Faculties of education and institutional strategies for knowledge mobilization: An exploratory study

Sá, C.M., Li, S.X. & Faubert, B. (2011). Faculties of education and institutional strategies for knowledge mobilization: An exploratory study. Higher Education 61(5), 501-512. doi:10.1007/s10734-010-9344-4.

You can request a copy of the article from ResearchGate here


The goal to enhance the impacts of academic research in the ‘real world’ resonates with progressive visions of the role of universities in society, and finds support among policy makers who have sought to enhance the ‘transfer’, ‘translation’, ‘uptake’, or ‘valorization’ of research knowledge in several areas of public services. This paper reports on an exploratory study of the strategies used by selected Canadian and international faculties of education to mobilize research knowledge. Drawing on data from semistructured interviews with senior administrators of 13 faculties of education, the analysis reveals several themes. Academic leaders recognize knowledge mobilization as a desirable institutional mission, but they identify a number of barriers to greater efforts in this area. Although a number of strategies are employed, changes across multiple organizational dimensions to encourage and support knowledge mobilization were reported at only two institutions. These results are relevant to faculty administrators, scholars, and policymakers interested in understanding the role of academic institutions in the mobilization of research knowledge to the broader education community.

This is another journal club about an article on institutional roles in knowledge mobilization. You can see recent others here and here. I am writing about these recently because I think we have lots of literature about the functions of researchers, partners and knowledge brokers but less on what institutions can do to support the work of the people who actually (co-)create the evidence and translate that into impact.

Should academic institutions play a role in knowledge mobilization? The authors acknowledge the dissenting opinions. “The notion that universities should take deliberate steps in this area is also subject to criticism. Some construe these efforts as an encroachment of utilitarian and instrumental views of the role of universities in society; others believe that emphasizing the external impact and uptake of research threatens forms of inquiry that do not lend themselves to immediate applications.” And then they move on. Nicely done.

If we accept that knowledge mobilization and related activities are functions of every SSHRC, CIHR, CRC and CFI (see Benefits to Canada) and health charity and most NSERC grant applications then I believe it is incumbent on institutions to support their faculty and students in these endeavours.

The authors quote literature identifying potential roles of institutions. Knowledge mobilization can be facilitated in academic institutions through changes in five areas: revising promotion and tenure guidelines to encourage and reward knowledge mobilization; proving funding and organizational resources such as opportunities for networking, skills training and administrative support; developing facilitating internal structures such as establishing dedicated offices; enhancing organizational orientation towards knowledge mobilization; and standardizing knowledge mobilization practices within the institution.

Five areas…how is your institution doing?

One area that didn’t come up in this research is the role of institutional planning. If knowledge mobilization and impacts of research are not in the university academic plan or strategic research plan (or equivalent in your institution) then it will only be a marginal activity on soft money. Planning drives resources which then enable activities like these five areas above. This is mentioned obliquely under “institutional priority and supports” but then goes on to describe supports and not the role of planning in identifying institutional priorities.

There were 5 Canadian Faculties of Education among the 13 interviewed. Only two (Melbourne and London, UK) has structures to support knowledge mobilization.

Sorry but this is wrong because the methodology was focused solely on the Faculties of Education. York University (a participating university) has a centralized knowledge mobilization unit under the VP Research & Innovation that provides services across the campus including to the Faculty of Education. Asking the Faculties to speak about their organizational contexts would have picked this up.

Table 2 identifies the barriers to Faculty level supports for knowledge mobilization including money, time, divided attitudes, difficulty assessing outcomes and setting targets and because it is hard plus others. Wait…we don’t do it because it is hard…give me a break. That’s a justification for needing professional supports not a justification to not do it when every SSHRC grant (which funds education research) requires it.

Rant over. Journal club almost over.

Questions for brokers:

1- The literature identifies five areas where institutions can support knowledge mobilization. How is your institution doing?

2- Is knowledge mobilization part of your institution’s planning? If not, how might you move this into institutional planning?

3- Institutional supports for knowledge mobilization: Faculty-based or a central service unit. Which is better?

Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series as a way to make the evidence and research on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read the article, then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.

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