Knowledge Mobilization advice from a research funder is necessarily generic but the advice provided by SSHRC is a great starting point for grant applicants to begin to craft a specific knowledge mobilization strategy. Just don’t leave it to the last day to start!
Les recommandations des organismes de subventions concernant la mobilisation des connaissances (MdC) sont nécessairement générales. Celles du CRSH, toutefois, fournissent aux candidats un point de départ solide pour commencer à mettre sur pied une stratégie de MdC. Mais n’attendez pas à la dernière minute pour commencer!
Anyone completing a SSHRC grant application needs to develop a knowledge mobilization strategy. For those fortunate enough to be at a Research Impact Canada university help is close at hand. But for everyone else SSHRC has provided some advice.
SSHRC starts out by underselling their advice. They speak about how the guidelines will help with dissemination of research: “to whom should research results be communicated; how is the process of communicating research results best mapped”. But there is little on dissemination and much on engaged methods of knowledge mobilization.
Don’t get me wrong. Communicating research results to end users/beneficiaries is critically important but it is not enough. We know from the research on research use that making research results accessible is necessary but not sufficient to change behaviour (read anything by Sandra Nutley from Research Unit for Research Utilization). We need to engage with end users to identify their needs so researchers work on what is important to stakeholders not just what researchers think is important (see this article and a stakeholder engagement report by Kids Brain Health Network).
And beyond stakeholder engagement which identifies research priorities we need to practice engaged methods of dissemination and co-production. SSHRC provides a number of examples of this in their advice to grant applicants:
• Meetings with knowledge users, especially at the outset of the project, are an effective vehicle for forging strong and lasting connections.
• When building relationships with organizations, build links across multiple levels, from front-line, program and policy staff to executives.
• To produce knowledge mobilization products that meet users’ needs, researchers can use or repackage existing materials, or develop new ones, in concert with the users and their identified needs.
• Larger projects typically employ a project co-ordinator. The use of knowledge brokers, who have specific skill sets, can be effective.
• Ultimately, the more proactive and multifaceted the approach researchers take with users, the more successful and durable the relationship.
• Successful projects often adopt more than one outreach medium in their knowledge mobilization plan.
• All research teams, but especially those engaging in co-production of knowledge, should outline at the outset of projects the roles and responsibilities of all participants to ensure the voices of all team members, including partners, are represented at all stages of the project.
These are great examples covering the gamut from engaged priority setting to engaged dissemination to engaged co-production of research. Kudos to SSHRC for these.
But here’s the limitation of this advice. It is only generic. Like the impact advice provided by the Research Councils UK, advice from funders to applicants can only be generic. How an applicant in the history of English theatre will mobilize knowledge is different than how an economist working in sustainable business practices will mobilize knowledge. But both need to be informed by the advice from SSHRC.
Applicants need to take the generic advice and develop a specific (“bespoke” as my UK colleagues like to say) knowledge mobilization plan for their grant application. You do need to meet with knowledge users (first bullet in the list above) but which knowledge users, when will you meet, how will you recruit them, and what pre-existing relationships will you build on? This level of specificity is needed for your knowledge mobilization strategy.
As we recommend in our recent publication about supporting knowledge mobilization and impact strategies in grant applications you need to start with a generic impact pathway (like the co-produced pathway to impact) and generic advice (above) and use your own research, stakeholders, activities, partners and indicators to develop a specific impact pathway and specific knowledge mobilization plan.
There is no cookie cutter approach. Don’t leave this section to the day before the application is due. The research plan and the knowledge mobilization/impact plan need to be writer concurrently so each will support the other.
And for help call your local knowledge mobilization practitioner – oh yeah – if you’re at a Research Impact Canada member university!