Knowledge Mobilization for Particle Physics? / Mobiliser les connaissances en physique des particules?

Giving a knowledge mobilization workshop to members of TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, was a new stretch for David Phipps. But it also helped to ask the question, is public engagement in research a necessary precursor for knowledge mobilization?

Pour donner aux membres de TRIUMF, le laboratoire national canadien pour la recherche en physique nucléaire et en physique des particules, un atelier en mobilisation des connaissances, David Phipps a dû sortir de sa zone de confort. Mais cet atelier a permis de poser la question : l’engagement public envers la recherche serait-il un précurseur essentiel de la mobilisation des connaissances?

“TRIUMF is Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics. Its headquarters are located on the south campus of the University of British Columbia. TRIUMF houses the world’s largest cyclotron, a source of 500 MeV protons. TRIUMF’s activities involve particle physics, nuclear physics, nuclear medicine, and materials science.

There are over 450 scientists, engineers, and staff on the TRIUMF site, as well as 150 students and postdoctoral fellows. The lab attracts over 1000 national and international researchers every year TRIUMF has generated over $1B in economic impact activity over the last decade.” (thank you Wikipedia).

And now, they are thinking about knowledge mobilization.

Knowledge mobilization for particle physics? We have previously connected knowledge mobilization to rocket science but being invited by TRIUMF to give a workshop on knowledge mobilization was new for me and that’s exactly what I did on September 25, 2014.

Knowing the types of fundamental research undertaken at TRIUMF the fit with knowledge mobilization seems incongruous but not when you realize that social and economic growth are part of TRIUMF’s overall mandate, see top left quadrant of their strategic directions.

Diagram of TRIUMF wheel
TRIUMF already has a long history of public engagement and outreach. They host Saturday morning lectures and work with Science World on the “unveiling the universe” series. Every week they have tours of the TRIUMF facilities including specific outreach to and tours for schools. TRIUMF’s high school fellowship program offers fellowships each year to graduating secondary students entering their first undergraduate year at a recognized post-secondary institution. The fellowship includes an award of $3,000 and a six-week summer research experience at TRIUMF.

And moving beyond public engagement to arts based knowledge mobilization TRIUMF has a partnership with Emily Carr University of Art and Design to embed artists alongside TRIUMF researchers. Student artists interpret the science and the structures of TRIUMF in various styles of art including sculpture, painting, drawing and computer design.

For more on public engagement of science you can listen to York University’s Dean of Faculty of Science, Ray Jayawardhana, speak about public engagement and his passion for neutrinos on a recent CBC Ideas program.

But is public engagement in research a necessary precursor for knowledge mobilization?

I had the pleasure of visiting the National Coordinating Centre in Public Engagement (Bristol, UK). NCCPE provides tools and builds capacity for public engagement with the academy but do they support knowledge mobilization? If the goal of knowledge mobilization is public awareness to inform a change in attitude then public engagement and knowledge mobilization actually start to look alike. If the goal of your knowledge mobilization is to inform public policy and professional practice then then public engagement may provide a public route of support but may not be necessary to achieve your goal.

However, a commitment to public engagement demonstrates openness to making your research and your institution accessible to non-academic audiences. That orientation is a precursor to effective knowledge mobilization.

The Harris Centre of Memorial University of Newfoundland is one of Canada’s leading knowledge mobilization units and they function under an umbrella of public engagement.

At TRIUMF on September 25 we worked through basic concepts in knowledge mobilization. We then did a deep dive into Melanie Barwick’s KT Planning Template and then used the template to start to develop a KT strategy around the use of the medical isotope 99mTc. This knowledge mobilization planning is something York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit does with researchers over the course of many weeks. We did it with TRIUMF in a 2.5 hour workshop!

Should TRIUMF ever need a knowledge mobilization strategy to inform public policy or professional practice then their existing investments in public outreach and engagement will provide a strong foundation of openness and accessibility to research and evidence.

Leave a Comment