as my UK colleagues like to say) knowledge mobilization plan for their grant application. You do need to meet with knowledge users (first bullet in the list above) but which knowledge users, when will you meet, how will you recruit them, and what pre-existing relationships will you build on? This level of specificity is needed for your knowledge mobilization strategy.

As we recommend in our recent publication about supporting knowledge mobilization and impact strategies in grant applications you need to start with a generic impact pathway (like the co-produced pathway to impact) and generic advice (above) and use your own research, stakeholders, activities, partners and indicators to develop a specific impact pathway and specific knowledge mobilization plan.

There is no cookie cutter approach. Don’t leave this section to the day before the application is due. The research plan and the knowledge mobilization/impact plan need to be writer concurrently so each will support the other.

And for help call your local knowledge mobilization practitioner – oh yeah – if you’re at a Research Impact Canada member university!

Connecting Impact Pathways to Actual Impacts / Raccorder la trajectoire à l’impact

Researchers are crafting impact strategies in grant applications. Are they getting any help from their universities and their institutional research administrators?

Dans leurs demandes de subvention, les chercheurs mettent au point des stratégies d’impact. Reçoivent-ils de l’aide pour ce faire de la part de leur université et des administrateurs de la recherche?

Fast Track Impact logoMore from the world of impact in the UK, this time a reflection on a post by Mark Reed and Sarah Buckmaster from February 2016. Sarah and Mark compared the impact pathways from research teams who had been awarded the highest scores for impact in the Research Excellence Framework 2014. For more on REF 2014, see this journal club and last week’s post.

The seven studies presented span health, social sciences and humanities with impacts on policy, professional practice and culture – this diversity suggests the 10 common elements of impact pathways are not unique to any discipline or sector. The 10 common elements are: clear connectivity from overall vision to objectives and impact; specificity; tailor made impact; build in flexibility; assign responsibility – name names; demonstrate demand; highlight collaborative partnerships; don’t ignore sensitivities; think long term; record everything.

I’m not going to go into detail in each of these because Mark and Sarah have done that in their post.

ARMA logoWhat I will reflect on is the role of the university helping researchers craft these specific impact pathways in their applications. ARMA – the association supporting university research administrators (those people who are hired to help you craft your grant applications) – has a specific group interested in impact. It is not just the job of the grant applicant to ensure impact strategies incorporate these 10 key success elements. It is also the job of institutions to support researchers crafting their grant applications. How many ARMA members receive specific training not only as REF officers collecting the evidence of impact but also in supporting impact strategies in grant applications? This list of 10 key success elements could form a checklist for ARMA members to use to not only assess strategies at application review before submission but also to build capacity of researchers before they start writing the application (a new product idea for Fast Track Impact – you can thank me later, Mark).

At York University (Toronto, Canada), we have published on our process for supporting impact in grant applications. We also lead Research Impact Canada, a network of 12 universities building capacity to support impacts of research. We don’t have a formal impact assessment process like the REF but most Canadian funding programs require the equivalent of impact pathways. Because of this requirement we are sharing tools and building expertise to support impact at the institutional level. This is only now coming onto the radar of CARA (the Canadian ARMA) with an impact planning and assessment workshop I am delivering on May 7 at the CARA annual conference.

It would be interesting to ask the authors of these highly successful impact strategies what support they received from their institution during the grant application process. This would demonstrate if there is existing impact expertise in research administrators or if there is a skills gap and an opportunity for institutions to invest in capacity building to support impact which, in turn, will support success in the REF. It is a little late to start to build capacity to support impact in an application that won’t be funded until 2018 at the earliest and therefore won’t likely contribute to impacts in REF 2021. But Mark and Sarah advocate thinking long term. REF 2026 is just around the corner, at least in terms of impact which can take years after the funded grant project to manifest.

And don’t forget to call Canada. We are happy to share our supports for impact in grant applications and look forward to learning from UK experts as well. CARA and ARMA are already collaborating on accreditation for research administrators. Maybe impact could be part of this exchange. Just ask @JulieEBayley.

Watching Impact in the REF and How It Informs the Canadian Context / Le REF en observation : comment l’impact s’y manifeste, et son influence sur la situation canadienne

The Research Excellence Framework is a system wide research assessment exercise that includes assessment of the various non-academic impacts of research. As the UK prepares for REF 2021 Research Impact Canada is piloting impact assessment in Canada. Not because of any reporting requirement but because we should understand and communicate the impacts we are making. It’s the right thing to do.

Au Royaume-Uni, le Research Excellence Framework est un exercice d’évaluation de la recherche appliqué à l’ensemble du système d’enseignement supérieur, qui prévoit l’évaluation des nombreux impacts de la recherche en dehors de l’université. Tandis que ce pays prépare son REF de 2021, au Canada, le Réseau Impact Recherche réalise son propre projet pilote d’évaluation de l’impact. Non pas parce qu’une autorité quelconque nous l’impose, mais parce que comprendre et communiquer les effets que nous provoquons… c’est ce qu’il faut faire, tout simplement.

For 10 years Research Impact Canada (RIC) has been leading the development of institutional knowledge mobilization practices that create the conditions to maximize the social, economic and/or environmental impacts of university research. Our vision statement is:

We will maximize the impact of university research for the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and health benefits across local and global communities.

If we say we will maximize impact we needed to figure out a way to assess the impact of the research we were helping to mobilize. We looked to the UK Research Excellence Framework for inspiration (for more on REF and why it is important see this recent journal club entry). The REF required all UK universities to articulate the impacts of research using guidelines (page 26 here) and completing an impact case study template. There is much (not all) good about the REF. But there is much in the work of RIC that is not captured in the narrowly construed REF definitions of research and of impact. There is also a decoupling of the efforts made by institutions (as reported in the environment data) to support impact and the impact cases themselves.

The Evaluation Committee of Research Impact Canada did a deep dive into the REF and developed our own adaptation of the REF impact assessment guidelines and case study template. The major changes are summarized in the table below:

Changes between REF and RIC impact assessment table

View this table as a PDF

That’s what we have done. What are we doing?

We are piloting the RIC research impact assessment guidelines and impact case study template on one example from York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit. We have also delivered our first impact assessment workshop to scientists and knowledge brokers at the research-policy interface at Eawag, the Swiss water research institute. We received good feedback from them and will be incorporating this into successive iterations of the guidelines and template. Ultimately we will roll this out through RIC member universities and beyond to provide a tool for researchers and institutions to collect the evidence of impact and inform different means of disseminating stories of impact so our various stakeholders (funders, partners, governments, and the public) can see the difference that universities make on society, the economy and/or the environment.

Our work in Canada is timely as HEFCE reports it has just finished consultations on REF 2021 and are about to review and analyze over 370 responses. We can continue to learn from each other. The Canadian and UK contexts are different. The main difference is the driver. We don’t have a REF in Canada so we have greater leeway to construct research impact assessment tools that work in our contexts. But our contexts are also not really that different. UK and Canadian funders require grant applicants to express the potential impacts of their research and the plans (and budgets) for creating those impacts. Now Canada also has a mechanism to facilitate the collection and reporting on the evidence of impact that was inspired by the REF but adapted to meet the needs of the Research Impact Canada network.

Give us a call, HEFCE. We’re happy to share as you pour through those 370 responses!

Canada is looking for a Chief Knowledge Broker / Le Canada en quête d’un courtier de connaissances en chef

Canada is searching for a Chief Science Advisor. They are looking for someone with an outstanding track record of scholarship. What they really need is a Chief Knowledge Broker.

Le gouvernement canadien cherche à pourvoir le poste de conseiller scientifique en chef. La personne recherchée doit posséder un bagage de connaissances hors du commun. Ce dont le gouvernement a besoin, en fait, c’est un courtier de connaissances en chef.

See the full job ad here

Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science


Justin Trudeau and Kirsty Duncan are seeking a PhD scientist with a strong record of peer reviewed publications and research management. They are seeking a PhD scientist to “focus on how scientific information is disseminated and used by the federal government, and how evidence is incorporated into government-wide decision-making”. Sounds like knowledge mobilization to me!

To be clear, they are not looking for a PhD in implementation science (although that would be excellent). They are looking for one of Canada’s greatest molecular biologists, cosmologists, mechanical engineers, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists etc. to step into a role that defines knowledge mobilization. Tell me how someone with an H Factor of +50 is going to know the first thing about how scientific information is disseminated and used in government decision making?

To be fair they do consider that “experience in one or more of the following areas would be an asset:

• involvement in scientific reviews within legislative or regulatory processes;
• public scientific communication;
• promoting transparency and integrity in scientific research; and
• evaluation of scientific or research programs or projects.”

Public scientific communication and involvement in legislative processes are considered to be one of four things (hence optional) for a job that is all about “how scientific information is disseminated and used”.

Kirsty and Justin, these need to be at the top of your list of mandatory experience, not buried as an optional nice to have. You need to be looking for someone with expertise in the research to policy interface. Canada’s best particle physicist will not be able to provide much help when asked to advise on sensitive topics such as vaccines, GMO foods or First Nations. You don’t need a specialist PhD. You need a process specialist who has demonstrated excellence facilitating evidence use in all sorts of disciplines.

Good luck with the search. Don’t forget to come back to Research Impact Canada for advice on seeking science advice.

[Sorry gentle readers, the competition closed February 13, 2017. You don’t need to rush to update your resumé for this job. But maybe the Chief Science Advisor will see that a PhD in whatever actually needs a knowledge broker to be successful.]

Six Actions to Mobilize Knowledge / Six actions pour mobiliser les connaissances

On January 31, 2017, Bev Holmes and Allan Best summarized their recent paper in Evidence & Policy that seeks to make sense of the complexity of knowledge mobilization by pointing to six key actions that can be taken by initiative managers and key influencers.

Le 31 janvier 2017, Bev Holmes et Allan Best ont résumé leur récent article, paru dans Evidence & Policy, dans lequel ils cherchent à expliquer la complexité de la mobilisation des connaissances. Ils indiquent six actions clés qui sont à la portée des gestionnaires d’initiative et des grands influenceurs.

Puzzle piecesOn February 9, 2017, I wrote in Mobilize This! about a paper I published with colleagues that outline five determinants of successful knowledge brokering. Bev Holmes and Allan Best have done something similar. The paper I did was based on a transnational comparison of knowledge brokering practices. Holmes & Best come at it from complexity studies. They advocate working with complexity rather than trying to avoid it.

Their six key actions are: co-producing knowledge, establishing shared goals and measures, enabling leadership, ensuring adequate resourcing, contributing to the science of knowledge-to-action, and communicating strategically.

Our five determinants of successful brokering are: build trust; develop capacity; co-construct knowledge; understand the political, social and economic context; and build culture.

The differences are interesting but so are the similarities. Both articles reference co-producing/co-constructing knowledge. Ensuring adequate resources is similar to building capacity. Enabling leadership is part of building a culture of knowledge brokering. You need to understand the political, social and economic context (Phipps et al) before you can establish shared goals and measures (Holmes & Best).

What is also interesting from Homes & Best is they identify two types of knowledge mobilizers who can be involve in each of their six actions. They identify “those who: (1) are managing specific knowledge mobilization initiatives (initiative managers), and (2) are in a position to make the environment more receptive to change (key influencers).”

This distinction is important as we consider the increasingly professionalized cohort of knowledge mobilization practitioners. These different cohorts of knowledge mobilization practitioners are managing projects (initiative managers) and environments (key influencers) and this starts to create organizational structures for resourcing knowledge mobilization. This may not be relevant to the many knowledge mobilization practitioners who work as solo operators in their organization but for those working in units we will expect to see various “levels” of practitioners.

We will always need front line knowledge brokers – the initiative managers of Holmes & Best. But we will also see a managerial level and a leadership level. As we consider the key competencies for knowledge mobilization practitioners (a group @JulieEBayley and I call research impact practitioners) we will need to understand how these competencies map onto different levels of practitioners from the brokers doing the work, the people managing the brokers and the people who are leading systems of knowledge mobilization.

Will the competencies vary or will the types of work undertaken to practice the competency change?

How to Influence Policy / Pour influencer les politiques

Sending your research to policy makers will have little influence on their decisions; however, if you understand these 10 elements then you have a better chance at creating the conditions where your research can inform policy.

Le fait d’envoyer vos travaux de recherche aux décideurs aura peu d’influence sur leurs décisions ; mais si vous comprenez bien ces 10 éléments, vous saurez mettre en place les conditions dans lesquelles vos travaux auront de meilleures chances d’influencer les politiques.

10 Things to know about how to influence policy with research

For all the academic researchers (and their supporters and partners) in the audience, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. I love this short but highly informative summary synthesizing many years of scholarship and practice on research to policy impact. Louise Shaxon is a co-author, someone who has worked on the ground in policy influence.

This document illustrates how difficult it is to influence policy makers and gives tips on how to overcome some of the barriers. The top 10 are below. Check out the document for tips on each of these that will help to move your research evidence towards policy.

1. Know what you want to influence
2. Know who you want to influence
3. Know when to influence – this is often harder to know than the first two
4. Build relationships and networks
5. Policy development is not a linear process
6. Policy making is inherently political
7. Plan your engagement
8. Focus on ideas (not problems) and be proposition (i.e. give them a solution)
9. It takes time
10. Monitor, learn and adjust along the way

A note on three of these:

#6. Policy making is inherently political. A senior bureaucrat said to me once, “Evidence doesn’t vote”. Evidence is only one input into the policy making process. This connects to #4 Relationships and Networks. You (and your evidence) won’t succeed alone. Make the connections to other parts of the broader policy system (advocates, associations, the public, media) to align policy advocacy efforts.

#7. Plan Your Engagement: This document recommends you go beyond dissemination methods to more engaged methods of uptake such as public events and meetings. I don’t think this goes far enough. We know from the PARIHS framework that uptake of evidence needs to be facilitated in the context of decision making. Meetings are good. Facilitated workshops of your evidence with policy makers, especially if the workshop is jointly facilitated by a policy maker, will create greater opportunities for policy makers to engage with your evidence. And yet I will go one step further. Seek opportunities to collaborate with policy makers to co-create the evidence that they need and is also important to your scholarship. This is not them contracting you to do their work (although that also has a role) but about finding areas of mutual interest that produce excellent academic scholarship that can also be used in decision making. See Bowen & Graham for more on engaged scholarship vs. knowledge transfer.

#10. Monitor, learn and adjust along the way. In addition to the actions in the document, I recommend you remain in touch with the policy makers so that you can capture the evidence of the impact of your efforts. You won’t know: 1) if your research was used; and 2) if it was did that use informed a change; and 3) if it did what difference did the change make to anyone. This doesn’t have to be onerous or formal. An e mail or phone call every six months reminding them of your engagement efforts and asking if the evidence was used, implemented and if it made a difference will help you track from your research to your engagement efforts to eventual policy impact.

Thank you, Louise and colleagues, for a concise and useful document to guide policy influence. It’s not an easy process but you have provided guidance to overcome some of the barriers.

The document can be downloaded from ODI here.

The ResearchImpact Network – What’s in It for You? / Le Réseau Impact Recherche – qu’avez-vous à y gagner ?

A few universities are considering joining the ResearchImpact network. I was asked recently to identify what a university might get for its annual membership fee of $5,000. Essentially, what is the value proposition for membership?

Quelques universités songent à se joindre au Réseau Impact Recherche. On m’a demandé récemment ce qu’une université membre pouvait attendre de son adhésion annuelle, au cout de 5 000 $. En clair : quelle est la proposition de valeur du Réseau ?

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) is Canada’s knowledge mobilization network with 12 universities from St. John’s to Victoria all investing in their own knowledge mobilization and related activities and all investing $5,000 annually to fund network operations. While we do not have an active recruitment drive we are always interested in speaking to universities who wish to learn from our diverse practices and contribute to the network so we can all grow our skills. What’s in it for you?

Part of the value proposition is articulated in our Strategic Plan.

• We build Canada’s capacity to be a leader in knowledge mobilization by developing and sharing best practices, services and tools, and by demonstrating to relevant stakeholders and the public the positive impacts of mobilizing knowledge.

• We will maximize the impact of university research for the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and health benefits across local and global communities.

• We believe that academic research contributes to social, cultural, economic, environmental, and health benefits across local and global communities.
• We believe that the university research enterprise encompasses research, scholarship and creative activity by faculty, students and staff across all disciplines.
• We value community, industry and government partners as active participants in conducting research.
• We believe that knowledge mobilization services reflect the capacity and opportunities of institutional members.

Essentially we are a community of practice of institutional knowledge mobilizers all with different skills using different tools with different mandates in different organizational constructs. See the figure below that summarizes this diversity

RIR Unit service models

It is this diversity that is the value proposition. You will learn from other universities to bolster your own practice and help maximize the impacts of your research. Some examples of our practices – there are more:

• Memorial Univesity: Strong focus on public engagement; use of as a tool for knowledge brokering
• University of New Brunswick: Social Policy Research Network with a focus on knowledge mobilization to inform provincial policy
• Université du Québec à Montréal: Services aux Collectivitées – a community based knowledge brokering function
• Carleton Univesity: 1125 @ Carleton is a Living Lab model
• York University: Central Office of Research Services model including support for knowledge mobilization strategies in grant applications; research impact assessment
• University of Guelph: Research Shop model
• Kwantlen Polytechnic University: Service learning model
• University of Victoria: Research partnership model

Your $5,000 buys you access into these different practices so you can take from the network what fits in your context.

We believe that knowledge mobilization helps universities participate more fully in the federal government’s emerging innovation agenda which is being drafted around the core concept of inclusive innovation. We can more fully participate in inclusive innovation by connecting research in all disciplines to partners from all sectors (public, private and non-profit) to create impacts on local and global citizens. RIR is the only network in the world focused on institutional knowledge mobilization to maximize the impacts of academic research.

Membership has its privileges.

For more information about please email or email me directly at

How Can Universities Contribute to Inclusive Innovation? / Comment les universités contribuent-elles à l’innovation solidaire?

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) worked with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and 16 other universities and stakeholders to draft a letter to Ministers Bains, Chagger and Duncan outlining how universities can contribute to Canada’s innovation strategy which is increasingly being described as “inclusive innovation”.

Le RéseauImpactRecherche-ResearchImpact (RIR), en collaboration avec la Fondation de la famille J.W. McConnell et 16 autres universités et intervenants, a rédigé une lettre destinée aux ministres Bains, Chagger et Duncan pour expliquer comment les universités peuvent contribuer à la stratégie du Canada en matière d’innovation, de plus en plus souvent qualifiée d’« innovation solidaire ».

The letter in response to “Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda” is posted on the RECODE section of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation website. The letter describes the opportunity facing Canada. It states, “Innovation is key to human development. It is imperative to move beyond innovation for innovation’s sake to purposeful innovation that contributes socially and economically while also creating positive and / or reducing negative impacts on our natural resources. The term “inclusive growth” refers to an important and insufficiently acknowledged economic opportunity.”

The letter outlines some ideas for policy, program and talent opportunities that serve as a starting point for conversations with government. There are also examples, including RIR, appended to the letter. Some ideas directly relevant to RIR were present in all three categories:

Policy Ideas (this describes knowledge brokering, a major role for RIR)

• Expanding support for multi-disciplinary and cross-sector solutions-generating collaboration platforms as core features of the innovation ecosystem; as the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences said it is necessary to “bring researchers from different disciplines together with leaders in all levels of government, the private sector and civil society…”. There is a diverse and growing spectrum of collaboration platforms, including change and social innovation labs.

Program Ideas (this describes the RIR network)

• Creating incentives for regional and national platforms/networks for campus community collaboration and holding those platforms to account for short-term (three-year) outcomes that will generate long term (5-10 year) economic, social and environmental impacts.

Talent Ideas (this describes service learning and graduate student internships, key knowledge mobilization methods)

• Support co-ops and work-integrated learning programs in all academic faculties (not just business) to help students build the skills and experience required to enter the work force. Include all types of businesses from SMEs and non-profits to multi-national corporations in these programs.

RIR continues the discussion with McConnell and the other stakeholders to further develop these policy, program and talent ideas in order to trigger a substantive discussion with government. As identified by the Conference Board of Canada universities need to diversify beyond narrowly construed notions of technology transfer and commercialization if they are to contribute fully to an inclusive innovation agenda. This diversification includes experiential learning for undergraduate and graduate students as well as knowledge mobilization connecting all disciplines to partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors.

The letter had 18 signatories including the Presidents of RIR members York University, University of Guelph, University of New Brunswick, as well as representatives from RIR members University of Victoria, Wilfrid Laurier University, and David Phipps signing as the RIR Network Director.

Knowledge Mobilization, Research Impact, and the Changing Nature of Academic Work / La mobilisation des connaissances, l’impact de la recherche et la nature changeante du travail universitaire

That’s the title of a research article written by Matthew McKean, Conference Board of Canada. The article reviews the ResearchImpact network and the emerging importance of knowledge mobilization in Canada’s academic research enterprise and Canada’s inclusive innovation agenda.

Voilà le titre d’un article de fond publié par Matthew McKean, du Conference Board du Canada. L’auteur examine le Réseau Impact Recherche et l’importance de plus en plus affirmée de la mobilisation des connaissances, dans la conduite de la recherche universitaire au Canada comme dans le programme d’innovation inclusif que le pays s’est donné.

Conference Board of Canada logo

According to their website the Conference Board of Canada is the foremost independent, evidence-based, not-for-profit applied research organization in Canada. They are dedicated to building a better future for Canadians by making our economy and society more dynamic and competitive. They have decided that a more dynamic and competitive Canadian economy and society needs knowledge mobilization. And knowledge mobilization needs ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), Canada’s knowledge mobilization network.

The article (available for free download here) describes the changing nature of academic work making the case that bibliometric citations are no longer sufficient to capture the diverse impacts of academic research. This is seen most keenly in research grant applications most of which now require some form of impact statement (what impact will arise) and knowledge mobilization plan (how you’re going to get there). The article cites literature and interviews with researchers and knowledge mobilization practitioners (including myself and RIR brokers Bojan Fürst from Memorial University and Cathy Edwards from Carleton University).

The paper is summarized in four points “at a glance”:

– “Universities need to invest in institutional supports, such as dedicated knowledge brokers, for knowledge mobilization, as they currently do for technology transfer and industry liaison

– University-based researchers would benefit from faculty evaluation criteria that incentivizes high-impact, interdisciplinary social, economic, environmental, cultural, and health research

– The Pan-Canadian ResearchImpact network supports and facilitates knowledge mobilization and collaboration among faculty and student researchers, as well as community, industry, and government partners

– A network approach reduces the barriers between disciplines and enhances collaboration supporting research impacts in communities across Canada”

Importantly, the paper makes the point that knowledge mobilization activities complement traditional commercialization and industry liaison activities. This is important because universities beyond the 12 RIR campuses are not making efforts to maximize the contributions of research to Canada’s economic, social or environmental progress.

All our universities have services that help researchers connect to industry and to commercial markets but they only serve those few disciplines aligned to commercial outcomes. Many of our researchers in social sciences, humanities, creative arts and many STEM disciplines will never work with industry, file a patent or start up a company but their research might be relevant to public policy, professional practice or social services. If we rely solely on traditional methods of commercialization and industry liaison we will fail to maximize the impacts of much academic research. We will fail to contribute to what Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada is calling inclusive innovation.

ISED states that “Innovation is the path to inclusive growth. It fosters a thriving middle class and opens the country to new economic, social and environmental possibilities” and that everyone has a role to play. “This collaborative approach is essential because every sector of society—from the business community to universities and colleges, the not-for-profit sector, social entrepreneurs and Indigenous business leaders—pulls some of the levers that drive innovation, growth and well-being.”

Be prepared to hear a lot more about inclusive innovation as the current review of Canada’s innovation agenda concludes and begins to report out to Canadians.

That’s what makes this report from the Conference Board of Canada timely. Academic research institutions can contribute to an inclusive innovation agenda by adopting knowledge mobilization practices as well as traditional supports for commercialization and industry liaison.

Big thanks to Matthew McKean for researching and writing the article. Thanks also to knowledge mobilization colleagues Peter Levesque (Institute for Knowledge Mobilization) and Purnima Sundar (Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health) who provided a critical review of the manuscript for Matthew.

Human centred innovation / L’innovation centrée sur l’humain

The Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences (“The Federation”) made a submission to Canada’s Innovation Agenda. The Federation argues that “we need to bring creativity and imagination to bear on complex problems and understand the human process at the heart of innovation”. This includes strengthening connections and knowledge flow among humanities and social sciences (HSS) researchers and other partners from governments, civil society, academia and business.

La Fédération canadienne des sciences humaines (« la Fédération ») a suggéré des orientations au Programme d’innovation du Canada. La Fédération soutient que « nous devons rivaliser de créativité et d’imagination pour dénouer des problèmes complexes et comprendre le processus humain au cœur de l’innovation ». Cela suppose notamment le renforcement des liens et des échanges de connaissances entre les chercheurs des sciences humaines et leurs partenaires du gouvernement, de la société civile et du milieu des affaires.

Federation logoLed by Minister Bains (Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development), Canada is developing a new innovation strategy and is soliciting input from individuals and organizations across Canada. The Federation, drawing on their representation of over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations and a community of over 91,000 researchers and students, made a submission that promoted the human element of innovation.

The Federation’s submission contains three areas of focus including:
• expand experiential learning for all students through an expansion of the Post-Secondary Industry Partnership and Cooperative Placement Initiative to include HSS.
• increase fundamental research into human thought, behaviour and experiences. This will increase HSS research funding to be a minimum of 20 percent (=approximately double current levels) of Canada’s federal research portfolio within 10 years.
• strengthen connections and knowledge flow among HSS researchers and other partners from governments, civil society, academia and business to help Canada find innovative solutions to pressing complex social challenges.

This last area deals with knowledge mobilization. This third section of the submission cites examples from SFU, OCAD U, Ryerson and Concordia to illustrate mechanisms to connect HSS research(ers) to society. While individual examples of knowledge mobilization abound, mainly in individual research programs and research centres, there are fewer examples of institutional supports such as those practiced by the 12 universities in ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), Canada’s knowledge mobilization network. The submission calls for “a supportive national framework for such collaborations to enable scaling up of local innovations”. It then proceeds with recommendation #3 which includes the following:

Significant federal funding should be devoted to the creation and expansion of university-based innovation and cross-disciplinary hubs to address the broad range of social and economic complex challenges facing Canadians. For example, the government should enhance support for multi-disciplinary knowledge-mobilization networks, such as the ResearchImpact Network (, to scale up existing services that connect the public, private, not-for-profit and higher education sectors

Minister Bains will hopefully take note when presented with these recommendations. Canada needs a pan-Canadian knowledge mobilization strategy that will build on the lessons learned by the 12 RIR members and strengthen knowledge flows in communities and campuses across Canada.

Collectively these three recommendations from The Federation create the call to action for a human centred innovation strategy. Tony Surman (CEO, Centre for Social Innovation) has written in the Globe & Mail that Canada’s ‘innovation agenda’ isn’t dependent on just tech – it is also dependent on social factors and social innovation. This is critical to answering the call of Daniele Zanotti, CEO of United Way Toronto & York Region, who says we will not charity our way out of complex social issues. We need new combinations of knowledge and expertise that employ a human centred model of innovation.

Thanks you to The Federation for promoting the critical role of HSS in Canada’s innovation system. As part of this innovation Canada needs a pan Canadian knowledge mobilization strategy. Canada needs ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche.