Are you working with a consultant or a knowledge broker? / Travaillez-vous avec un consultant ou avec un agent de mobilisation des connaissances?
By David Phipps (ResearchImpact York)
What’s the difference between consulting and knowledge mobilization? It depends on co-creation and the level of engagement.
Quelle est la différence entre la consultation et la mobilisation des connaissances? Elle repose sur la co-création et le niveau d’engagement.
Peter Levesque (@peterlevesque), one of Canada’s few KMb consultants, posted a blog story recently about knowledge transfer, communications and marketing. It is important to note that Peter asked about knowledge transfer (KT) and not knowledge mobilization (KMb). This is an important distinction when comparing to communications and marketing as KT is a unilateral push of information while KMb is a multidirectional engagement of researchers and research stakeholders. I commented and mused at the difference between KMb and consulting because much of what I see presented as KMb looks more like consulting to me.
Academic faculty often play dual roles of academic researcher and consultant. Both are important but research happens under the auspices of the university while as consultants they are operating as independent agents, sometimes as principals in their own consulting company. Sometimes those independent consultants operate on campus and employ students on consulting projects. This introduces all sorts of administrative challenges for the university such as ownership of intellectual property and liability and it also further muddies the distinction between academic researcher and consultant.
When engaging in KMb activities academic researchers work with their non-academic partners. So do consultants (but they are called clients). Both frequently review literature and provide information to partners. Some consultants also engage in primary data collection, analysis and evaluation. So do academic researchers. Both academic consultants and academic researchers will work in an iterative, knowledge exchange fashion with their clients/partners.
So where’s the difference?
Both the Rural Knowledge Network (@RuralKnowledge) and the Toronto Immigrant Employment Data Initiative (TIEDI) work with non-academic partners to identify needs and exchange information that meets those needs. Is this consulting or KMb? Both are funded by SSHRC Knowledge Impact in Society grants. If their partners were clients who paid for the work they would be consultants. The fact that SSHRC funds the work should not be the deciding factor.
I believe the difference is found in the level of engagement. More than just producing a report both TIEDI and Rural Knowledge are present in their communities. They are known in their communities because they make presentations, organize events, convene workshops, hold seminars and yes, they also produce reports that are valuable to their partners. They are trusted in their community as an honest broker (a shout out to a book about science in politics, The Honest Broker by Roger Pielke).
ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RI-RIR), Canada’s KMb network, is similarly present in its local communities holding events (such as York’s KM in the AM, MUN’s Synergy Sessions and Guelph’s Open Access Session), sitting on community committees (York sits on the Community Engagement and Research Committee of United Way of York Region) and providing support to provincial and Regional governments and community agencies (via knowledge brokers and graduate students). Bennett & Bennett have described KMb as collaborative entanglement. “Collaborative entanglement consistently develops and supports approaches and processes that combine the sources of knowledge and the beneficiaries of that knowledge to interactively move toward a common direction such as meeting an identified community need”.
Therein lies the difference between consulting and KMb.
As KMb seeks to co-create knowledge with research partners, this collaboration becomes entangled. Researchers and graduate students become entangled working side by side with their non-academic counterparts. Consultants come for a short research visit and leave behind a knowledge product, often a report and/or presentation. It’s a pleasant visit leaving both satisfied but it’s a work for hire, not ongoing, collaborative research.
Here’s another way to think of the distinction. If your overnight research guest leaves you a present (your report) in the morning, s/he was a consultant. If s/he was someone you trusted to help you make dinner, clean up, walked the dog with you, help put the kids to bed and then left you a present in the morning… then s/he was mobilizing knowledge.
That’s what we do at RI-RIR. We co-host your research dinner party where friends come together to meet, exchange and begin the process of co-production.
 Bennet,. A. and Bennett, D. (2008). The fallacy of knowledge reuse: building sustainable knowledge. Journal of Knowledge Management, 12(5), 21-33.