Approaches to assessing impacts in the humanities and social sciences: Recommendations from the Canadian research community

This week’s guest post was first published on the LSE Impact Blog on January 10, 2018 and is reposted here with permission.

Peter SeverinsonConversations about the assessment of scholarly impacts are frequently hindered by uncertainty, anxiety, or suspicion. Peter Severinson reports on work published by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Canada that it is hoped will provide guidance to university administrators, public servants, and other members of the research community undertaking the demanding work of impact assessment. Efforts to assess scholarly impacts must account for the great diversity of scholarly work, use a broad definition of “impact”, employ a diverse mix of indicators, and ensure that researchers themselves play a leading role in selecting those indicators that best suit their work.

Consider this fictionalised story that appears in “Approaches to Assessing Impacts in the Humanities and Social Sciences”, a report published by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Canada:

“A senior Canadian psychology professor has spent 15 years researching learning strategies for people facing various cognitive barriers. One day, she receives an unusual invitation: would she consider contributing to a not-for-profit research and social service network focused on skills training for new immigrants? Intrigued, she accepts, and over the next year works with a team of researchers and practitioners to develop teaching strategies designed to help new immigrants succeed in the Canadian labour market. The new strategies are put to work in the skill-training services offered through the network, which then collects data on various learning and employment outcomes – data our protagonist can use the next time she is asked to describe the impacts of her work. Of course, having worked as part of a large team, accounting for the impacts of her individual contribution will be a challenge.”

There are a number of important lessons we can take away from such a story. For instance, a researcher might work 15 years on a problem before a practical application is discovered. A network that connects researchers, practitioners, and users may be far better equipped to track the impacts of research than any one researcher is able to. But even when such a system produces great impact data, it might still not be possible to attribute those impacts back to an individual.

This story is one of four semi-hypothetical case studies we composed for our report to illustrate the many different forms that impact assessment can take in the humanities and social sciences. The characters in the stories are fictional, but the scenarios are all inspired by real activities taking place in Canada’s research community. While each of these stories helps to illustrate various useful lessons for assessing impacts, the message they send as a whole is perhaps the most important: they show just how diverse the world of research can be. This understanding underlies the approaches we recommend to assessing impacts, and leads us to recommend pluralistic and flexible assessment approaches that are able to account for this diversity and complexity.

Impacts in a Canadian context

The Federation set out several years ago to help Canadian scholars navigate the thorny issue of impact assessment, recognising that we are not primarily a research organisation. Our goal was therefore not to materially advance the state of knowledge about how to assess scholarly impacts – we’re happy to leave that to the experts – but rather to bring together existing findings from research, help communicate its relevance to our community, and equip our members with knowledge and tools they can use in the challenging conversations about impact assessment that may lie ahead.

Our approach was based on a few key observations about how the impacts discussion is developing in Canada. First, while conversations about impacts are gaining prominence across the country, they are both diffused and obscured – taking place at different levels across our vast country and frequently out of public view. Canada’s research granting agencies employ and continue to develop various impact-assessment requirements (which, to date, appear to have only a minor effect on research funding decisions). Meanwhile, universities are increasingly including impact assessment in their strategic plans. Both trends are in part a response to increasing pressure from governments for more performance data on publicly funded programmes and institutions.

Our second key observation was that ongoing conversations about impact assessment in Canada are frequently hindered by uncertainty, anxiety, and suspicion (which, we understand, is a state of affairs not unique to Canada!). In particular, scholars in the humanities and social sciences express concerns that an assessment system based on narrow sets of inflexible metrics would skew the research landscape to the detriment of research disciplines whose impacts resist simple quantification. And, to be sure, some concern is warranted. Not knowing what requirements are coming next, it’s easy to imagine the worst, especially when exposed to heated debates taking place in other countries.

We also heard that university administrators and public servants tasked with exploring impact assessment want to develop responsible assessment practices, ones that don’t cause unintended harm. However, they reported being uncertain about how to accomplish this, even after attempts to consult with researchers.

Contributing to a better conversation

Putting these observations together, the Federation saw an opportunity to enrich the Canadian conversation about impacts assessment. Our goal has been to summarise some of the key findings from research on scholarly impacts and present them in a way that addresses the hopes and concerns of the research community while also providing guidance to university administrators and public servants.

Our primary observation – as illustrated through our semi-hypothetical case studies – is that scholarly work is highly diverse and that efforts to assess scholarly impacts must account for this diversity. As a result, we recommend flexible and adaptable approaches to assessing impacts. This includes defining the concept of “impact” broadly, employing a diverse mix of impact indicators (both qualitative and quantitative) and ensuring that researchers themselves play a leading role in selecting the indicators that best suit their research.

We also recommend enhancing our ability to assess impacts by improving the ways we work inside and outside of universities. We recommend that research institutions, including universities and government agencies, provide the necessary resources to support the demanding work of impact assessment. We also recommend that assessment approaches recognise the contributions of non-academic partners, which play so vital a role in the pathways between research and impacts.

The approaches we recommend are intentionally broad. Applying these approaches to specific impact-assessment efforts will require work from researchers, scholarly associations, research funders and universities. Our hope is that our report will help these partners work together productively by providing them with some initial common ground based on a shared understanding of the key factors that affect impact assessment.

It’s an exciting time in Canada as these conversations grow and develop – we expect them to produce great things – and the Federation is thrilled to be making a modest contribution.

The full report, Approaches to Assessing Impacts in the Humanities and Social Sciences, is currently available to download.

About the author

Peter Severinson is Policy Analyst at the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. He tweets @pseverinson.

The Impact Journey with International Impact Friends

پیمودن مسیر اثربخشی با دوستان بین‌المللی اثربخش

Vers l’impact : une trajectoire aux côtés de nos amis internationaux

Since mid-2017, David Phipps (Research Impact Canada/York University) and Hamid Golhasany (ACECR, Iran) have been collaborating on ways to help Iranian universities and researchers think through creating public value from social sciences and humanities research. Today they are writing about their first steps on this impact journey.

از اواسط سال 2017 دکتر دیوید فیپس (شبکه اثربخشی تحقیقات کانادا / دانشگاه یورک، کانادا) و حمید گلحسنی (جهاد دانشگاهی تربیت مدرس، ایران) همکاری‌هایی را برای کمک به دانشگاه‌ها و محققان ایرانی در دستیابی به اثربخشی از تحقیقات علوم اجتماعی و انسانی خود آغاز کرده‌اند. امروز آنها در مورد اولین گام‌ها در این مسیر می‌گویند.

David Phipps (Research Impact Canada/Université York) et Hamid Golhasany (ACECR, Iran) travaillent ensemble depuis le milieu de l’année 2017. Ils veulent aider les universités et les chercheurs iraniens à réfléchir aux moyens de faire profiter la population des recherches en sciences humaines et sociales. Ils racontent ici les premières phases de cette trajectoire vers l’impact.

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The Impact Journey with International Impact Friends

Impact is colorful and vivid; many diverse individuals from diverse backgrounds, experiences and expertise are involved in the process of creating supports to help researchers create impact. Impact goes beyond, engages beyond individuals, and seeks institutional change for making impact. Impact is also highly adventurous. It does not happen when a researcher is working in a lab day and night to write an excellent scientific article. Impact happens through collaborative research, supported by knowledge mobilization that helps the researcher to make many contacts, engaging with stakeholders and their problems, their practices, needs, and priorities. This is the interactional nature of impact which is a key part of any model of the research to impact journey.

This adventurous interactivity in the process of making impact relies upon but is not exclusive to the interaction with other parties out of academia. Often many researchers and scientific views come together in order to make the impact happen because the big issues facing local and global communities today such as climate change, income equality, refugees, global spread of diseases, and others are all multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral. Collaborating to make impact is not just the responsibility of researchers and their non-academic partners but is also the responsibility of research institutions who can also collaborate on developing supports for research impact.

This describes the emerging collaboration between ACECR and York University, the lead university in Research impact Canada. The Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research (ACECR) is an Iranian public non-governmental institution, established in 1980, that supports the production of knowledge and technology. This mission is achieved by directing innovative research and development projects in different fields of science and technology and pursuing the utilization of the results. Research Impact Canada (RIC) is a network of 15 universities also supporting the use of research for economic, social and environmental impact. We share the same goals to mobilize knowledge and to make impact from the research that our researchers conduct. MR. Golhasany (Research Director, ACECR, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran) reached out to Dr. David Phipps (York University, Toronto, Canada), Network Director for Research Impact Canada to learn about RIC’s experiences in supporting their SSH researchers in creating impact from their research. Iran is like Canada in that both countries not have a national impact assessment framework like Research Excellence Framework (REF) in United Kingdom. Both countries are interested in ensuring that research does not just sit within academic journals but can create a positive impact on local and global citizens. Therefore, compared to the countries with top-down national discussions, we have to pay extra attention to the promotion of impact-oriented thinking within our scientific and user/partner communities.

Dr. Phipps and Mr. Golhasany have corresponded over the last 6 months. RIC has provided input and insight into impact research projects that is being consucted in ACECR. In this process, Dr. Phipps has also generously helped to design Iran’s first seminar and exhibition of SSH impact, developing an educational program and many other projects that are in initial stages.

This collaboration has provided ACECR, as an intermediary organization between research communities and the society, an opportunity to revise its practices, develop more impact-oriented strategies and activities, and therefore, use the enormous potential of Iran’s research communities to create impact more effectively. Furthermore, it has allowed ACECR to become part of the movement around the globe dedicated to supporting the use of scientific evidence and promote the impact agenda within research communities.

Speaking about this colorful, interactive and adventurous collaboration, we would be happy to find new partners too in this journey. Please do contact us if there could be any possibility for forming new opportunities and collaborations.

پیمودن مسیر اثربخشی با دوستان بین‌المللی اثربخش

اثربخشی رنگارنگ و سرزنده است؛ افراد گوناگونی از زمینه‌ها، تجارب و تخصص‌های متنوع در فرایند ایجاد ساختارهای سازمانی و تدوین حمایت‌ها برای کمک به محققان در دستیابی به اثربخشی دخیل هستند. همچنین اثربخشی فراتر می‌رود، فراتر از افراد تعامل ایجاد می‌کند و تغییر نهادی برای تأثیرگذاری را دنبال می‌نماید. علاوه بر این اثربخشی بسیار پرماجرا است. اثربخشی زمانی که یک محقق روز و شب در آزمایشگاهی کار ‌کند تا یک مقاله علمی عالی آماده سازد اتفاق نمی‌افتد. اثربخشی زمانی حاصل می‌شود که تحقیق به شکل مشارکتی انجام گیرد و از طریق فرآیندهای انتقال دانش پشتیبانی شود که به محقق کمک می‌کنند ارتباطات زیادی برقرار سازد، با ذینفعان و مشکلات آنها درگیر شود و از شیوه‌ها، نیازها و اولویت‌های آنها آگاهی پیدا کند. این طبیعت تعاملی اثربخشی است که بخش مهمی از هر مدل توصیفی درباره مسیر اثربخشی را شامل می‌شود.

این تعامل پرماجرا در فرآیند دستیابی به اثربخشی تنها منحصر به تعامل با دیگر ذینفعان خارج از دانشگاه نیست. اغلب برای دستیابی به اثربخشی محققان و دیدگاه‌های علمی متنوعی گرد هم می‌آیند؛ زیرا مسائل امروزه جوامع محلی و جهانی مانند تغییرات اقلیمی، برابری درآمدی، پناهندگان، گسترش جهانی بیماری‌ها و دیگر معضلات، چندوجهی و چند رشته‌ای می‌باشند. علاوه بر این، تلاش برای دستیابی به اثربخشی تنها مسئولیت محققان و شرکای غیر آکادمیک آنان نیست، بلکه مسئولیت مؤسسات تحقیقاتی نظیر دانشگاه ها هم هست که می‌توانند در ایجاد حمایت‌های مناسب برای اثربخشی تحقیقات همکاری کنند.

این موضوع می‌تواند توصیفگر همکاری در حال ظهور بین جهاد دانشگاهی و دانشگاه یورک، به عنوان دانشگاهی پیشرو در اثربخشی تحقیقات در کانادا باشد. نهاد جهاد دانشگاهی یک موسسه غیر دولتی بوده که در سال 1980 میلادی با هدف حمایت از تولید دانش و فن آوری تأسیس گردیده است. این مأموریت با انجام پروژه‌های تحقیقاتی و توسعه‌ای نوآورانه در زمینه‌های مختلف علمی و فناوری و همچنین تلاش برای بهره برداری از نتایج آن ها انجام می‌گیرد. شبکه اثربخشی پژوهشی کانادا (Research Impact Canada) ، شبکه‌ای متشکل از 15 دانشگاه کانادایی است که از اثربخشی تحقیقات در حوزه‌های اقتصادی، اجتماعی و زیست محیطی حمایت می‌کنند. ما اهداف مشابهی را برای انتقال دانش و ایجاد اثربخشی از تحقیقاتی که محققان ما انجام می‌دهند، دنبال می‌نماییم. در همین راستا ارتباطی از سوی آقای گلحسنی (مسئول اجرایی پروژه های مطالعاتی جهاد دانشگاهی تربیت مدرس) با دکتر دیوید فیپس (دانشگاه یورک، تورنتو، کانادا، مدیر شبکه) برای برخورداری از تجربیات این شبکه در حمایت از محققان آنها در دستیابی به اثربخشی در حوزه‌های علوم انسانی و اجتماعی شکل گرفت. ایران همانند کانادا دارای چارچوب ملی برای ارزیابی اثربخشی پژوهش‌ها مانند چارچوب تعالی پژوهش (REF) در انگلستان نیست. با این وجود، هر دو کشور علاقه‌مندند تا تلاش کنند که تحقیقات آنها تنها در مجلات علمی باقی نمانده بلکه بتوانند اثربخش‌های مثبتی را بر جوامع داخلی و جهانی ایجاد کنند. بنابراین، در مقایسه با کشورهای دارای مباحث ملی اثربخشی (نظیر چارچوب‌های ارزیابی)، ما باید تلاش بیشتری برای گسترش تفکر اثربخشی در جوامع علمی و کاربری خود به کار بگیریم.

این تعامل بین دو سازمان در طول 6 ماه گذشته در جریان بوده و شبکه اثربخشی تحقیقات کانادا اطلاعات و تجارب خود را در ارتباط با پروژه‌های اثربخشی جهاد دانشگاهی تربیت مدرس در اختیار این نهاد قرار داده است. در این فرآیند، دکتر فیپس با سخاوتمندی در برنامه‌ریزی اولین سمینار و نمایشگاه بین‌المللی اثربخشی تحقیقات علوم انسانی و علوم اجتماعی، تدوین دوره‌های آموزشی اثربخشی و بسیاری از پروژه‌های دیگر اثربخشی جهاد دانشگاهی که در مراحل آغازین قرار دارند مشارکت نموده‌اند.

این همکاری نهاد جهاد دانشگاهی را به عنوان یک سازمان واسط بین جوامع تحقیقاتی و جامعه با فرصتی فراهم کرده است تا در شیوه عملکردی خود تجدید نظر کرده، استراتژی‌ها و فعالیت‌های مبتنی بر اثربخشی را تدوین نموده و بنابراین بتواند از پتانسیل عظیم جوامع تحقیقاتی ایران برای ایجاد مؤثرتر اثربخشی در جامعه استفاده نماید. همچنین این همکاری، این فرصت را برای جهاد دانشگاهی مهیا می سازد تا بخشی از جنبش جهانی حمایت از استفاده بیشتر از شواهد علمی و ترویج برنامه‌های اثربخشی در جوامع تحقیقاتی باشد.

در ارتباط با این همکاری رنگارنگ، تعاملی و پرماجرا، برای ما پیدا کردن شرکای جدید در این مسیر مسرت‌بخش خواهد بود. اگر در نظر شما امکانی برای ایجاد فرصت‌ها و همکاری‌های جدید وجود دارد حتماً با ما ارتباط برقرار نمایید.

Creating Public Value Through Networked Governance: 5 Lessons From NBSPRN

This week’s guest post first appeared on Medium and is reposted here with permission. Nick (Executive Director, Open Government and Innovation, Government of New Brunswick) was active in Research Impact Canada (RIC) when he was Executive Director of the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network (NB SPRN). He recently joined an RIC panel at the Canadian Science Policy Research Network to discuss the research to policy interface using NB SPRN as a case study. He shares what he has learned working in this space.

Networked governance is an approach to problem solving that integrates the external capacities of organizations and individuals with government. In this sense, smart governments pull in the knowledge and experience of citizens to inform decision making and work with external actors to create value.

How networked governance and knowledge mobilization support a shift to an open government paradigm

How networked governance and knowledge mobilization support a shift to an open government paradigm

For over four years I developed and managed an organization dedicated to advancing a networked governance approach to policy development. As more and more organizations begin to take this approach I thought it useful to share some of our lessons learned. I hope this helps others accelerate their development.

If we knew then what we know now

1- We would have worked with government actors sooner to identify, prioritize, and frame the problems they want to solve; the problems requiring further research and engagement. Team role: government relations, strategic partnerships;

2- We would have invested in membership development, management, and engagement. As a member organization with a CRM tool you can position yourself to connect the right people, at the right time with the right projects. Developing a membership registration process that collects needed information and an orientation plan for new members is critical. Team role: outreach, engagement, member relations;

3- We would have built a knowledge translation and mobilization practice. Knowledge mobilization and brokering was identified early on as a strategic role of our network, however we did not invest in building the capabilities soon enough, nor in training our members. Joining Research Impact Canada really helped catalyze our thinking and capacity for knowledge mobilization. Team role: research, design, communications, digital media;

4- We would have developed a strong facilitation practice sooner. Bringing together diverse audiences and having them collaborate is no easy feat. It takes a special skill and intentionality to do this well. We invested in training our staff and partnering with outside facilitators to do this. Anyone who has been to a poorly chaired meeting knows how unproductive and frustrating they can be. It’s many times worse with larger groups of folks from a multitude of backgrounds. Team role: citizen engagement, facilitation, art of hosting;

5- We would have spent less time being transactional, chasing projects that would contribute to overly simplistic financial metrics. In an environment driven by financial contraints and crude success measures like return on investment, we spent a lot of time focusing on grant applications. This meant that rather than building infrastructure and systems that would meet the mission of advancing evidence-based policy development, we were focused on simply getting grant applications in. Success, especially into the long-term depends on far more than financial ROI. Investing in such infrastructure will actually contribute to a greater success rate in grants. Team role: systems thinking, strategic thinking, organizational design, network leadership.

A map of the networked governance ecosystem in New Brunswick

A map of the networked governance ecosystem in New Brunswick

One thing we did well from the beginning is collaborate generously. The Network’s founder once said: the only way to counter ego is to not have ego, and the only way to counter territorialism is to not be territorial. Our small fledgling team alone could not possibly build an ecosystem to change centuries old institutions. Everything we did required collaboration with others or facilitating collaboration between others. Networked governance means leading and working in unfamiliar, non-traditional ways. It means you cannot expect to fully own anything nor fully take the credit for anything. It means sharing or giving credit generously. It means your focal point remains on your transformative purpose, not small “p” politics, or personal glory.

In times of rapid change no one organization or government has the research and development capacity needed to be responsive. Investing in networks and the ability to work with actors from across sectors is a requirement to creating public value in the 21st century, not a nice to have.

Canada’s Impact Agenda is Everyone’s Agenda

This week’s guest post was first published on October 7, 2017 on the Canadian Science Policy Centre’s website. It is reposted here with permission.

Research Impact Canada will be featured in two sessions at the Canadian Science Policy Conference Nov 1-3, 2017. Robert Hache and David Phipps (York), Bill McKenzie (UNB) and Cathey Edwards (Carleton) will speak along with Matthew McKean, from Conference Board of Canada, an RIC partner.

Robert Hache and David Phipps
October 7, 2017

By: Robert Haché and David Phipps

Vice-President Research & Innovation
York University

Executive Director, Research & Innovation Services
York University

Canada’s impact agenda is everyone’s agenda

Academic research delivers economic, cultural, social, health and environmental impact. This fact was highlighted in the final report from Canada’s Fundamental Science Review (“the Review”), chapter two. However, the Review was silent on a consistent and proven way to ensure this impact occurs – more specifically, how to create impact – and a way to measure the impact.

There is a new forum for these vital discussions: This year, the 2017 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) is creating new spaces to discuss impact. In this conference, York University and Research Impact Canada are participating in two key panels the common goal of which is to unpack precisely how impact is created, with special attention on the science-policy interface and the challenge of assessing impact.

Where does Canada fit in internationally?

Unlike the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands, which have centralized impact assessment systems, Canada does not yet have an impact agenda. No one is debating the need for one. The time is now, as both Federal and Provincial governments are starting to require an impact component in funding. Proposed research, in today’s context, requires this vital component as well as the ability to measure it.

CSPC is aligned with this pressing necessity. Its impact agenda includes “measuring what difference science makes,” which clearly speaks to the value of science, and “creating the conditions for impact.”

Academic research provides foundation for impact

Partnerships are essential to maximizing impact. Academic research can’t operate in a vacuum when it comes to impact – a reality that was hinted at in the Review. Research needs to work in conjunction with policies that government develops guided by research and evidence; social services that non-profit organizations, including the health and education sector, deliver, bolstered by research; and products that industry builds, again based on the evidence provided by research. This is an ecosystem in which research provides the foundation. Only by working in collaboration with partners from the private, public and non-profit sectors will academic institutions create the conditions to maximize the impact of research.

This does not mean that all research must be applied. On the contrary, the roles of basic research, academic scholarship and artistic creation are evermore important. Fundamental research provides a base from which evidence-based policies, services and products can emerge.

Impact has almost limitless breadth

Far-reaching impact crosses disciplines and countries. For example, climate change is not merely a natural science occurring in one country; Indigenous issues are not confined to social science; and mental illness is just a health science.

Due to this remarkable breadth, which clearly speaks to many kinds of impact, to maximize research-borne impact, we need policy and institutional frameworks that acknowledge the following: science is more than science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); partnerships are more than industry; and impact is more than commercialization.

Leading the charge in impact maximization

Innovation York, York University’s innovation Office, leads the University’s efforts to maximize the impacts of our research. Innovation York has diversified beyond commercialization to include entrepreneurship, industry liaison and knowledge mobilization that has helped to create impact. Examples include services for at-risk youth in Peterborough, shelters for victims of domestic violence in Ontario, services for immigrant settlement in York Region and bullying prevention services reaching over 400,000 children across Canada every year.

These are just a few examples from York. Thirteen other Canadian universities have joined York working collectively as Research Impact Canada to develop and share the best methods of creating and measuring impact. Launched by York and the University of Victoria in 2006, Research Impact Canada now includes universities that span the spectrum from those with a polytechnic tradition, such as Kwantlen Polytechnic University, to U15 universities such as UBC, Western, McMaster, Saskatchewan and Université de Montréal.

With this shared goal around impact, these universities are developing institutional supports for knowledge mobilization that include undergraduate service learning, graduate student internships, collaborative research, public engagement and science Communications strategies for dissemination of information that spurs engagement with audiences, stakeholders and influencers. All efforts are designed to connect sciences to the private, public and non-profit organizations.

Impact truly is everyone’s job.

Learn more about Canada’s emerging impact agenda

Join us at Research Impact Canada on these dates:
Thursday, November 2, 3:30 pm: Mobilizing research for policy impact (Panel #304)
Friday, November 3, 1 pm: Realizing the impact chain (Panel #409)

To learn more about Research Impact Canada, visit the website. For more information on Innovation York, visit the website or watch the video.

UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum – Call for Content

This week’s guest post was first published on the UKKMbF website and it reposted here with permission.

UKKMbF call for contentThe UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum is a space for collaborative learning and reflection amongst those engaged in the art and science of sharing knowledge and ensuring that it can be used. We are now inviting contributions from anyone with a story, method, resource or insight to share about knowledge mobilisation. If you have got something to share, we would love to hear from you! To contribute, please read the details below, download the submission form (at the bottom of the page) and email it to us at by Friday 13th October. We aim to notify all contributors by the end of October 2017.

Contributions should cover one of the areas listed below. Please indicate which area your contribution fits into on the submission form.

– Knowledge mobilisation practice – examples and case studies of knowledge sharing practices and activities. The emphasis here is on sharing practices, experiences (good and bad!) and learning about the practice of knowledge mobilisation.

– Knowledge mobilisation research & evaluation – examples of research into knowledge mobilisation and the evaluation of knowledge sharing initiatives and approaches. The emphasis here is on sharing insights and results from the study of knowledge mobilisation.

– Knowledge mobilisation training & development – examples and case studies of knowledge mobilisation training and development activities. The emphasis here is on sharing experiences and practices of educating and training people (researchers, practitioners and the public) in the art and science of knowledge mobilisation. This could include activities to support informal learning and development amongst knowledge mobilisers.

In this year’s programme we have created opportunities for the following types of contribution.


Two interactive poster sessions will take place during the Forum. During the first, you will simply need to display your poster and provide an opportunity for your fellow delegates to leave (written) comments and questions. Posters should be A0 or A1 size and can be either portrait or landscape. During the second session, you will have an opportunity to respond to the comments and questions which have been left by your fellow delegates and to develop a shared conversation about your poster. Note – you will not need to ‘present’ your poster, but simply respond to the comments and questions which have been raised.


When we say short – we mean short! Presentations should last no more than 7 minutes in total, slides should be light on words and heavy on images and should advance automatically after 15-30 seconds. Resources to help you prepare (and work out if it’s for you) can be found here ( and here (


Workshops should be both practical and interactive with an emphasis on collaborative learning. You will have up to 45 minutes and could use the time to explore a topic in a bit more depth, give participants an opportunity to try something out, find out what people think about something you have developed or try out a new interactive or learning approach. The choice is yours – but the workshop should be both practical and interactive.


Market stalls provide an opportunity for you to ‘display your knowledge mobilisation wares’! This could include any kind of materials relating to your knowledge mobilisation practice, research or training & development activities. We particularly welcome stalls which will encourage interaction and conversations. You will be allocated a round table (approx 6ft diameter) to display your materials on, but if you need more space or would like to bring your own display boards, please indicate this on the submission form.

2018 submission form

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).

How to Tell a Story (of Your Research) to Anyone – You Are Batman

This week’s guest post first appeared the Kids Brain Health Network KT Core-ner blog. It is reposted here with permission.

By Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, Kids Brain Health Network

Almost two years ago I took a creative writing course. I didn’t expect at that time that it would be so relevant to Knowledge Translation, but I have come to realize that it really is.

storybookI remember during graduate school, as researchers-in-training we were taught to be able to ‘tell the story’ in our data, meaning, how think analytically or be able to describe the patterns in your data. Being able to tell the story that your data were telling you was necessary no matter whether it was a quantitative (statistical analysis of numerical data) project or qualitative (analysis of words, text). But beyond this, when it comes time to tell the story of your research project as a whole, you need to become Batman.

“Becoming Batman” means you can think of yourself as the protagonist (see #4 below) in the story of your research project when you are developing your messaging for your KT products. The KT Core recently produced an Infographic Guide. It requires the research team to sketch out the ‘story’ they want to tell about their research. It occurred to me post-production that maybe some further pointers were needed for how to do that, and became the inspiration for this blog post.

Whenever we create KT products, it is usually the hope that it will inspire and inform changes; either in policy, practice or individual behaviours and attitudes. In my creative writing class we were taught about ‘the poetics’ or the 4 ‘unities’ or ‘elements’ of any great story, no matter how it is told: in a book, a play, a movie, etc. In each great (popular) story, all 4 elements are present. These four elements and how they relate to telling a compelling story about your research that motivates people to take action are:

time1) Time: how much time is being covered in your story? With respect to your research project, how long as the problem (see: #4 antagonist) under study been an issue?

You need a containable frame of time. What was the time frame for your study? Is there a timeline?

Was there a short timeline within which you had to solve this problem? What were the macro segments of time (the overall timeline from beginning to end) and what were the micro segments of time (time it took to interview respondents)?

You need to decide what will be the beginning of the story, and what will be the end. Make the time frame clear. Will you start to tell the story from before the project began, when you consulted with stakeholders to find out what they needed and formulated the research questions in order to figure out what the solutions could be? Or will you start telling the story from when you successfully received a research grant to investigate your questions? Is this something that occurred in the past? Over the past week? Over years? Are you telling the story in past tense or present tense?

Be aware of how much time (e.g. in a video) or space (in an infographic) you have to tell your story – if you only have a small amount of time or space, you are bound by that so keep the story within these constraints. You can’t cover everything, and the amount of time or space will never be enough. But make a decision what you actually want to cover.

place2) Place: In your story, where is your research taking place? Place is very important to the story, is it clearly defined or mentioned? How has ‘place’ affected you and your role in the story of your research? What are the people like? How has it influenced who you are, how you do your work? Make sure your interaction with ‘place’ is part of the story you are telling.

3) Antagonist (villain): you can’t write a story without an antagonist, the antagonist is absolutely crucial to your story. But in your research project you won’t be talking about how (you as) Batman defeated the Joker. An antagonist in a research project can be an illness, disease, societal issue you want to understand or solve, or a phenomenon (like a discovery you want to make). Describe what your antagonist is. What is the problem you are investigating? Is your antagonist internal (you are struggling to overcome your own curiosity, your personal issues and/or health problems) or external (are you investigating a community or societal issue, an environmental plague, outer space, etc.)? It should be readily apparent to the reader what it is you are up against.

How did you (or are you planning to) overcome it? This will be your research methods.

4) Protagonistbatman: The protagonist is the ‘hero’ or main character. This would be you, the researcher. You are Batman. You and your research team are working towards overcoming the ‘antagonist’ or problem you are investigating.

How are you different now at the end of the project than you were at the beginning? What did you learn? Discover?

You can’t have a little of both – it is absolute – you either overcome the antagonist or you succumb to it. Did you overcome the antagonist (solve the problem you were investigating, make the discovery, answer your research questions) or did you succumb to it (the project did not yield results and further research is needed)? In storytelling this is known as the cathartic ‘release’, the recipient of your story is waiting to see whether it is going to be one or the other, and gets the same amount of pleasure out of the story whether you succeeded or failed. The reason why people are interested in your story is to find out what happened, to get that cathartic experience. In order to motivate the reader to action, you need to find a way to get that emotional reaction.

You have a fascinating research project. The trick is to be able to convey what’s important to you about your research, to someone else. What is at stake for you? For society? Make sure the stakes are high enough, this makes the story more compelling. What would happen if you hadn’t done this research project?

Food for thought for the next time you create an infographic (or really any KT product). What is the story you are telling? Does your ‘story’ evoke an emotional reaction? If the answer is yes, you will be more likely to motivate the reader toward action (e.g. changes in policy, practice, and/or personal behaviour) and isn’t that the reason why we do KT?

UK KMb Forum 2018 – Save the Date!

This week’s guest post was first published on the UKKMbF website on February 28, 2017 and it reposted here with permission

UKKMb Forum logoWe are delighted to announce that the UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum will be returning on 7th-8th March, 2018 in Bristol.

The UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum is an annual event for all those with a passion for ensuring that knowledge makes a positive difference to society. The Forum brings together practitioners, researchers, students, administrators and public representatives who are engaged in the art and science of sharing knowledge and ensuring that it can be used. The Forum is designed as a space for learning and reflection, providing an opportunity for sharing knowledge, experiences and methods and access to some of the most up to date thinking and practice in the field. Expect conversations, creativity and collaborative learning…and if you’re wondering what we mean by ‘knowledge’ – we are as interested in practical know-how, skills and experience as in research findings or evaluation data.

We will be announcing details of bookings and call for content later in the year, so for now please just hold the date in your diary.

Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest news – @UKKMbF

The “Guide of Guides” Series for Knowledge Translation

This week’s guest post comes from Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, Kids Brain Health Network (formerly NeuroDevNet).

Kids Brain Health Network (formerly NeuroDevNet) is a Network of Centres of Excellence funded by the Federal government of Canada. There are three discovery programs focused on the early diagnosis and treatment of: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Cerebral Palsy. Three Cores serve the researchers and trainees within the Network as well as the other Cores: Neuroethics, Neuroinformatics, and Knowledge Translation (KT). The KT Core is hosted by York University’s award winning Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) Unit and provides 7 services within the Network:

1- Knowledge Brokering
2- Support for KT Events
3- Support for KT Products
4- KT Capacity Building
5- Evaluating KT
6- Support KT Planning
7- Stakeholder Engagement

A couple of years ago, one of our researchers asked us for guidance for using social media for KT. We realized while searching for what was ‘already out there’ that there are a lot of guides for social media, but not all of them are targeted towards use by researchers. In collaboration with York University’s KMb Unit, we produced our first “Guide of Guides” that is a compilation of carefully selected and vetted guides for social media that are relevant. The “Guide of Guides” format resembles an annotated bibliography, where the reference information is provided for each guide along with a summary paragraph about the tool, how it can be used and why you may wish to use it. The “Social Media Guide of Guides” became the start of a series. This post serves as a “guide” to the “Guide of Guides” series.

Soon after, we produced the “KT Planning Guide of Guides”. We were doing a search for existing KT planning guides because another project we were working on was to provide KT planning support for 4 key projects within the Network and we wanted to see if there was a tool out there that we could use. What we ended up doing was creating our own, that was specific to our own needs (the Hybrid KT Planning and Project Management tool). However, we had conducted an exhaustive search of existing KT Planning tools so we reviewed and vetted them for quality and relevance, and created a similar “Guide of Guides” for KT Planning.

We received several requests from researchers for support and resources for creating infographics. After searching for existing guides, we realized that surprisingly there weren’t any guides for researchers about infographics, only blog posts. So, we vetted the blog posts, searched the literature and wrote a comprehensive evidence-based guide, followed by an annotated list of what we deemed were the best blog posts on infographics. Some blog posts pointed to examples of infographics, while others explained step by step how to create an infographic and what tools were available (usually free, online) for creating your own. While the content wasn’t really a “Guide of Guides” per se, we titled this product the “Infographic Guide of Guides”. We were fortunate to have one project team pilot test a draft of this guide and provide feedback before it was finalized and posted. This is the first guide that included an appendix with form-fillable fields to help research teams work through the process of creating an infographic.

Finally, we produced a “Stakeholder Engagement Guide of Guides”. There are many guides for doing stakeholder engagement, and it is becoming more important for KBHN to do stakeholder engagement in a more formalized way. After searching, reviewing, and vetting guides available online, we created a similarly formatted “Guide of Guides” for stakeholder engagement that also included a form-fillable appendix to help facilitate planning. Since there are many different reasons (goals/objectives) for engaging with stakeholders and many different formats for doing so, we created a summary table at the beginning of the guide that separates the types of engagement into three tables: mostly sharing information with stakeholders, sharing and listening, and mostly listening. The list of specific formats within each category was visually coded so that the user can easily find the corresponding guide for detailed information.

The KT Core may produce one more “Guide of Guides” on evaluation methods for KT.

Mobilizing Knowledge to Give Children and Families the Best Start: Research and Knowledge Mobilization Sub-Committee of Durham’s Best Start Network

This week’s guest post comes from Darren Levine, Manager of the Innovation and Research Unit in the Social Services Department of the Regional Municipality of Durham, on behalf of the Research and Knowledge Mobilization Sub-Committee of Durham Region’s Best Start Network.

Durham Region logoOver the past several months, the Research and Knowledge Mobilization Sub-Committee of Durham Region’s Best Start Network has begun to mobilize local EDI (Early Development Instrument) data to inform practice across Durham’s early learning community. This sub-committee is comprised of representatives from The Region of Durham’s Social Services Department, Innovation and Research Unit, and Health Department, local academic organizations including the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College, and community agencies.

EDI data is gathered every several years to examine school readiness in young children and is led by the Offord Centre. Following each gathering of the data, a research report is written and is used to inform planning. Our sub-committee has taken recent EDI research and, earlier this month, completed our first two resources – an at-a-glance poster to be placed on the walls of early learning centres, and a two page “research-to-practice” highlight to be circulated amongst early learning professionals. These resources translate areas of the EDI that suggest opportunities for improvement into tangible, evidence-informed strategies for early learning professionals. These initial prototype resources have been very well received and we have begun to receive requests to put up the posters and distribute the summaries in early learning and childcare centres across Durham Region.

We are very excited and, in the new year our sub-committee will be scaling up to translate and mobilize other parts of Durham Region’s EDI data into tangible products for early childhood professionals, as well as explore digital platforms to support and enhance this work. We will also be exploring ways in which we might evaluate the impact of our work. Equally exciting is the very strong academic-community relationships that have been formed, and the shared leadership to co-create these resources that has emerged from all members of our sub-committee. Knowledge mobilization is truly a team effort!

Our sub-committee could not have gotten here without inspiration and all that we have learned from York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit!

Members of this sub-committee include:

Darren Levine – Innovation and Research Unit, Durham Region Social Services Department (Co-Chair)
Ann LeSage, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (Co-Chair)
Alison Burgess, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
Denise Cashley, Resources for Exceptional Children and Youth, Durham
Erin O’Dacre, Durham Farm and Rural Family Resources
Gloria Duke-Aluko, Innovation and Research Unit, Durham Region Social Services Department
Jackie Dick, PRYDE Early Learning Centres
Jane Thompson, YMCA of Greater Toronto
Jason Warga, Resources for Exceptional Children and Youth, Durham
Julie Gaskin, Durham Region Children’s Services
Karen Chartier, Lake Ridge Community Support Services
Laura Stephan, Innovation and Research Unit, Durham Region Social Services Department
Lorraine Closs, Durham College
Mary Lennon, Lake Ridge Community Support Services
Nicole Doyle, Durham College
Pam Douglas, Durham College
Susan Mace, Durham Region Heath Department
Taryn Eickmeier, Durham Region Children’s Services
Terra Mucci, Resources for Exceptional Children and Youth, Durham
Tracey Hull-Gosse, Durham College

2017 Call for Content for the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum

This week’s guest post comes from the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization announcing their call for content for #CKF17.

PDF: CKF17 Call for Content & Fillable WORD CKF17 Call for Content Form

Call for Content #CKF17

The Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum was created in 2012 as a professional development forum for practitioners and professionals working in knowledge mobilization across fields and sectors.

It has become recognized as a premiere learning and networking event in Canada – friendly, open, limited in size, and creative. Events have been held in Ottawa (2012), Mississauga (2013), Saskatoon (2014), and Montréal (2015), Toronto (2016), and is scheduled for May 17-18, 2017 in the National Capital Region of Canada, Ottawa-Gatineau.

The theme for 2017 is:

Connections and Partnerships: Collaboration as a Key to Knowledge Mobilization

From the very start of the conversation about Knowledge Mobilization in Canada, connections and partnerships have been part of the narrative. Collaboration is a key component of many, if not most activities in Knowledge Mobilization. True to the meaning of the word, collaboration is often hard work. It requires us to co-labor together, to co-construct priorities, programs, policies, processes that lead to the use of evidence. Together, we build better communities and societies.

The theme for 2017 focuses us on how to be better together. We invite participation that will push thinking and engagement of the knowledge mobilization community further. The Forum will be hosted at the Canadian Museum of History and the Sheraton Four-Points Gatineau Hotel.

We are seeking presentations, posters, workshops, and open-space activities that facilitate active participation, networking, reflection and learning.

We are driven by an objective of allowing you to design your own conference experience that reflects your interests, experience, priorities and learning styles. Drawing on the assets of the National Capital Region, leaders in knowledge mobilization from all across Canada and beyond, it is our hope you will come away from CKF17 enriched, energized and engaged in this field like never before.

Our objectives are:

    Build on the past successes of CKF make this a preeminent event to learn and engage about knowledge mobilization in Canada
    Build capacity for knowledge mobilization
    Learn about work in other sectors to enable partnerships and collaboration
    Engage with leaders to influence future directions
    Meet the next generation of leaders and create opportunities to mentor and coach
    Access the latest tools, techniques and opportunities.

The 2017 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum is seeking contributions for content, which addresses the overall theme of Connections and Partnerships: Collaboration as a Key to Knowledge Mobilization, and links to the subthemes of:

Subtheme 1: Structures – What (for example: operating structures supporting partnerships, agreements, management systems, office layouts enhancing collaboration )

Subtheme 2: Processes – How (for example: tool boxes, networks, communities of practice, training)

Subtheme 3: Technology – Technology and Tools (for example: social media, apps, software, knowledge boards, database mining, CRM programs)

We are continuing to use the “The Knowmo Scale”. Here, we’re seeking presenters to consider their audience. Consider this our own unique variation of the Scoville Unit scale.

Is your presentation focused around skill development? If so, you would check off Knowmo 1.

Will you present on where we are in terms of KMb? If so, you would check off Knowmo 2.

Does your presentation focus on innovation in/for KMb? If so, please check off Knowmo 3.

We are seeking the following:

1) Catalyst Presentations of 10 minutes each

For each session, a small group of presenters will each engage the audience with a focused 10-minute presentation. Feel free to be provocative or pose questions. This will be followed by a 30-minute group discussion of the ideas presented, the connections that emerge, and implications for knowledge mobilization practice. People can apply individually or identify other presentation proposals they would like to be considered grouped with.

The value of these sessions emerges from the EXCHANGE of all participants. The presenters create a catalyst to conversation. Each session will be moderated by a session Chair.

2) Poster Presentations

Recommended max poster size is 36”/92cm high by 60”/152 cm wide. The posters will be juried by an expert panel of knowledge mobilization practitioners. Posters will be profiled at a specific event and you will have two minutes to share ‘what you need to know’ about your poster with all participants.

3) Professional Development Workshops to enable creativity of 50 minutes each

Workshops are an opportunity to share methods and tools useful to the practice of knowledge mobilization professionals in an interactive and engaging format. The aim is to help participants to improve their skills and understanding of KMb and to become better mobilizers.

Alternatively, people are welcome to submit presentations which are less interactive and more informative. For both, participants are welcome to consider non-traditional approaches for this exchange process: Fireside Chat; Debate; Panel Presentations or others.

4) Open Space – Approx. 45-60 minutes

Open Space is the only process that focuses on expanding time and space for the force of self-organisation to do its thing. Although one can’t predict specific outcomes, it’s always highly productive for whatever issue people want to attend to. Some of the inspiring side effects that are regularly noted are laughter, hard work which feels like play, surprising results and fascinating new questions.

— Michael M Pannwitz, Open Space practitioner

Participants are encouraged to take a leadership role in prompting and facilitating open space mini-conferences within the more structured program. In order to create appropriate spaces, we ask participants to indicate their intention and potential topic areas for discussion.


All contributions will be reviewed by an independent selection committee and judged for quality of content, the opportunity to advance our understanding of knowledge mobilization, and relevance to the theme of the 2017 Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum.

The deadline for contribution is March 15, 2017.

Please fill the Call for Content Form and send to:

Note: Selected content must be presented by a registered participant at the 2017 Canadian

Knowledge Mobilization Forum in Ottawa-Gatineau, May 17-18, 2017.

Further details will be posted on the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization’s website:

Building an impact literate research culture: Some thoughts for the KT Australia Research Summit

This week’s guest post is from Julie Bayley, Coventry University. It was originally published on her blog on November 12, 2016 and is reposted here with permission.

Julie BayleyI was delighted to be asked to speak at the KT Australia Research Impact Summit (November 2016). In my talk, I discussed many of the challenges of introducing an impact agenda into the academic community, and how impact literacy can help. An extended version of my slides are here, but let me talk through the key points below.

Consider impact. A small word. A simple, standard part of our vocabulary meaning influence or effect. But go from (small i) impact to (big I) Impact, and you’ve suddenly entered the domain of formal assessment and causal expectations. Arguably the UK have been the first to really take the Impact bull formally by the horns through the Research Assessment Framework 2014, but of course efforts to drive research into usable practice are far from unique to this little island. Whilst every country is rich with learning about how knowledge best mobilises within its own context, the UK probably offers a unique insight into the realities of impact assessment at scale and the multiple, non-prescribable pathways connecting research to effect.

First principles: impact is the provable effects of research in the real world (see slides 2 and 3). It’s the changes we can see (demonstrate, measure, capture), beyond academia (in society, economy, environment) which happen because of our studies (caused by, contributed to, attributable to). Dissemination, communication, engagement, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange and knowledge mobilisation are all vital in getting research into practice, but in its truest form, ‘impact’ is the protected description of the resulting change.

Largely speaking, impact has three main drivers (slide 4): funders (who increasingly require impact plans for research to be judged competitively), centralised assessment (eg the Research Excellence Framework, UK) and the individual academic’s commitment to social, economic or environmental change. Formal sector expectations such as the REF are a double edged sword. On one side they legitimate engagement and outreach activities which can be disregarded in income/publication focused environments. On the other however, they can confer unrealistic expectations on those disciplinary areas (eg. fundamental research) whose work does not naturally connect directly to ‘real world change’. Even where academics are personally committed to impact, the weight of complying with assessment rhetoric can corrode even the most impassioned resolve.

Impact offers challenges to academics and the institution alike (slide 5). For the academic, weaving impact into already pressured environments can be exhausting, and the unease of meeting expectations for impacts that are ‘significant’ enough for external assessment can trigger anxiety and anger. For the institution, staffing, resourcing and embedding impact within existing structures whilst ensuring assessment requirements are met is extremely tough. Similarly we must remember and address the challenges for the beneficiaries themselves. The ‘users’ of our work are concerned with how well the research fits their needs, and how accessible and useful it is. Unless work is appropriate and suitable for the audience, it’s unlikely to achieve its impact aims and will just introduce more burden into the user community.

So how can we do impact well? After several years in impact I’ve enjoyed/ burned my fingers on a considerable volume of training, planning/strategy building, designing information management systems and building impact into a university culture, alongside academic research in the area and (health psychology) research submitted to REF. It’s hard to disentangle the discrete elements of the impact process, which probably explains why I’ve had my fingers in quite so many pies. I have discussed the challenges still facing the impact community before, and how a reductionist, assessment driven approach can lead to impact short-sightedness. However, academics have an amazing and very privileged opportunity to make a genuine and meaningful difference to the ‘real world’. For this, the research community needs to understand how to make impact happen. The research community needs to be impact literate.

Impact literacy (slide 6, a term coined by myself and Dr David Phipps, York University, Toronto) describes individuals’ ability to understand, appraise and make decisions with regards to impact. Impact literacy involves understanding how the what (type, indicators and evidence of benefit), how (activities and engagement processes) and who (individuals’ skills and roles) of impact combine to produce effects. Impact literacy supports good decision making, clear planning and realistic methodologies. Impact can be pursued without being literate, but this is likely to lead to poor execution, missed opportunities, poor resource use and misaligned or underachieved targets. A person is only literate if they understand each of the three areas. If one is missing, thinking is incomplete:

    How + Who (without What) gives poor consideration to endpoints/effects
    How + What (without Who) neglects the importance of individual efforts and skills
    Who + What (without How) overlooks the need for appropriate engagement methods

We can and should also extend literacy beyond the individual and build an impact literate research culture (slide 7). With all the challenges to delivering impact within a pressured academic environment, it’s essential that institutions align their internal structures to supporting delivery. Bluntly put, you can only measure what you create, so start working together from the start. Academics need to build partnerships and translate research into suitable formats, whilst the institution values, resources and builds strategic connections beyond the institution (‘How’). Academics and research managers also need to recognise their own skills/training needs, and share/partner with others, whilst the institution must commit to professional development and clarifying roles (‘Who’). Academics must work with end-users to establish suitable goals and ways to measure them, whilst the institution must offer the strategic and systems support to manage this information (‘What’).

The process of building a positive and impact-literate culture is of course beyond the scope of one talk. It is an ongoing process and takes continued strategic and individual commitment. But if we really want impact, and good impact at that, we must focus on improving the knowledge, skills and confidence of academics and research managers across the institution. An impact literate culture is one in which people know what’s needed and how they contribute. A positive culture is one in which they know that contribution is valued.

So if you’re trying to build impact into your institution, my top tips would be (slide 8):

    Embed impact into the research process. If you’re going to create real benefits, impact has to be integrated from the start and not treated as a post-project add-on.
    Recognise one size doesn’t fit all. Impact cannot be templated. It is always unique to the project, discipline and it’s place along the fundamental-to-applied continuum. Tailor your thinking.
    Harness and build skills within the institution. Create your ‘impact agency’ by developing impact literacy, competencies and connections between colleagues.
    Engage not enrage. Impact is a small word with big implications. Give people time to adjust and build a strong approach together.

Remember (slide 9): Impact is achievable. But it’s not simple. Value the people involved and their efforts, support the processes and connect researchers, users and research meaningfully. Just imagine what’s possible if you do 🙂

Day 1 – Blueprint: Affordable Housing

This guest post first appeared on ventureLAB’s blog on October 19, 2016 and is reposted here with permission.

communityBUILD Design Lab brings out passion and fierce competition for the best solutions that address affordable housing

communitybuild1On October 15, 2016 over one hundred high school students, post-secondary students, housing experts, entrepreneurs, designers, advocates and educators gathered at Seneca College, Markham Campus for Blueprint: Affordable Housing, a two-day design lab that works towards solutions to create affordable housing, an issue that affects many communities across Canada.

It would be an understatement to say that this was a significant step forward to solving this ever-persistent issue. There was tangible passion and energy in the room throughout day one, from participants, facilitators, data analysts and design thinkers. It was clear that creating solutions for affordable housing was a passion for all who attended.

The goal of Blueprint: Affordable Housing is to generate solutions from York Region residents and organizations, in an effort to solve the global issue. On day two, on October 22nd , the top three ideas will be selected to participate in a three month incubator, provided by the communityBUILD program within ventureLAB.

Last Saturday, participants were taken through a series of design thinking exercises by Kelly Parke and Jennifer Chan, that would help inform solutions for the three challenges posed by the champion organizations, The Regional Municipality of York, Evergreen (GTA Housing Action Labs) and The Ontario Ministry of Housing. Each champion organization presented their challenges at the beginning of the day and participants were placed in to 13 teams to begin working on their ideas for solutions.

communityBUILD participantsFacilitators and data analysts assisted each team with solution development, and representatives from each champion organization provided additional insight into each challenge. Participants worked together to develop plans and strategies until 4:00 p.m., when teams left for the day. Before the day concluded, teams exchanged contact information and created DropBox accounts to work throughout the week on their solutions.

On October 22, 2016 participants will return for another full day of design thinking and solution development for their assigned challenges. Teams will be treated to a keynote presentation by Neil Hetherington, CEO of Dixon Hall in the morning, and in the afternoon they will present their solutions to the judges who will select three ideas to move forward in the communityBUILD incubator.

If day one was any indication, there will be some fierce competition this coming Saturday! Stay tuned to hear the results next week.

Blueprint supportersHuge thanks to our sponsors, including The Regional Municipality of York, Ontario Centres of Excellence, the Ontario Ministry of Housing, Evergreen, TranQuant and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation who supported the event.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

Systems Thinking as Part of a Knowledge Translation (KT) Approach

How Our NeuroDevNet Team Used Systems Thinking to Improve Our Production of Research Summaries

by Anneliese Poetz

Knowledge Translation. Anneliese has experience writing plain language research summaries for policymakers, parents and teachers at the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network and, in her most recent work for the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases, she facilitated national stakeholder consultations, and developed stakeholder-and evidence-informed products to improve public health practice. For more on Anneliese and her work click here. This post originally appeared on the KNAER-RECRAE Blog and is reposted here with permission.

I recently had the pleasure of being able to present at the recent Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum (#CKF16) conference in Toronto, Ontario. It was a 7-minute presentation entitled “Systems and Processes for Knowledge Translation” and focused on one of the examples of how I use systems thinking to inform my work in Knowledge Translation (KT).

Several years ago, I met a business analyst who informed me that what I was doing in my job in the field of KT was essentially what a business analyst does: use stakeholder input to inform the design (and/or re-design) of products and processes. When you think about it, everything we do in KT is either a product or a process. The products I worked on included evidence-informed tools for health care practitioners to apply to their work, and guides for researchers to help them “do” KT. One of the processes that we needed to improve was for our production of clear language summaries called ResearchSnapshots.

Wondering what the difference is between Knowledge Mobilization, Knowledge Translation, and other like terms? Visit Gary Myers’ KMbeing blog post and join the conversation on KMb: Definitions & Terminology.

If you look at slide #6 in the above presentation, you will see a framework that outlines the key concepts in business analysis, according to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK v.3). These are: 1) Need 2) Change 3) Stakeholder 4) Solution 5) Value 6) Context

Each of these is of equal importance, and all must be represented. One of the things we did wrong with our initial process for the ResearchSnapshots was that we transferred the existing process (and writing staff) used by York’s KMb Unit without consideration of the differences in context within NeuroDevNet.

One of the ‘tools’ within the field of Business Analysis is a methodology called root cause analysis. We conducted a root cause analysis in order to pinpoint what the root of the problem was, and create a targeted solution. We discovered the problem was that the writers used by York KMb’s Unit, although highly skilled in clear language writing, had social science expertise but were asked to summarize research papers that were basic science and clinical science based. The researchers complained that they had to rewrite most if not all of the content, and it was a lot of work for them to do so. The result was that we achieved customer satisfaction (buy-in) among the researchers for the new process.

What we did to improve the process was to first identify all the stakeholders directly and indirectly affected by the process. Then we gathered information about their needs (often in the form of the complaints we’d received from researchers) with respect to the process, which were then transformed into ‘requirements’. These requirements informed the re-design of the new process.

The process had to be easy for researchers, and create value for the Network. Since the projects within the Network were so diverse and often specialized, it would have been too difficult (and maybe impossible) to find writers who were content experts. So, the new process begins with the researcher nominating a paper that was produced as a result of one of their NeuroDevNet funded projects, along with one of their trainees (students) who is expert in the content area. Then, we provide training and support toward the production of a clear language summary of their paper that is ready for final review and sign off by the researcher. In this way, it is easy for researchers because they only have to make minimal edits to the draft, and it creates value for the Network not only because of the clear language summary that is produced but the transferrable skills that the trainee acquires.

Let’s break down how this method reflects ‘systems thinking’:

1) A system is composed of parts. The first thing we did was map out the stakeholders and where they were situated within the system (see slide #9).

2) All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly). We mapped out the stakeholders as related, directly or indirectly, to the customer service issue (or ‘incident’).

3) A system has a boundary, and the boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer or a group of observers. The ‘system’ was what facilitated the execution of the process for creating clear language summaries (ResearchSnapshots). In other words, the boundary of the system was the affiliation of researchers as part of NeuroDevNet, and research papers to be summarized were those produced as part of NeuroDevNet funded research projects.

4) A system can be nested within another system, a system can overlap with another system. The ‘system’ for producing ResearchSnapshots within the KT Core with one researcher is nested within the larger ‘system’ of the NeuroDevNet pan-Canadian Network of researchers and projects.

5) A system is bounded in time, but may be intermittently operational. A system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located.We engage with researchers to co-create ResearchSnapshotsat the time that we receive a service request, usually after a researcher has published a new peer-reviewed paper. These requests are sporadic depending on the frequency and pace of publications arising from its pan-Canadian NeuroDevNet-funded projects.

6) A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment. We receive requests but we will also offer services if we see an opportunity. Once the ResearchSnapshots are finalized, they are made available on the NeuroDevNet website.

7) A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs. The process for clear language writing of ResearchSnapshots is one of the processes that exist within the KT Core, that transforms inputs (peer reviewed publications, clear language summary drafts in word) into outputs (finalized draft of clear language summary, formatted onto ResearchSnapshot .pdf template, formatted for accessibility).

8) A system is autonomous in fulfilling its purpose. A car is not a system. A car with a driver is a system. Similarly, the KT Core as a department within NeuroDevNet is not a system. The KT Core with a Lead, Manager and Assistant, is a system.

As a systems thinker, remember that a system is dynamic and complex, and that information flows among the different elements that compose a system. For example, information flows among the KT Core Lead, Manager and Assistant. A system is a community situated within an environment. For example, the KT Core is a system situated within NeuroDevNet, and as a result, information also flows more broadly between the KT Core and NeuroDevNet’s community of researchers. Information flows from and to the surrounding environment, for example, the KT Core posts its finalized ResearchSnapshots publicly on the NeuroDevNet website.

The field of Business Analysis has identified (and published in BABOK) a common sense framework and practical methodologies, which I believe can advance the field of KT towards more meaningful and useful products and processes that are responsive to the systems in which they are intended to be used.

Knowledge into Practice Learning Network Launch Webinar

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”
(African Proverb)

Across the globe, in diverse professional fields, people are working to get knowledge into practice. However, it is well documented that despite widespread commitment in principle, many of the people and organisations who are undertaking knowledge into practice work face considerable challenges in accomplishing this aim.

Does your role involve linking knowledge and practice? Perhaps you’re a knowledge broker or knowledge mobiliser, researcher or practitioner, policy analyst, or a similar role. Whatever your title, whatever your field, the Knowledge into Practice Learning Network offers a rare opportunity to come together as an online community to learn and share advice, expertise, resources and opportunities, develop new international contacts and use our learning to improve our own practice and support each other to work most effectively.

In this launch webinar, you will have an opportunity to:

    find out more about this innovative global network,
    be introduced to the people behind the network,
    introduce yourself and connect with a new set of supportive colleagues,
    tell us about what you would like to get out of the network and the kind of resources and activities you would find useful

Date: 24 October 2016

Time: 16:00 (UK). To calculate your local time go to

Registration & joining instructions:

We hope you will join us for this inaugural webinar and the launch of this network.