Communities of Practice and Communities of Definition / Communautés de pratique et communautés de définition

Bronwynne Wilton* & Anne Bergen**, RIR-University of Guelph
What happens when a diverse group of academics and government staff get together to discuss the role of the knowledge broker in the research to action cycle?  Lots of different opinions of course!  And this is exactly what happened at a recent meeting of the Guelph Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) Community of Practice. But perhaps, the more we differ, the more we might actually have in common.
Que se passe-t-il lorsqu’un groupe hétérogène formé de chercheurs et de travailleurs de la fonction publique se réunit afin de discuter du rôle de courtier de connaissances dans le cycle recherche-action. Un foule d’opinions diverses, évidemment! Et c’est exactement ce qui s’est produit lors d’une récente rencontre de la Communauté de pratique sur le circulation et le transfert des connaissances de Guelph. Peut-être qu’en fait, plus grandes sont les différences, plus le potentiel d’avoir quelque chose en commun est grand.  
A variety of cables and connectors“I see myself as a connector” commented one participant in a recent meeting of the Guelph Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) Community of Practice.  Another saw themselves as a facilitator of researcher-stakeholder collaborations while a third person noted their role as being something of a bridge between high quality information from extensive data sets and the general public.  This cross-section of roles at the first Guelph KTT Community of Practice meeting of the year demonstrates the wide variety of both individuals and perspectives within the emerging field of knowledge mobilization (KMb).
With the starting point of an interesting post on the Knowledge Brokers’ Forum (Lock, 2013) about the roles and identities that knowledge brokers might take on – the Guelph KTT CoP discussion was off to a great start.
Participants’ self-defined roles and professional identities spanned the continuum of KTT/KMb: some work as knowledge brokers, others as knowledge synthesizers and translators, some in technology transfer, some develop and promote toolkits to engage the public and others carry out primary research and wonder about non-traditional forms of knowledge dissemination.
As highlighted in the multiple and often diverse collaborative definitions within the “What is KT” wiki referenced above, within the CoP, the language we use to define our professional identities might reflect where our KTT/KMb work is situated. Moreover, the language we use to define our professional identities may also reflect some of the major barriers to doing that work. The ways in which we practice KTT/KMb, and the ways in which we talk about this work, depends very much on our institutional cultures. People working in the human health and veterinarian science side of KTT, talk about the difficulties of reaching “end users” with synthesized and translated best practices. In contrast, the words “stakeholders” and “research partners” were used more frequently by participants from both the agricultural and social science fields.  This may reflect the increasingly important and necessary process of collaboratively defining a research problem early on in the research cycle.
One of the key topics discussed was the ways in which a knowledge broker might actively engage their audience(s) in the research process to encourage more uptake of research results.  There was general agreement that more effective uptake of knowledge is associated with earlier end-user or stakeholder involvement and engagement, not only in the “results dissemination” phase of research, but throughout the research process.  However, this approach was challenged by a question about when ‘science’ is ready for end-user uptake, whether that be informing policy or affecting practice or programs, and when is there a need to simply inform the next cycle of scientific inquiry on a given topic.  In other words, pivotal questions for many practicing in the KTT/KMb area are “when is the body of knowledge on a given issue robust enough to inform decision-making?” and “who makes that call?”.
These points emphasize the importance of effective knowledge synthesis and translation in the knowledge mobilization process. In terms of our roles as knowledge brokers, do we carry out this synthesis and translation work? Or is this activity one that should be undertaken by the researcher?  It is also worthwhile to acknowledge the concern that any uptake by the media or interest by the general public might result in misrepresentation of the research. Where multiple audiences exist, there may be tensions between tailored messages aimed at the public and those targeted towards specialized practitioners.
Considering the complexity and the multiple dimensions of accelerating the uptake of knowledge from research, we might view the knowledge broker role as both a gatekeeper on the quality of the knowledge to be disseminated, and simultaneously, as a facilitator of relationships between researchers and end-users.  The Guelph KTT CoP discussed the importance of trust and credibility between researchers and stakeholders, and more broadly, with the general public as well.  Understanding and managing expectations among the various partners and audiences in the knowledge creation process was also viewed as a key role for the knowledge broker to play.
The richness of this discussion between such a diverse cross-section of government and academia representatives demonstrates the real value of crossing our institutional, departmental, and disciplinary boundaries to talk about the intersections between knowledge creation and knowledge uptake.   With open minds to share our collective experiences, we can continue to inform and improve our practices in our respective areas of interest.
Knowledge Brokering (n.d.). In What is KT Wiki. Retrieved March 4, 2013 from
Knowledge Dissemination (n.d.). In What is KT Wiki. Retrieved March 4, 2013 from
Knowledge Synthesis (n.d.). In What is KT Wiki. Retrieved March 4, 2013 from
Knowledge Translation (n.d.). In What is KT Wiki. Retrieved March 4, 2013 from
Knowledge Transfer (n.d.). In What is KT Wiki. Retrieved March 4, 2013 from
Lock, D. (2013, January 7). Professional identities. Message posted to
*Bronwynne Wilton is the Manager of the OMAF and MRA- University of Guelph Knowledge Mobilization and Communication Programs for the Office of Research, Strategic Partnerships at the University of Guelph.
**Anne Bergen is the Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator for the College of Social and Applied Sciences and the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship at the University of Guelph.
Originally posted at  reposted with permission.