KMb and our CBR Friends and Family

As we explore what makes us the same and what makes us different, we see that community based research (CBR) is an important element of knowledge mobilization (KMb) service but that KMb service has elements that are outside the scope of CBR.
At this festive time of the year, thoughts often turn to friends and family (and sometimes they are both!). We have written many blogs comparing and contrasting KMb with the other ubiquitous research engagement strategy, technology transfer (click on the technology transfer tag in the tag cloud on the right for past blogs), but what about community based research (CBR)? There is much grass roots and institutional energy for community based research in Canada. Local community based research enterprises such as The Wellesley Institute (@wellesleyWI) in Toronto, the Centre for Community Based Research in Waterloo, our close friends at the UVic Office of Community Based Research, and U of Guelph’s Institute for Community Engaged Research support collaborations between faculty and community partners. There are also NGOs supporting CBR such as Community Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) and national initiatives like the Knowledge Commons.
But are these wonderful organizations and initiatives also supporting KMb while they support CBR?
We are family, so yes. There are a number of similarities between CBR and KMb:

  • Both feature co-production methods of research where community and university researchers work together
  • Both are change oriented
  • Both seek to “level the playing field” and recognize the mutual value that both bring to the research partnership

All the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche universities have researchers who are part of Knowledge Commons and many of us are collaborating with CCPH to explore recognition and reward for community engaged scholarship. So with all this overlap of membership and mandate, it is reasonable to wonder at the differences… but there are differences:

  • CBR often works on the big, persistent, “wicked” problems such as HIV/AIDS, Aboriginal concerns, poverty, health disparities and climate change as examples (wicked problems are discussed by John Camillus in Harvard Business Review, 2008, pg. 99). KMb is content agnostic. KMb seeks to broker relationships between researchers and non-academic research partners regardless of the topic or discipline.
  • CBR fosters relationships between community and university. KMb embraces research collaborations with community agencies but also works with governments, NGOs and the private sector. About 30% of the service York’s KMb Unit provides to non-academic agencies is provided to municipal and provincial government agencies.
  • In CBR, the community identifies the research question. About 30% of York’s KMb service is from university faculty seeking a community or other partner for their faculty-driven research agenda.
  • KMb is supported by university staff while university faculty undertake CBR.

In the words of David Yetman (@mobilizemybrain), “KMb is like the Ed Sullivan show. We set the stage but we have none of the talent”. In this analogy CBR would be some of the talent and knowledge brokers are happy to support this important work.
In a conversation with Sarah Flicker, one of York U’s leading community based researchers, I made this proposition: “All CBR is KMb but not all KMb is CBR”. She pondered and she agreed.
That led us to develop the model shown below where CBR is an important element of KMb service but that KMb service has elements that are outside the scope of CBR. By way of illustrating the difference, York’s KMb Unit recently brokered an introduction from a multinational IT company to a researcher from York’s Schulich School of Business. They are now exploring a collaboration in business processes that support IT resilience. Very KMb. Not very CBR.
Knowledge brokers love our CBR siblings. We are siblings. We are not twins. We are different but enjoy the time we get to play together and we wish all of our CBR cousins, friends and siblings and enjoyable holiday season.

3 thoughts on “KMb and our CBR Friends and Family

  1. “Knowledge brokers love our CBR siblings. We are siblings. We are not twins.”
    This is an important statement. The original thinking about knowledge mobilization at SSHRC in the early 2000’s was informed by the first evaluation of the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) program. There were a number of activities within the CURA grants that were outside the “normal” evaluation criteria.
    While not “normal”, they were important and were clearly creating value in communities, organization, and universities, as well as for researchers, students, communitry workers, and other citizens and stakeholders. We later stated that this was partly knowledge mobilization and partly community developmen/organizing.
    It is from this evaluative work that the “value” creation proposition entered into the knowledge mobilization ethos. What also emerged was – like the statement “All CBR is KMb but not all KMb is CBR” – is while Knowledge Mobilization is always about mobilizing knowledge, not all knowledge is ready to be mobilized. CBR is always about community and research but not about all communites at all all times. The contextual nature of KMb is as important as the contexts in which CBR happens.

  2. Great examples of some community-based research groups, such as The Wellesley Institute and the Centre for Community Based Research (to name only two of the several you mentioned). These grass-root organizations not only support collaborative research efforts, but also make important contributions to valuable knowledge.
    You make an excellent point when you say KMb is content “agnostic”, and your KMb diagram clearly presents Knowledge mobilization encompassing CBR, but KMb is not just CBR.
    As Peter Levesque pointed out, Knowledge Mobilization is contextual. I presented in a recent KMbeing blog ( that Knowledge Mobilization includes different types, uses, and places of knowledge. CBR is a certain type of knowledge, a certain way of using (and creating further) knowledge, and is a particular place for developing knowledge.

  3. Thanks for commenting guys. We have bumped into CBR often enough (and will be embracing it at CUExpo 2011) that we felt it time to compare and contrast the two important, related but distinct disciplines. @KMbeing and @peterlevesque are both KMb types who sometimes, but not always, practice your arts with communities. You also work with gov’t and professional associations. I would be interested to hear from CBR proponents their thoughts on these distinctions.
    CBR? Anyone? Anyone? CBR?

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