Work Harder to be More Effective / Travailler plus fort pour être plus efficace

David Phipps, RIR-York

Knowledge mobilization is harder than translation or transfer or even exchange. But it is more effective. Yet we continue to invest so much effort in less effective strategies to promote research utilization.

La mobilisation des connaissances est plus difficile que l’adaptation ou même l’échange de connaissances. Mais elle est plus efficace. Pourtant, nous continuons à investir d’important efforts dans des stratégies moins efficaces visant à promouvoir l’utilisation des connaissances.

I continue to read about researchers who lament how difficult it is to get their research implemented by decision makers. For example, one post and another post on GDNet. But these are just two of many examples of knowledge translation where researchers try to package their research in new forms. A leading university recently lamented to me that they need to find a way to get their research papers more widely disseminated in a form that policy makers will use – see our ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries as one solution, but one that we use to help support collaboration, not knowledge translation. Knowledge mobilization is frequently misunderstood as dissemination or research communications on steroids. But it’s more than that.

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The problem isn’t that decision makers aren’t receiving the information. They receive too much information. Perhaps all we need to do is present it in context and then they will understand the importance of the research. So we construct knowledge exchange events where research is provided to decision makers in a forum where they can engage more actively with the researchers. But you can’t change people in one event. Knowledge mobilization is frequently misunderstood as knowledge transfer and exchange where knowledge moves between the research producers to the research uses. But it’s more than that.

More than translation, transfer or exchange, knowledge mobilization helps support research collaborations and co-production of knowledge where researchers and decision maker partners jointly produce knowledge that is relevant to the academy as well as to real world problems. There is lots of literature on co-production being the most robust form of knowledge mobilization. See a knowledge mobilization journal club post on this topic.  Furthermore, knowledge mobilization is not challenged by attribution which is an issue in knowledge translation, translation and exchange.

So if the evidence shows that co-production is the most effective way of using research to inform decision making why do researchers who advocate for evidence based decision making fail to base their own decisions on the evidence? A few reasons:

  1. We are knowledge hypocrites. It’s time to practice what we preach.
  2. Funders reinforce the power structure between the campus and the community by providing funding to academic researchers and not community partners. Recent efforts by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada through their Connections program are starting to address this.
  3. It’s the easy thing to do. It operates within existing academic paradigms. It reinforces the artificial dichotomy of “researcher” and “decision maker” and it doesn’t make them work any differently.
  4. It is also easy because it propagates traditional notions of scholarship and what counts as knowledge. Our institutions don’t help by continuing with centuries old notions of tenure that are only now being challenged by groups such as the consortium on Engaged Scholarship, of which many ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche universities are members.

Bottom line: transfer, translation and exchange are easy compared to mobilization. Telling someone what they need to know is easier than working with them to help co-discover what you both need to know.

Knowledge mobilization is harder but more effective. It is also way more fun.

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