There really are no new ideas / Il n’y a vraiment pas de nouvelles idées

By David Phipps (ResearchImpact, York)
ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) is new but it is founded on established practices of knowledge brokering: linking researchers and decision makers who can co-produce knowledge and information to inform decisions about public policy and professional practice. The idea might not be new but we are implementing it in new ways.
Le réseau Impact Recherche est nouveau, mais est fondé sur des pratiques éprouvées en courtage de connaissances : mettre en lien des chercheurs et des décideurs qui peuvent co-produire des connaissances et de l’information pour éclairer les décisions en matière de politiques publiques et de pratiques professionnelles. Cette idée n’est peut-être pas nouvelle, mais nous la mettons en œuvre d’une façon novatrice.
I was in London, UK recently and I saw “Blood Brothers“, a story of twins separated at birth. It’s not a new story. This archetypal storyline was seen in The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, the film Start the Revolution Without Me and The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas. As much as I enjoyed the show I realized there really are no new ideas (did you notice that Avatar was just Dances with Wolves in space?).
The next morning I came across an article titled Using Knowledge Brokering to Promote Evidence-Based Policy-Making: The Need for Support Structures by Jessika van Kammen, Don de Savigny and Nelson Sewankambo. The article examined two case studies of knowledge brokering, one from the Netherlands and one from The Regional East-African Community Health (REACH)-Policy Initiative. The article concludes that knowledge brokering functions organize “the interactive process between the producers and users of knowledge so that they can co-produce feasible and research-informed policy options” (does this sound familiar?). This article was published in 2006 which means the work was probably done in 2004-2005 before RIR was anything more than a bright idea. The article also summarizes these functions which I reproduce below and align them with the brokering roles we provide at RIR-York.

Knowledge  Broker Functions (2006) RIR-York Functions (2011)
Organizing and managing joint forums for policy-makers and researchers KM in the AM; Lunch & Learn
Building relationships of trust Supporting research collaborations
Setting agendas and common goals Supporting research collaborations
Signaling mutual opportunities Research translation help desk
Clarifying information needs Research translation help desk
Commissioning syntheses of research of high policy relevance
Packaging research syntheses and facilitating access to evidence ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries
Strengthening capacity for knowledge translation KMb interns; Peer-2-Peer KMb
Communicating and sharing advice Social media; telling our stories
Monitoring impact on the know–do gap Data collection; evaluation

Many of the KMb services we offer at RIR-York were anticipated or described in 2006. We think we’re being innovative but as you can see, there really are no new ideas (see my blog post about this referencing an even earlier paper from 2003). In fact, according to an article written by Jonathan Lomas in 2007, the concept of knowledge brokering can be traced back to the dye industry in Germany in the 1800s. Even though the idea of knowledge brokering isn’t new, RIR is expressing this idea in new ways.

  • RIR universities are investing in an institutional capacity to support knowledge mobilization the way most universities support technology transfer.
  • RIR universities intentionally connect KMb activities to local United Way/Centraide partners to foster local community-university collaborations
  • RIR is a pan-Canadian network of knowledge brokers working to ensure the best research in Canada is available to decision makers throughout the country

At least I think this is new. I’ll probably end up reading something, somewhere, sometime that anticipates an RIR model before we did. I’ll then write another blog just like this one. There really are no new ideas, just new ways of expressing them. In the meantime, we will continue to practice the old ideas (like knowledge brokering) in new ways (like RIR) that create public value from public investments in research.
If you’ve got any new ideas, let us know.

2 thoughts on “There really are no new ideas / Il n’y a vraiment pas de nouvelles idées

  1. The concept of “new” is subjective as it refers only to how ideas, information, experiences or knowledge is received by each individual. As Carl Jung points out in his theory of archetypes – throughout human history, there can be many representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern. But the subjective encounter with these archetypes is what is most important – being experienced as something “new”.
    Although (as you suggest) there really are no new ideas, what is important is the experiential encounter each person has with the old ideas, information, event or knowledge that further shapes another person’s subjective “newness” and creates “new” knowledge.
    ResearchImpact might be following established forms of knowledge brokering, but your approach to connecting people, research and policymakers in new innovative ways, with novel partnerships and experiential encounters continues to bring you success.

  2. Loved this blog entry – very stimulating. Two things come to mind.
    First, you start off by drawing attention to the repetitiveness of story lines as a way into the justification for your statement that ‘there are no new ideas’. However in this case it might be useful to distinguish between narrative types and ideas in general. Certainly there’s a tradition of typing narratives – see, for example, Polti’s 1916 “The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations” (and in this case Polti was apparently drawing on Goethe who in turn drew on Carlo Gozzi from the 18th C); more recently we have Foster-Harris’ “The Basic Patterns of Plot” (1959), Roland Tobias’ “20 Master Plots”, and Brookes’ “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories” (2004). But the possible limitations of basic narrative structures seems quite different from the possibility that we might have new ideas in other fields. Science builds new ideas on the basis of old ideas, but it’s still building new ideas.
    Second, as far as KMb is concerned, which things get identified as its precursors – theoretical or practical – depends on how you understand KMb. The liaison between academics and industry in the German dye industry in the 1800s, as Lomas suggests, seems like a good example of a possible precursor. Does the interaction between the scholars who made up the so-called “Republic of Letters” in the 16-18th centuries and those with influence in the ‘practical’ world also count as such a precursor? Does Casaubon’s dining with King James discussing learned matters with him counts as another kind of precursor? Does the best of the tradition of the pamphleteers (think Thomas Paine or Pierre Bayle) belong as well to an early tradition of KMb? And for that matter, in an atmosphere concerning disputes of faith, were the Cathar-Catholic public discussions led by Dominic in the early 13th Century an example of an attempt to co-produce at least a kind of common knowledge or understanding? And so on.
    I guess if there’s a strong element of systematicity and institutionalization involved in KMb, then we have some means perhaps to begin to distinguish KMb proper from these other intellectual initiatives. However, regardless of the pedigree of any of the ideas or practices current in KMb, there’s much for us to learn from the history of ideas as we develop ways to build knowledge and intellectual or learning networks.

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