Knowledge Mobilization/Transfer and Immigration Policy: Forging Space for NGOs – the Case of CERIS – The Ontario Metropolis Centre

Shields, J., Preston, V., Richmond, T. Sorano, Y., Gasse-Gates, E., Douglas, D., Campey, J. and Johnston, L. (2015) Knowledge mobilization/transfer and immigration policy: Forging space for NGOs – the case of CERIS – The Ontario Metropolis Centre. Journal of International Migration & Integration, 16(2), 265–278.


The role of evidence-based knowledge and research in informing immigration and settlement policy is an important but under-examined area of inquiry. Knowledge for evidence-based policy-making is most likely to be useful to policymakers when it is produced collaboratively through sustained engagement between academic and non-academic stakeholders. This paper seeks to explore the role of non-governmental organizations in evidence/research-centred knowledge mobilization/transfer by a case study of CERIS—The Ontario Metropolis Centre, one of five immigration research centres in Canada that promoted partnerships to facilitate ongoing, systematic and timely exchange of social science knowledge. We explore the strategies and outcomes of establishing and maintaining relationships among academic researchers, representatives from non-governmental organizations and government policymakers. The experience at CERIS underscores the potential benefits from partnerships with non-governmental organizations that have detailed local knowledge of immigration and settlement issues and highlights the persistent challenges of funding and power imbalances that impede equitable and effective partnerships. The CERIS experience offers valuable insights into successful knowledge exchange from which the local, national and international immigration policy community can learn.

This article arises from a long standing government-academic-NGO collaboration on immigration and settlement. While the dedicated Metropolis funding has sadly dried up the legacy of the collaboration continues to generate impact for academic and non-academic partners. This article is about the role of NGO partners in KT/KM and illustrates not only what they get from a collaboration but what expertise they bring to the table. CERIS is itself a knowledge brokering organization – check out last month’s journal club post for more on institutional knowledge brokering.

This is a story about power and the “power imbalances that impede equitable and effective partnerships” – although on this very important point I would encourage the authors to go further than they did. The conclusion is correct, in my opinion, but I would like to have seen more in the analysis which was devoted mainly to the research symposia, see below.

The role of local NGOs is best summed up by the authors. “Locally, each centre was also required to establish partnerships with representatives from local NGOs that are service providers and advocates for newcomer populations. Since each centre was to concentrate on issues in its own region, community partners provided critical familiarity with local immigration and settlement issues and crucial contacts to facilitate the research, its dissemination and its use.” But even here the authors go one step further than working with NGOs for access to communities. Yet they modestly do not mention this in the article itself. Check out the authors.

Two of the authors are from the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. CERIS is predicated on a collaboration that involves non-academic partners throughout, including in governance, decision making, dissemination in peer reviewed literature and in the use of the evidence by NGO partners. It is this mutual involvement in all stages of the research to impact process that makes this an authentic partnership.

This is particularly justified in policy research. “It is virtually impossible to draw a straight-line link between research and policy decision. Rather, ongoing knowledge exchange in which all participants contribute to the identification of research questions, their investigation, the interpretation and presentation of research findings and their dissemination is most likely to result in relevant knowledge and its actual utilization in policy-making.”

In an authentic partnership explicit efforts are made to share power. Authentic partnerships inform the research that is conducted helping to co-create evidence that can have academic integrity and inform decisions about public policy and social services. As previously covered in this journal club it is engaged scholarship, not knowledge transfer, that helps get research evidence used by non-academic partners.

My only complaint about the paper is the authors set up this amazing collaboration with CERIS as a knowledge brokering organization. They go to great lengths to balance power differentials and then spend the majority of the analysis (4 pages) on the annual Community Research Symposium. I’m sure it’s a great symposium. But it’s only the public and most visible example of the collaboration that is CERIS. There is so much more to CERIS that accounts for its success as a knowledge brokering organization. In their own words, “In the end, KT and KM are about relationship building, not simply about doing and disseminating research.”

Questions for brokers

It’s not about academic supply of and community demand for knowledge. It’s about valuing the different yet complementary expertise of academics, policy makers, community partners and people with lived experience. How do you tell an academic researcher that s/he doesn’t know it all?

Assessing the impact of a symposium (a discrete activity) is far easier than assessing the impact of a long standing collaboration. What advice would you give John Shields and his colleagues in the event they are considering the next paper about assessing their efforts to balance power in the collaboration?

What methods do you use to balance power between academic and non-academic (especially NGO) partners?

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche is producing this journal club series as a way to make the evidence and research on knowledge mobilization 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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