The KM Solution Part 1: “What”

If knowledge mobilization is the solution then what is the problem?
On June 18 I was at lunch with my friends from SSHRC Wayne MacDonald (Director, Corporate Performance and Evaluation) and Craig McNaughton (Director, Knowledge Mobilization and Program Integration).  We were enjoying sushi at Festival Japan discussing all things KM and research impact evaluation when Wayne asked me, “What is the problem to which KM is the solution”?
Tekka Maki RollI stopped mid maki.
Having been a KM evangelist since I wrote our first KM grant application late in 2004 this should have been an easy question to answer.  After I finished masticating my maki I promised Wayne I’d get back to him with an answer.
I asked the knowledge brokers in the ResearchImpact network and we started a wiki and associate discussion.  I tweeted and got the following feedback from @petertwo:

“Sustaining innovation – nurture trust, design & implement collaboratively, monitor & adjust in real-time, share value”

I asked my friend and colleague Charles Ungerleider of the Canadian Council on Learning (Director, Research and Knowledge Mobilization) who said, “Put as succinctly as I can, the question to which knowledge mobilization is an answer is: How might the benefits of investments in research be enhanced?”
Sandra NutleyWe then turned to the electronic equivalent of the library stacks and started reading some really interesting literature that took us to the “two communities” work of Nathan Caplan (American Behavioral Scientist (1979), Vol. 22, No. 3: 459-470).  Sandra Nutley and colleagues ( pointed out the limitations of the two communities approach (Journal of Health Services Research & Policy (2008) Vol. 13 No 3: 188–190) so we looked to the university-industry literature on cultural difference to inform our thinking about KM as a bridge between the different cultures of research and action.
Julie Ferguson at CHSRF also discussed the cultural divide between researchers and policy makers in international development (
CHSRF logo
If KM bridges this cultural divide then knowledge brokers are cultural ambassadors.
We were getting closer but still had a little way to go. What is the problem that manifests in cultural differences?
Transparency: Digging deeper we propose that a lack of transparency between researchers and decision makers reinforces this cultural divide. While researchers and decision makers might co-exist even within co-creative collaborations, our institutions continue to reinforce barriers to full participation. These cultural barriers include tenure & promotion, academic jargon, academic publishing, exclusivity of university libraries, exclusivity of graduate student dissertation committees which all privilege academic scholarship.
Ettiene WengerKnowledge brokers increase transparency by acting as guides to researchers seeking to step out of Ivory Towers and to decision makers reaching in. Etienne Wenger illustrates how to increase cultural transparency through participation in communities of practice ( and Christian Dalsgaard and Morten Flate Paulsen illustrate the power of social networking to enhance transparency in learning environments (International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (2009) Volume 10, Number 3:1-22).
So, Wayne, cultural transparency (or lack thereof) between researchers and decision makers is the problem to which knowledge mobilization is the solution.
An effective KM infrastructure including investments in knowledge brokers and social media to support communities of practice will increase transparency between researchers and decision makers and help turn research into action.
This is the first in a series of blogs on knowledge mobilization and cultural transparency. You’re read the “What”. Stay tuned for the “So What” and then “Now What” (thank you Levesque Peter Levesque)

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