How Can Universities Contribute to Inclusive Innovation? / Comment les universités contribuent-elles à l’innovation solidaire?

ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) worked with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and 16 other universities and stakeholders to draft a letter to Ministers Bains, Chagger and Duncan outlining how universities can contribute to Canada’s innovation strategy which is increasingly being described as “inclusive innovation”.

Le RéseauImpactRecherche-ResearchImpact (RIR), en collaboration avec la Fondation de la famille J.W. McConnell et 16 autres universités et intervenants, a rédigé une lettre destinée aux ministres Bains, Chagger et Duncan pour expliquer comment les universités peuvent contribuer à la stratégie du Canada en matière d’innovation, de plus en plus souvent qualifiée d’« innovation solidaire ».

The letter in response to “Positioning Canada to Lead: An Inclusive Innovation Agenda” is posted on the RECODE section of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation website. The letter describes the opportunity facing Canada. It states, “Innovation is key to human development. It is imperative to move beyond innovation for innovation’s sake to purposeful innovation that contributes socially and economically while also creating positive and / or reducing negative impacts on our natural resources. The term “inclusive growth” refers to an important and insufficiently acknowledged economic opportunity.”

The letter outlines some ideas for policy, program and talent opportunities that serve as a starting point for conversations with government. There are also examples, including RIR, appended to the letter. Some ideas directly relevant to RIR were present in all three categories:

Policy Ideas (this describes knowledge brokering, a major role for RIR)

• Expanding support for multi-disciplinary and cross-sector solutions-generating collaboration platforms as core features of the innovation ecosystem; as the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences said it is necessary to “bring researchers from different disciplines together with leaders in all levels of government, the private sector and civil society…”. There is a diverse and growing spectrum of collaboration platforms, including change and social innovation labs.

Program Ideas (this describes the RIR network)

• Creating incentives for regional and national platforms/networks for campus community collaboration and holding those platforms to account for short-term (three-year) outcomes that will generate long term (5-10 year) economic, social and environmental impacts.

Talent Ideas (this describes service learning and graduate student internships, key knowledge mobilization methods)

• Support co-ops and work-integrated learning programs in all academic faculties (not just business) to help students build the skills and experience required to enter the work force. Include all types of businesses from SMEs and non-profits to multi-national corporations in these programs.

RIR continues the discussion with McConnell and the other stakeholders to further develop these policy, program and talent ideas in order to trigger a substantive discussion with government. As identified by the Conference Board of Canada universities need to diversify beyond narrowly construed notions of technology transfer and commercialization if they are to contribute fully to an inclusive innovation agenda. This diversification includes experiential learning for undergraduate and graduate students as well as knowledge mobilization connecting all disciplines to partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors.

The letter had 18 signatories including the Presidents of RIR members York University, University of Guelph, University of New Brunswick, as well as representatives from RIR members University of Victoria, Wilfrid Laurier University, and David Phipps signing as the RIR Network Director.

Building an impact literate research culture: Some thoughts for the KT Australia Research Summit

This week’s guest post is from Julie Bayley, Coventry University. It was originally published on her blog on November 12, 2016 and is reposted here with permission.

Julie BayleyI was delighted to be asked to speak at the KT Australia Research Impact Summit (November 2016). In my talk, I discussed many of the challenges of introducing an impact agenda into the academic community, and how impact literacy can help. An extended version of my slides are here, but let me talk through the key points below.

Consider impact. A small word. A simple, standard part of our vocabulary meaning influence or effect. But go from (small i) impact to (big I) Impact, and you’ve suddenly entered the domain of formal assessment and causal expectations. Arguably the UK have been the first to really take the Impact bull formally by the horns through the Research Assessment Framework 2014, but of course efforts to drive research into usable practice are far from unique to this little island. Whilst every country is rich with learning about how knowledge best mobilises within its own context, the UK probably offers a unique insight into the realities of impact assessment at scale and the multiple, non-prescribable pathways connecting research to effect.

First principles: impact is the provable effects of research in the real world (see slides 2 and 3). It’s the changes we can see (demonstrate, measure, capture), beyond academia (in society, economy, environment) which happen because of our studies (caused by, contributed to, attributable to). Dissemination, communication, engagement, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange and knowledge mobilisation are all vital in getting research into practice, but in its truest form, ‘impact’ is the protected description of the resulting change.

Largely speaking, impact has three main drivers (slide 4): funders (who increasingly require impact plans for research to be judged competitively), centralised assessment (eg the Research Excellence Framework, UK) and the individual academic’s commitment to social, economic or environmental change. Formal sector expectations such as the REF are a double edged sword. On one side they legitimate engagement and outreach activities which can be disregarded in income/publication focused environments. On the other however, they can confer unrealistic expectations on those disciplinary areas (eg. fundamental research) whose work does not naturally connect directly to ‘real world change’. Even where academics are personally committed to impact, the weight of complying with assessment rhetoric can corrode even the most impassioned resolve.

Impact offers challenges to academics and the institution alike (slide 5). For the academic, weaving impact into already pressured environments can be exhausting, and the unease of meeting expectations for impacts that are ‘significant’ enough for external assessment can trigger anxiety and anger. For the institution, staffing, resourcing and embedding impact within existing structures whilst ensuring assessment requirements are met is extremely tough. Similarly we must remember and address the challenges for the beneficiaries themselves. The ‘users’ of our work are concerned with how well the research fits their needs, and how accessible and useful it is. Unless work is appropriate and suitable for the audience, it’s unlikely to achieve its impact aims and will just introduce more burden into the user community.

So how can we do impact well? After several years in impact I’ve enjoyed/ burned my fingers on a considerable volume of training, planning/strategy building, designing information management systems and building impact into a university culture, alongside academic research in the area and (health psychology) research submitted to REF. It’s hard to disentangle the discrete elements of the impact process, which probably explains why I’ve had my fingers in quite so many pies. I have discussed the challenges still facing the impact community before, and how a reductionist, assessment driven approach can lead to impact short-sightedness. However, academics have an amazing and very privileged opportunity to make a genuine and meaningful difference to the ‘real world’. For this, the research community needs to understand how to make impact happen. The research community needs to be impact literate.

Impact literacy (slide 6, a term coined by myself and Dr David Phipps, York University, Toronto) describes individuals’ ability to understand, appraise and make decisions with regards to impact. Impact literacy involves understanding how the what (type, indicators and evidence of benefit), how (activities and engagement processes) and who (individuals’ skills and roles) of impact combine to produce effects. Impact literacy supports good decision making, clear planning and realistic methodologies. Impact can be pursued without being literate, but this is likely to lead to poor execution, missed opportunities, poor resource use and misaligned or underachieved targets. A person is only literate if they understand each of the three areas. If one is missing, thinking is incomplete:

    How + Who (without What) gives poor consideration to endpoints/effects
    How + What (without Who) neglects the importance of individual efforts and skills
    Who + What (without How) overlooks the need for appropriate engagement methods

We can and should also extend literacy beyond the individual and build an impact literate research culture (slide 7). With all the challenges to delivering impact within a pressured academic environment, it’s essential that institutions align their internal structures to supporting delivery. Bluntly put, you can only measure what you create, so start working together from the start. Academics need to build partnerships and translate research into suitable formats, whilst the institution values, resources and builds strategic connections beyond the institution (‘How’). Academics and research managers also need to recognise their own skills/training needs, and share/partner with others, whilst the institution must commit to professional development and clarifying roles (‘Who’). Academics must work with end-users to establish suitable goals and ways to measure them, whilst the institution must offer the strategic and systems support to manage this information (‘What’).

The process of building a positive and impact-literate culture is of course beyond the scope of one talk. It is an ongoing process and takes continued strategic and individual commitment. But if we really want impact, and good impact at that, we must focus on improving the knowledge, skills and confidence of academics and research managers across the institution. An impact literate culture is one in which people know what’s needed and how they contribute. A positive culture is one in which they know that contribution is valued.

So if you’re trying to build impact into your institution, my top tips would be (slide 8):

    Embed impact into the research process. If you’re going to create real benefits, impact has to be integrated from the start and not treated as a post-project add-on.
    Recognise one size doesn’t fit all. Impact cannot be templated. It is always unique to the project, discipline and it’s place along the fundamental-to-applied continuum. Tailor your thinking.
    Harness and build skills within the institution. Create your ‘impact agency’ by developing impact literacy, competencies and connections between colleagues.
    Engage not enrage. Impact is a small word with big implications. Give people time to adjust and build a strong approach together.

Remember (slide 9): Impact is achievable. But it’s not simple. Value the people involved and their efforts, support the processes and connect researchers, users and research meaningfully. Just imagine what’s possible if you do 🙂

Certificate in Knowledge Mobilization

Certificate in knowledge mobilization

As of January 2017, the University of Guelph’s Certificate in Knowledge Mobilization will be offered entirely online. Through three eight-week courses, the program helps participants develop new skills and use various techniques to help turn knowledge into action.

Turning Knowledge into Action
Promotional Early Bird Fee offered until November 25, 2016.
Register today at www.knowledgemobilization.ca

The program

The Certificate in Knowledge Mobilization builds capacity for the transformation of knowledge into action. Participants will learn to identify and address barriers to knowledge mobilization, transfer or exchange, and use tools and techniques to facilitate the development of evidence-informed policy and practice.

The program consists of three online courses:

1. Inform: Processes of knowledge translation and dissemination (January 23 to March 19, 2017)
2. Engage: Building capacity to understand and use relevant evidence (September 18 to November 12, 2017)
3. Act: Transforming knowledge into action (January 22 to March 18, 2018)

Who should participate?

The certificate is targeted towards KMb practitioners, researchers, policy-makers and service providers working in the social sciences, human services and health sectors. We also welcome graduate students interested in building KMb skills or planning to work in one of these fields.

Instructors

The courses will be taught by experienced instructors and knowledge brokers:
Anne Bergen, Ph.D., Director, Knowledge to Action Consulting
Travis Sztainert, Ph.D., Knowledge Broker and Content Specialist at Gambling Research Exchange Ontario

For more information, visit us at www.knowledgemobilization.ca.

Day 1 – Blueprint: Affordable Housing

This guest post first appeared on ventureLAB’s blog on October 19, 2016 and is reposted here with permission.

communityBUILD Design Lab brings out passion and fierce competition for the best solutions that address affordable housing

communitybuild1On October 15, 2016 over one hundred high school students, post-secondary students, housing experts, entrepreneurs, designers, advocates and educators gathered at Seneca College, Markham Campus for Blueprint: Affordable Housing, a two-day design lab that works towards solutions to create affordable housing, an issue that affects many communities across Canada.

It would be an understatement to say that this was a significant step forward to solving this ever-persistent issue. There was tangible passion and energy in the room throughout day one, from participants, facilitators, data analysts and design thinkers. It was clear that creating solutions for affordable housing was a passion for all who attended.

The goal of Blueprint: Affordable Housing is to generate solutions from York Region residents and organizations, in an effort to solve the global issue. On day two, on October 22nd , the top three ideas will be selected to participate in a three month incubator, provided by the communityBUILD program within ventureLAB.

Last Saturday, participants were taken through a series of design thinking exercises by Kelly Parke and Jennifer Chan, that would help inform solutions for the three challenges posed by the champion organizations, The Regional Municipality of York, Evergreen (GTA Housing Action Labs) and The Ontario Ministry of Housing. Each champion organization presented their challenges at the beginning of the day and participants were placed in to 13 teams to begin working on their ideas for solutions.

communityBUILD participantsFacilitators and data analysts assisted each team with solution development, and representatives from each champion organization provided additional insight into each challenge. Participants worked together to develop plans and strategies until 4:00 p.m., when teams left for the day. Before the day concluded, teams exchanged contact information and created DropBox accounts to work throughout the week on their solutions.

On October 22, 2016 participants will return for another full day of design thinking and solution development for their assigned challenges. Teams will be treated to a keynote presentation by Neil Hetherington, CEO of Dixon Hall in the morning, and in the afternoon they will present their solutions to the judges who will select three ideas to move forward in the communityBUILD incubator.

If day one was any indication, there will be some fierce competition this coming Saturday! Stay tuned to hear the results next week.

Blueprint supportersHuge thanks to our sponsors, including The Regional Municipality of York, Ontario Centres of Excellence, the Ontario Ministry of Housing, Evergreen, TranQuant and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation who supported the event.

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

KMb at York 2015-2016 Annual Report Released / L’Unité de MdC de l’Université York rapport annuel pour 2015-2016

KMb at York has completed it’s Annual Report for 2015-16. The report highlights current services and recent successes and this report shared reflections on 10 years of KMb services at York University.

L’Unité de mobilisation des connaissances de l’Université York vient de terminer son rapport annuel pour 2015-2016. Ce rapport met en lumière les services offerts actuellement et les réussites les plus récentes, et propose une réflexion sur dix années de MdC à York.

2015-2016-kmb-at-yorku-annual-report-coverYou won’t have to look far to notice a central overarching theme to our Annual Report, which is recently completed and can be accessed here. The title page reflects a new logo we shared to reflect the 10 year anniversary of KMb Unit services and support at York U and for York Region and the entire Greater Toronto Area.

This 16 page report highlights our services, activities, partnerships and accomplishments over the past year and since 2006. The feature story is the success of the York Region Food Network (YRFN). Our engagement with YRFN has been more a tapestry of research engagement in areas of policy such as their Food Charter leadership as well as areas of programming such as their Aquaponics lab. Dr. Rod MacRae from the Faculty of Environmental Studies has provided oversight and engagement over this relationship and for a true grassroots organization it is great to see the significant impact YRFN is having in the Region.

The report also provides readers a two-page infographic which takes them along a timeline of development and accomplishment for the KMb Unit. Partnerships, staff hiring and service milestones are all represented in this great visual look back over time. The leadership of KMb at York is reflected well in this work developed by our Data and Communications Student, Meghan Terry.
Meghan is also the feature of our annual Student Profile.

Students play a very important role in support the work of the KMb Unit and with two students working regularly in our office (also working with Meghan is Rebecca Giblon as a Research Translation Assistant). Over the years students have been involved in many key operational developments, including this annual report. Our commitment to train and support students in areas of KMb is something we are very proud of.

Annual reports provide a good opportunity to reflect, gather data and information and help plan moving forward. And while we’re hopeful to share an Annual Report in 2025-2026 to reflect our 20th anniversary we acknowledge that year over year the growth, development and refinement of our service unit is important to capture, share and showcase. So we will focus on this 11th year of engaging our researchers and their partners outside the university in an effort to help research inform important areas of public policy and professional practice.

Lastly, 2016-2017 will see the KMb Unit formally move within the Innovation York office. This move will situate all innovation services for research in one office. We’re excited for the opportunities which we feel will strengthen our capacity to provide quality services.

Thank you for 10 years of support!

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.

Human centred innovation / L’innovation centrée sur l’humain

The Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences (“The Federation”) made a submission to Canada’s Innovation Agenda. The Federation argues that “we need to bring creativity and imagination to bear on complex problems and understand the human process at the heart of innovation”. This includes strengthening connections and knowledge flow among humanities and social sciences (HSS) researchers and other partners from governments, civil society, academia and business.

La Fédération canadienne des sciences humaines (« la Fédération ») a suggéré des orientations au Programme d’innovation du Canada. La Fédération soutient que « nous devons rivaliser de créativité et d’imagination pour dénouer des problèmes complexes et comprendre le processus humain au cœur de l’innovation ». Cela suppose notamment le renforcement des liens et des échanges de connaissances entre les chercheurs des sciences humaines et leurs partenaires du gouvernement, de la société civile et du milieu des affaires.

Federation logoLed by Minister Bains (Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development), Canada is developing a new innovation strategy and is soliciting input from individuals and organizations across Canada. The Federation, drawing on their representation of over 160 universities, colleges and scholarly associations and a community of over 91,000 researchers and students, made a submission that promoted the human element of innovation.

The Federation’s submission contains three areas of focus including:
• expand experiential learning for all students through an expansion of the Post-Secondary Industry Partnership and Cooperative Placement Initiative to include HSS.
• increase fundamental research into human thought, behaviour and experiences. This will increase HSS research funding to be a minimum of 20 percent (=approximately double current levels) of Canada’s federal research portfolio within 10 years.
• strengthen connections and knowledge flow among HSS researchers and other partners from governments, civil society, academia and business to help Canada find innovative solutions to pressing complex social challenges.

This last area deals with knowledge mobilization. This third section of the submission cites examples from SFU, OCAD U, Ryerson and Concordia to illustrate mechanisms to connect HSS research(ers) to society. While individual examples of knowledge mobilization abound, mainly in individual research programs and research centres, there are fewer examples of institutional supports such as those practiced by the 12 universities in ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), Canada’s knowledge mobilization network. The submission calls for “a supportive national framework for such collaborations to enable scaling up of local innovations”. It then proceeds with recommendation #3 which includes the following:

Significant federal funding should be devoted to the creation and expansion of university-based innovation and cross-disciplinary hubs to address the broad range of social and economic complex challenges facing Canadians. For example, the government should enhance support for multi-disciplinary knowledge-mobilization networks, such as the ResearchImpact Network (www.researchimpact.ca), to scale up existing services that connect the public, private, not-for-profit and higher education sectors

Minister Bains will hopefully take note when presented with these recommendations. Canada needs a pan-Canadian knowledge mobilization strategy that will build on the lessons learned by the 12 RIR members and strengthen knowledge flows in communities and campuses across Canada.

Collectively these three recommendations from The Federation create the call to action for a human centred innovation strategy. Tony Surman (CEO, Centre for Social Innovation) has written in the Globe & Mail that Canada’s ‘innovation agenda’ isn’t dependent on just tech – it is also dependent on social factors and social innovation. This is critical to answering the call of Daniele Zanotti, CEO of United Way Toronto & York Region, who says we will not charity our way out of complex social issues. We need new combinations of knowledge and expertise that employ a human centred model of innovation.

Thanks you to The Federation for promoting the critical role of HSS in Canada’s innovation system. As part of this innovation Canada needs a pan Canadian knowledge mobilization strategy. Canada needs ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche.

Systems Thinking as Part of a Knowledge Translation (KT) Approach

How Our NeuroDevNet Team Used Systems Thinking to Improve Our Production of Research Summaries

by Anneliese Poetz

Knowledge Translation. Anneliese has experience writing plain language research summaries for policymakers, parents and teachers at the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network and, in her most recent work for the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases, she facilitated national stakeholder consultations, and developed stakeholder-and evidence-informed products to improve public health practice. For more on Anneliese and her work click here. This post originally appeared on the KNAER-RECRAE Blog and is reposted here with permission.

I recently had the pleasure of being able to present at the recent Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum (#CKF16) conference in Toronto, Ontario. It was a 7-minute presentation entitled “Systems and Processes for Knowledge Translation” and focused on one of the examples of how I use systems thinking to inform my work in Knowledge Translation (KT).

Several years ago, I met a business analyst who informed me that what I was doing in my job in the field of KT was essentially what a business analyst does: use stakeholder input to inform the design (and/or re-design) of products and processes. When you think about it, everything we do in KT is either a product or a process. The products I worked on included evidence-informed tools for health care practitioners to apply to their work, and guides for researchers to help them “do” KT. One of the processes that we needed to improve was for our production of clear language summaries called ResearchSnapshots.

Wondering what the difference is between Knowledge Mobilization, Knowledge Translation, and other like terms? Visit Gary Myers’ KMbeing blog post and join the conversation on KMb: Definitions & Terminology.

If you look at slide #6 in the above presentation, you will see a framework that outlines the key concepts in business analysis, according to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK v.3). These are: 1) Need 2) Change 3) Stakeholder 4) Solution 5) Value 6) Context

Each of these is of equal importance, and all must be represented. One of the things we did wrong with our initial process for the ResearchSnapshots was that we transferred the existing process (and writing staff) used by York’s KMb Unit without consideration of the differences in context within NeuroDevNet.

One of the ‘tools’ within the field of Business Analysis is a methodology called root cause analysis. We conducted a root cause analysis in order to pinpoint what the root of the problem was, and create a targeted solution. We discovered the problem was that the writers used by York KMb’s Unit, although highly skilled in clear language writing, had social science expertise but were asked to summarize research papers that were basic science and clinical science based. The researchers complained that they had to rewrite most if not all of the content, and it was a lot of work for them to do so. The result was that we achieved customer satisfaction (buy-in) among the researchers for the new process.

What we did to improve the process was to first identify all the stakeholders directly and indirectly affected by the process. Then we gathered information about their needs (often in the form of the complaints we’d received from researchers) with respect to the process, which were then transformed into ‘requirements’. These requirements informed the re-design of the new process.

The process had to be easy for researchers, and create value for the Network. Since the projects within the Network were so diverse and often specialized, it would have been too difficult (and maybe impossible) to find writers who were content experts. So, the new process begins with the researcher nominating a paper that was produced as a result of one of their NeuroDevNet funded projects, along with one of their trainees (students) who is expert in the content area. Then, we provide training and support toward the production of a clear language summary of their paper that is ready for final review and sign off by the researcher. In this way, it is easy for researchers because they only have to make minimal edits to the draft, and it creates value for the Network not only because of the clear language summary that is produced but the transferrable skills that the trainee acquires.

Let’s break down how this method reflects ‘systems thinking’:

1) A system is composed of parts. The first thing we did was map out the stakeholders and where they were situated within the system (see slide #9).

2) All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly). We mapped out the stakeholders as related, directly or indirectly, to the customer service issue (or ‘incident’).

3) A system has a boundary, and the boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer or a group of observers. The ‘system’ was what facilitated the execution of the process for creating clear language summaries (ResearchSnapshots). In other words, the boundary of the system was the affiliation of researchers as part of NeuroDevNet, and research papers to be summarized were those produced as part of NeuroDevNet funded research projects.

4) A system can be nested within another system, a system can overlap with another system. The ‘system’ for producing ResearchSnapshots within the KT Core with one researcher is nested within the larger ‘system’ of the NeuroDevNet pan-Canadian Network of researchers and projects.

5) A system is bounded in time, but may be intermittently operational. A system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located.We engage with researchers to co-create ResearchSnapshotsat the time that we receive a service request, usually after a researcher has published a new peer-reviewed paper. These requests are sporadic depending on the frequency and pace of publications arising from its pan-Canadian NeuroDevNet-funded projects.

6) A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment. We receive requests but we will also offer services if we see an opportunity. Once the ResearchSnapshots are finalized, they are made available on the NeuroDevNet website.

7) A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs. The process for clear language writing of ResearchSnapshots is one of the processes that exist within the KT Core, that transforms inputs (peer reviewed publications, clear language summary drafts in word) into outputs (finalized draft of clear language summary, formatted onto ResearchSnapshot .pdf template, formatted for accessibility).

8) A system is autonomous in fulfilling its purpose. A car is not a system. A car with a driver is a system. Similarly, the KT Core as a department within NeuroDevNet is not a system. The KT Core with a Lead, Manager and Assistant, is a system.

As a systems thinker, remember that a system is dynamic and complex, and that information flows among the different elements that compose a system. For example, information flows among the KT Core Lead, Manager and Assistant. A system is a community situated within an environment. For example, the KT Core is a system situated within NeuroDevNet, and as a result, information also flows more broadly between the KT Core and NeuroDevNet’s community of researchers. Information flows from and to the surrounding environment, for example, the KT Core posts its finalized ResearchSnapshots publicly on the NeuroDevNet website.

The field of Business Analysis has identified (and published in BABOK) a common sense framework and practical methodologies, which I believe can advance the field of KT towards more meaningful and useful products and processes that are responsive to the systems in which they are intended to be used.

Knowledge Mobilization Symposium on Research Impacts / Symposium sur la Mobilisation des connaissances et les retombées de la recherche

David Phipps is the KT Lead for NeuroDevNet and was chair of the NCE Knowledge Mobilization Symposium on June 27, 2016. This report provides a summary of each section and the detailed notes from participant discussions. This report highlights NCE practices for Governing for Impact and Monitoring/Evaluating Impact.

Chef du transfert des connaissances pour NeuroDevNet, David Phipps présidait le Symposium des RCE, le 27 juin dernier. Le rapport qui suit présente, pour chaque question centrale, un résumé des principaux points et des notes détaillées sur les discussions entre participants. Le rapport met en évidence les pratiques en vigueur dans le RCE en ce qui concerne la gouvernance axée sur les retombées, et le suivi et l’évaluation des retombées.

NCE-RCE logoNetwork of Centres of Excellence
Knowledge Mobilization Symposium 2016
June 27, 2016
Peter Gilgan Centre, Hospital for Sick Children
Toronto, Canada

Message from the Chair

NeuroDevNet was pleased to host the second annual NCE Knowledge Mobilization Symposium held in conjunction with the 10th anniversary celebrations of York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit and the 5th Annual Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum. The Symposium focused on the impacts of research: how we govern for impact (morning) and how we assess and monitor impact (afternoon). The NCE program is uniquely designed to generate socioeconomic impacts for Canadians from investments in research and training. The Symposium attracted over 50 participants from NCE Networks, NCE Knowledge Mobilization Networks and Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research.

The session was designed in a world café format where the wisdom from networks was distilled through an experiential process. Attendees were asked to self-select into groups around the discussion table (focus question) of their choice. Discussions around each breakout table addressed a different focus questions related to governance and monitoring for impact. The wisdom was collected through verbal report back and through the written reporting from each table.

This report summarizes some of the key points arising from the discussions and presents the feedback received on each topic based on large group report back and written notes collected
from each breakout table. There are no definitive answers to these very complex challenges but what is clear is the diversity of approaches used among the networks based on the type and stage of each. This report does not provide recommendations; rather, it is the beginning of an important conversation and can serve as a catalyst for further discussion on these issues.

Thank you to the amazing organizing committee: Anneliese Poetz (NeuroDevNet), Michael Joyce (SERENE-RISC), Joanne Cummings (PREVNet), Kim Wright (AllerGen). Thanks also to Rick Schwartzburg (NCE Secretariat) for his support of the committee.

David Phipps, Ph.D., MBA
Executive Director, Research & Innovation Services, York University
Knowledge Translation Lead, NeuroDevNet
Board Member: NeuroDevNet, PREVNet, CYCC Network, Cell CAN

Read the full report here

=====================================

NCE-RCE logoRéseau de centres d’excellence
Symposium 2016 sur la mobilisation des connaissances

Le 27 juin 2016
Centre Peter-Gilgan, Hospital for Sick Children
Toronto, Canada

Message du président

NeuroDevNet a eu le plaisir d’organiser le deuxième Symposium annuel sur la mobilisation des connaissances des RCE, qui s’est tenu en même temps que les célébrations soulignant le 10e anniversaire de l’Unité de mobilisation des connaissances de l’université York et que le 5e Forum canadien annuel sur la mobilisation des connaissances. Le Symposium portait principalement sur les retombées de la recherche, la façon dont nous les gérons (matinée) et la façon dont nous les évaluons et les surveillons (après-midi). Le programme des RCE est spécialement conçu pour générer des retombées socio-économiques découlant des investissements dans la recherche et la formation au profit des Canadiens. Le Symposium a attiré plus de 50 participants des réseaux de centres d’excellence, des réseaux de mobilisation des connaissances des RCE et des centres d’excellence en commercialisation et en recherche.

La séance a pris la forme d’un « World Café » où l’on a recueilli les connaissances des réseaux passées au crible de l’expérience. On a demandé aux participants de choisir eux-mêmes des groupes autour de la table de discussion (question centrale) de leur choix. Les débats tenus à chaque table portaient sur des questions différentes ayant trait à la gouvernance et à la surveillance des retombées. Les Connaissances ont été recueillies au moyen de comptes rendus oraux et de rapports écrits établis par chaque table.

Le présent rapport résume les principaux points découlant des discussions et fait état des commentaires formulés sur chaque sujet dans le compte rendu du groupe en séance plénière et les notes écrites recueillies à chaque table de discussion. Il n’y a pas de réponse définitive à ces défis très complexes, mais ce qui ressort clairement, c’est la diversité des approches adoptées par les réseaux en fonction de leur type et de leur évolution. Le rapport ne formule pas de recommandations et se veut plutôt le point de départ d’un débat important qui pourra servir de catalyseur à toute discussion ultérieure sur ces questions.

Je remercie notre extraordinaire comité organisateur : Anneliese Poetz (NeuroDevNet), Michael Joyce (SERENE-RISC), Joanne Cummings (PREVNet) et Kim Wright (AllerGen). Tous mes remerciements également à Rick Schwartzburg (Secrétariat des RCE) pour son appui au comité.

David Phipps, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Directeur exécutif, Services de recherche et d’innovation, Université York
Chef du transfert des connaissances, NeuroDevNet
Membre du conseil d’administration : NeuroDevNet, PREVNet, Réseau EJCD, CellCAN

Lire le rapport complet ici

Knowledge into Practice Learning Network Launch Webinar

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”
(African Proverb)

Across the globe, in diverse professional fields, people are working to get knowledge into practice. However, it is well documented that despite widespread commitment in principle, many of the people and organisations who are undertaking knowledge into practice work face considerable challenges in accomplishing this aim.

Does your role involve linking knowledge and practice? Perhaps you’re a knowledge broker or knowledge mobiliser, researcher or practitioner, policy analyst, or a similar role. Whatever your title, whatever your field, the Knowledge into Practice Learning Network offers a rare opportunity to come together as an online community to learn and share advice, expertise, resources and opportunities, develop new international contacts and use our learning to improve our own practice and support each other to work most effectively.

In this launch webinar, you will have an opportunity to:

    find out more about this innovative global network,
    be introduced to the people behind the network,
    introduce yourself and connect with a new set of supportive colleagues,
    tell us about what you would like to get out of the network and the kind of resources and activities you would find useful

Date: 24 October 2016

Time: 16:00 (UK). To calculate your local time go to http://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/

Registration & joining instructions:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/knowledge-to-action-learning-network-webinar-tickets-27623096425

We hope you will join us for this inaugural webinar and the launch of this network.

York U Champions Research Mobilization Through Graduate Experiential Education Program

The following article appeared in York University’s YFile on April 24, 2012 and is reposted here with permission.

York U welcomed 22 graduate students and their respective community partners on Monday, Sept. 19 to celebrate the launch of an exciting new award opportunity at the University.

Internship meeting photo

The meeting between 22 graduate students and their community research partners took place Monday, Sept. 19

The Office of the Vice-President of Research & Innovation (VPRI) and the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) were awarded $100,000 of funding from York for a university–wide graduate student paid internship experiential education program. The Academic Innovation Fund was established to support initiatives that advance York’s strategic priorities in relation to teaching, learning and the student experience.

“Congratulations to those 22 interns who were awarded funding for their innovative projects. We look forward to seeing them shape the future of teaching, learning and the student experience at York University,” said Robert Haché, vice-president Research & Innovation. “The ever-intensifying research enterprise at York provides an ideal environment to foster scholarship, creativity and innovation for young minds. These interns will benefit from, and become integral contributors to, this vibrant intellectual community.”

Facilitated through the Knowledge Mobilization Unit (KMb) and FGS, the program connects York graduate student researchers with organizations from the broader community who are pursuing research questions of interest to the students.

David Phipps, executive director, Research & Innovation Services, said he was very pleased to see that the 22 interns represented seven of the University’s Faculties “which makes this a pan–University initiative.”

Students have forged partnerships locally and internationally, with partners hailing from Brazil, Jamaica and Australia and spanning the spectrum from non–profit organizations, governments and the private sector. “At York, we’ve got a rich tradition of knowledge mobilization supporting research,” said Phipps.

Recent Conference Board of Canada statistics show that only 18.6 per cent of PhD graduates are employed as full-time university professors. This increases the urgency to prepare graduate students for other careers through skill-building, career development and experiential education opportunities. Providing graduate students with enhanced opportunities for integrated work and learning and skills acquisition is crucial to enhancing both the student experience and post–degree outcomes.

Mike Zryd, associate dean in FGS said, “There’s a strong connection between what you’re doing as students and researchers and the needs of community organizations. One of the things we’re finding is graduate students often don’t realize the professional skills they’re learning as part of their studies.”

Mylini Saposan

Mylini Saposan

One internship was awarded to Mylini Saposan, a master’s student in the Graduate Program in Health. Under the supervision of Dr. Emma Richardson, Saposan’s internship is with external partner St Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Ethical, Social and Cultural Risk.

The opportunity at St. Michael’s Hospital will encourage Saposan to take a critical perspective in analyzing real and current issues affecting health quality both globally and locally. She will assist her team in developing a model for community engagement to be used as a resource for global health researchers to enable them to better adapt their research to local international contexts and facilitate greater community support.

Graduate students can apply for a one year part-time internship, an eight month part-time internship, or a four month full-time internship. Further application details can be found at: http://gradstudies.yorku.ca/current-students/student-finances/funding-awards/kmb-internships/.

The ultimate aim of the initiative is to place York University at the forefront for cutting-edge experiential educational opportunities for students at all levels of study, from undergraduate to doctoral, in support of their learning and goals.

What Are Universities Doing for Social R&D? / Que font les universités pour la RD dans le domaine social?

David Phipps was invited to participate in a retreat to explore ways of introducing social research & development into Canada’s innovation policies. He reflected on the long tradition of university research and the relatively recent experience at partnering to develop that research into impacts on society. Thanks to Social Innovation Generation, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and all the participants for making the retreat possible.

David Phipps a été invité à effectuer une retraite pour réfléchir aux différents moyens d’intégrer la recherche sur le domaine social et son développement aux politiques canadiennes concernant l’innovation. Cela lui a permis de mettre en rapport la tradition séculaire de la recherche universitaire et l’expérience relativement récente des partenariats visant à transformer cette recherche en impact sur la société. Merci à Social Innovation Generation, à la Fondation de la famille J.W. McConnell et à tous les participants qui ont rendu possible ce moment de réflexion.

University of Bologna

University of Bologna

Picture this: Bologna, Italy in the year 1088. The first and still oldest western university was founded. That was 968 years ago. Oxford University was founded 8 years later in 1096.

Universities have had almost a millennium of teaching and research and only recently (ok, as far back as the 1880s for US land grant universities) have universities and the researchers that work in them been asked to consider the potential social impacts of their work. The trouble is, universities have also had almost a millennium to become really resistant to change. After all, universities were established as places for research and teaching without the pressure of external influences.

But only in the last ten years in Canada have researchers been required to develop a knowledge mobilization plan (SSHRC) or a knowledge translation plan (CIHR). Since 2014, UK institutions have been assessed and financially rewarded based on economic, social and/or environmental impacts of their research. It is through knowledge mobilization/translation that research(ers) can have an impact. And when research informs a new social policy or social service then that research(er) is contributing to social R&D – research & development.

Academic researchers do research (R in R&D). They rarely do development (D in R&D). If universities are now expected to contribute to social R&D we have to do that by working in collaboration. Researchers don’t make products, industry partners do. Researchers don’t develop public policies, government partners do. And researchers don’t (usually) deliver social services, community partners do.

If universities are now expected to contribute to social R&D we need development partners to complement our research. This isn’t new – Bowen & Graham wrote about this in 2013 and Sarah Morton wrote about this in 2014. What is new (unless you’re a land grant university with a 140-year tradition of agricultural extension!) is that some universities, including those in the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) network, are developing institutional mechanisms to enhance the contribution of research to development and ultimately impact.

There are many ways we do this including investments in public engagement, community service learning, community based research and engaged scholarship all of which can be understood to fall under the umbrella of knowledge mobilization (and if you want to have the definitional debate feel free – just not here – we don’t get stuck in definitional dystopia).

One example of research responding to a need identified by community and creating both academic and community benefits is York’s example of the Life Skills Mentoring Program at the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough. You can see a short video of this example or read the deep case study in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education.

And there are many more examples from the RIR universities including the seven we presented on Parliament Hill in February 2014.

It is working.

Canadian research is successfully contributing to social R&D. Yet while Canadian researchers have a long track record of engaging with non-academic partners the institutional commitment to social R&D is less robust. Notwithstanding the 30 years’ experience institutions have investing in commercialization / technology transfer / industry liaison, the institutional investments for knowledge mobilization and related activities are not yet wide spread.

The RIR universities are 12 examples of these different investments.

It is working.

Recommendations for Universities Seeking More Effective Collaborations / Recommandations aux universités en quête de collaborations efficaces

Interaction report coverThe CarnegieUK Trust recently released InterAction, a report that examined how universities and non-profit organizations can collaborate to influence public policy. Much of it reflects what York University is already doing but also points out where we can improve.

Le fonds Carnegie UK Trust vient de publier InterAction, un rapport qui examine les moyens pour les universités et les organisations à but non lucratif de collaborer afin d’influencer les politiques publiques. En grande partie, ce rapport reflète ce qui se fait déjà à l’Université York, mais il indique aussi des pistes à suivre pour nous améliorer.

“The future for influencing public policy involves the co-production of knowledge.”

The report makes nine recommendations for universities, six recommendations for community organizations and four recommendations for funders all designed to enhance community campus collaborations for policy impact.

The nine recommendations are below along with reflections on how York University fulfils or fails on these recommendations:

Recommendation

York University

Provide embedded gateways through which third-sector organisations and other publics can make contact with relevant researchers in what are perceived to be impenetrable and siloed institutions.

York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit (KMb Unit) uses a systematic approach to respond to requests for knowledge brokering from non-academic organizations (70%) and faculty (30%). The TD Community Engagement Centre (CEC) is located in community to provide access to York expertise and services

Employ specialist knowledge exchange workers to facilitate interaction between the worlds of social science, policy and practice. These will be more effective if accorded recognition, security and career pathways.

York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit employs two full time knowledge brokers and the CEC has one full time manager.

Invest in mechanisms to develop and support long-term relationships with selected third-sector partners and networks.

In addition to supporting collaborations between researchers and non-academic partners York University has had a knowledge mobilization partnership with United Way Toronto and York Region since 2006.

Explore innovative ways of providing spaces for intersection of vertical and horizontal knowledge flows.

The KMb Unit, CEC, and EE (see below) are all examples where vertical (within the university) intersects with horizontal (engaging beyond the university) knowledge flows.

Encourage secondment opportunities (both inward and outward) as a means of facilitating knowledge exchange and ‘boundary spanning’.

York does not have formal secondment opportunities.

Develop training and staff development programmes to build the capacity of academics to work with third-sector organisations, to understand their worlds, and to include codes of practice towards mutual benefit.

The KMb Unit has a series of workshops that it delivers to the York community and their non-academic partners on an annual basis. Workshops include KMb planning, KMb evaluation, social media, clear language writing and design. These workshops can be tailored to academic units and to Organized Research Units. York does not have a code of practice but the KMb Unit promotes the use of the Position Statement on Authentic Partnerships from Community Campus Partnerships for Health.

Develop training and staff development programmes to build an understanding amongst staff of policy processes and how to engage with policy worlds. Consideration should be given to involving third sector partners in such programmes.

York does not have specific training on the policy process; however, we could explore partnering with the School of Public Policy and Administration to contribute a policy specific session to our knowledge mobilization workshops.

Embed the use of Project Advisory Groups including policy and practice partners relevant to the research project, as a means of informing the research, promoting impact and developing relationships. Representatives from VCOs should be paid for their contribution and valued for their insight as well as their role in dissemination.

This is an area where we can do better. The KMb Unit had a Joint Advisory Committee with equal representation by faculty and community but it was the faculty who were hard to recruit and retain. The CEC has an Advisory Committee including York and Community members.

Explore further the role which service learning might play in building engagement with the third sector, in addition to its other merits.

York is building a campus wide experiential education (EE) program led by the Assoc. VP Teaching & Learning . In addition the Faculty of Health Agents of Change is a faculty-wide initiative designed to help health students develop the skills and abilities to create a positive impact.

So how are we doing? We are excellent in many places and clearly have room to grow in others. Most promising is the emerging Experiential Education program being led by Assoc. VP Teaching and Learning. This has the potential to transform how we teach and how students learn and, if we do it right, how to create positive impacts on communities.

How does your institution stack up?

There Are No New Ideas Part 3: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

In this blog series I visit some old (and I mean old) literature to illustrate how ideas of knowledge mobilization and research impact have very deep roots. Part 3 looks at an essay by Abraham Flexner from 1939 (yes, 78 years ago). Abraham Flexner (1866-1959) was an American educator whose 1910 report is credited with 20th century reform of medical education in Canada and the US. He cited the German model of medical education that was based on biomedical research and knowledge setting up his appreciation for research and its eventual impact on medical practice. On the surface his essay makes the case for the protection of basic science without need for application or impact and thus doesn’t seem to tell today’s story of knowledge mobilization and impact. However, reading between the lines he makes the case for excellent basic research as the underpinning of excellent research impact.

Harper's October 1939Flexner, A. (1939, October). The usefulness of useless knowledge. Harpers, 179, 544-552.
http://library.ias.edu/files/UsefulnessHarpers.pdf

Flexner begins his essay recalling a conversation he had with George Eastman who proclaimed Marconi (credited with inventing wireless transmission in 1896) as the “most useful worker in science in the world”. Flexner’s response was “Marconi’s share was practically minimal”. By that he meant that Marconi was the last person in a long line of scientists including Maxwell, who first joined electric and magnetic forces to develop the theory of electromagnetism in 1865, and Hertz, who worked on electromagnetic waves between 1886-1889. Flexner claims that Marconi was just a “clever technician”. “Hertz and Maxwell were geniuses without thought of use. Marconi was a clever inventor with no thought but use”.

This is Flexner’s thesis, that research should be supported without thought to its use.

Institutions of learning should be devoted to the cultivation of curiosity and the less they are deflected by considerations of immediacy of application, the more likely they are to contribute not only to human welfare but to the equally important satisfaction of intellectual interest which may indeed be said to have become the ruling passion of intellectual life in modern times.”

However, by linking Marconi’s “useful” invention with the “useless” knowledge created by Maxwell and Hertz, Flexner has joined up research with impact and created a logical pathway from one to the other. This is what we do when creating a knowledge mobilization plan or when collecting the evidence to write a research impact case study.

Flexner also describes the reverse.

Not infrequently the tables are turned, and practical difficulties encountered in industry or in laboratories stimulate theoretical inquiries which may or may not solve the problems by which they were suggested, but may also open up new vistas, useless at the moment, but pregnant with future achievements, practical and theoretical.”

This describes stakeholder engaged research where the challenge felt by non-academic stakeholders informs subsequent academic research. We know this today from folks like Bowen and Graham, who describe the critical role of engaging end users in research. However, Bowen and Graham didn’t reference any literature before 1997!

Flexner essentially describes the model of the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is a centralized research assessment exercise which includes the institution’s ability to describe the impacts of research beyond the academy. The REF is not concerned with creating future impacts but requires institutions to collect the evidence of research impact that had already occurred. 80% of the REF score is the excellence of the research with 20% being the impact of that excellent research. Maxwell’s work on electromagnetism, if linked to Marconi through evidence describing an impact pathway from one to the other, would have scored highly on both research excellence and research impact.

Research impact was introduced in the 2014 assessment exercise. Flexner described the need for excellent research and its ability to inform impact in 1939.

There really are no new ideas.

Read the rest of this blog series:

There Are No New Ideas Part 1: Scholarship and Social Agitation

There Are No New Ideas Part 2: Politics and the English Language

There Are No New Ideas Part 2: Politics and the English Language

In this blog series, I visit some old (and I mean old) literature to illustrate how ideas of knowledge mobilization and research impact have very deep roots. Part 2 looks at an essay by George Orwell from 1946 (yes, 70 years ago) which makes the case for clear language. Orwell advises writers to use “the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning”.

George Orwell

George Orwell

Orwell, G. (1946). Politics and the English Language. https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm 

The essay provides five examples of less than clear language and it is important to note that three of the five are from scholarly sources. Each of these examples uses two common qualities that contribute to unclear language: staleness of imagery and lack of precision. Orwell states that,

The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not….prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse

Short words not long phrases contribute to clear communication. Orwell uses what he calls “modern English” to re-write an excerpt from Ecclesiastics

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness….The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek.

The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness”. Orwell issues a call for using clear words to clearly express meaning. He points out how phrases have replaced words such as,

Break: render inoperative

Protest: militate against

Touch: make contact with

Cause: give rise to

Usually: exhibit a tendency to

We are also making grammar more complicated.

The passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining)

He also claims that the “attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption’ that than to say ‘I think’.”

Is this sounding familiar, especially to those trained in clear language writing and design principles? Orwell points out that:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself…Could I put it more shortly?” And “Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

He creates further parameters to guide writing in clear language:

 (i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

While not at the end of the essay, I think the essay can be summed up by his statement, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity”.  By this he means that we should “make pretentiousness unfashionable” by paying attention to our meaning and make it as clear as possible by making it as short as possible and avoiding anything ugly.

All of this should resonate with knowledge mobilization practitioners seeking to translate the results of research into clear language.

For more on clear language, see our paper on the ResearchSnapshot clear language research summary format. You can also full text search the online database of research summaries.

Read the rest of this blog series:

There Are No New Ideas Part 1: Scholarship and Social Agitation

There Are No New Ideas Part 3: The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge