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

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

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

Conference Board of Canada logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a Comment