Knowledge Mobilization Practices of Researchers

Cooper, A., Rodway, J. and Read R. (2018) Knowledge mobilization practices of researchers. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 48(1), 1 – 21.


Researchers are under increasing pressure to disseminate research more widely with non-academic audiences (efforts we call knowledge mobilization, KMb) and to articulate the value of their research beyond academia to broader society. This study surveyed SSHRC-funded education researchers to explore how universities are supporting researchers with these new demands. Overall, the study found that there are few supports available to researchers to assist them in KMb efforts. Even where supports do exist, they are not heavily accessed by researchers. Researchers spend less than 10% of their time on non-academic outreach. Researchers who do the highest levels of academic publishing also report the highest levels of non-academic dissemination. These findings suggest many opportunities to make improvements at individual and institutional levels. We recommend (a) leveraging intermediaries to improve KMb, (b) creating institutionally embedded KMb capacity, and (c) having funders take a leadership role in training and capacity-building.

This article explores the knowledge mobilization (KMb) efforts that are being undertaken by Faculty of Education researchers in Canada. It builds on earlier work by Amanda Cooper looking at institutional KMb supports as covered by this journal club in 2011 and in Evidence & Policy in 2014.

This article presents three surprising findings:

First, while almost 45% of Faculties of Education incorporated KMb into tenure & promotion decisions only 20% of respondents have taken advantage of these options. There is an ongoing debate about tenure & promotion and it has long been my contention (supported by research) that while many T&P policies can accommodate non-traditional scholarly dissemination this flexibility is not being used. My guess is that is because T&P committees are not trained to assess the relative merit of these activities.

Second, slightly more than 35% of Faculties of Education has supports for KMb. And again, only 20% of Education researchers took advantage of these supports. “The three administrative supports reported to be the most frequently available across insti­tutions (KMb efforts incorporated into tenure and promotion decisions, special person­nel to manage or support research-sharing activities, and funding specifically for sharing research) were also the most frequently accessed supports.” And yet by only 20% of respondents.

And third, those Faculty of Education researchers who are most active in scholarly publishing are also the most active in KMb. This agrees with an earlier French study that found “scientists connected with society are more [scholarly] active than average”.

Let’s summarize: 1) KMb doesn’t get in the way of traditional scholarly outputs; 2) tenure and promotion welcomes these activities; 3) there are supports available at almost half of the Faculties of Education. And yet, only 20% of researchers are undertaking these activities and efforts to pursue non-academic outreach are only 50% of the efforts for traditional scholarly output.


And I bet these overestimate the actual totals since this is the total of respondents. If you’re active in KMb then you are likely more inclined to respond to the survey.

There’s a shout out in the article to the institutions in the Research Impact Canada network (now 17 universities grown from the 11 reported in the article) and a call for more universities to:

  1. Create dedicated KMb and impact roles (KMb personnel or units)
  2. Offer training sessions for (a) KMb planning, (b) stakeholder engage­ment, and (c) methods to trace research impact
  3. Coordinate face-to-face events for communication departments and re­searchers in order to increase linkages and relationships

There is also a call for funders to “Create awards for universities to be recognized for their KMb support of faculty members and communities (currently, impact awards exist for researchers, but not for universities’ KMb services)”.  While not a funder note that an institutional award category exists for the recently released Emerald Publishing Real Impact Awards.

Questions for brokers

  1. Why don’t more researchers undertake KMb activities if it is welcomed and supported and doesn’t get in the way of traditional scholarship?
  2. What might you/we do to build the number of KMb active faculty? The authors’ Table 5 makes recommendations but answering #1, what can you/we do to overcome that particular barrier?
  3. This studies Faculties of Education. Do you think similar results would be found in other disciplines?

Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on Knowledge Mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.