Research Connection to Community is Vital

This week’s guest post was first posted on the University of Calgary’s UToday on July 3, 2018 and is reposted here with permission. 

Conference explores knowledge mobilization benefits and best practices
Kinga Olszewska, left, and David Phipps converse about knowledge mobilization during the Knowledge to Impact conference. Photo by Clayton MacGillivray, Werklund School of Education

Ensuring the research taking place at the University of Calgary makes an impact in the community was the focus of a recent two-day conference that brought representatives from faculties, centres and institutes across campus together with community organizations.

Attendees eagerly gathered to discuss the benefits, best practices and successful integration of knowledge mobilization with expert Dr. David Phipps, PhD. Phipps, who serves as executive director of research and innovation services at York University and network director for Research Impact Canada, explains that knowledge mobilization is about engaging in conversations and linking research with the public.

“We want to connect research and researchers, and that includes faculty and students, to organizations beyond the academy that are interested in working with research and research evidence to inform decisions about public policy, professional practice and social services.”

Facilitating uptake

Phipps adds that knowledge mobilization is vital because dissemination of evidence is not enough to inform change. “If all we needed to do was make our evidence accessible, we would put it on Google, metatag it right and people would find it and use it. We know that doesn’t work.”

What does work, he says, is facilitating the uptake of evidence.

“Facilitating uptake doesn’t mean that I send it to you, it means that I work with you. The most fundamental piece is first listening to both partners to find out what’s of mutual interest. I can send you all the knowledge I want, but if you aren’t interested in that, then you’re never going to take it up.”

Werklund School of Education associate dean of research and conference academic lead Dr. Sylvie Roy, PhD, agrees. “We need to ensure that we are answering the community’s research questions so that they can apply the knowledge gained from the research we’ve performed together.”

Connecting the dots

That the University of Calgary has long been engaged in knowledge mobilization was one of the key takeaways of the conference.

“You’re already on the knowledge-to-impact or research-to-impact pathway,” says Phipps. “What was very evident to me is that Calgary already has many of the assets in place. The dots are there. Calgary doesn’t need to do much to start connecting those dots. It just takes a few conversations and a bit of executive leadership to say, ‘Let’s join up the dots’.”

One of the dots highlighted during the conference was David Nicholas’s work to advance employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. Dr. Nicholas, PhD, an associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work, shared insight into his efforts to engage partners across Canada and came away with plans to apply what he learned going forward.

“The workshop offered some terrific practical means to advance the pathway from knowledge to widespread impact at a community level. Some of the strategies presented around partnership development and building infrastructure for ongoing engagement with key stakeholders, will be utilized.”

Sharing with and hearing from off-campus groups was a priority for the planning committee. LivingWorks and Wood’s Homes were among the organizations that participated in the panels.

“We really wanted people — researchers, community members, research administrative staff — to learn that the University of Calgary does meaningful community engagement. We wanted people to know that it can be done and it is being done,” says the Werklund School’s research facilitator and conference co-organizer Yvonne Kjorlien.

Mohammad Lasker says he benefited from meeting with conference participants as well as by presenting on the collaboration between the Bangladeshi-Canadian community and the Cumming School of Medicine: “The conference was simply an inspirational and exciting event for us. It gave us a chance to network with different stakeholders and learn ways to develop sustainable relationships with the community.”

Jody Wolfe valued the chance to detail the United Way’s experiences with partnerships and community impact and to learn about the many community initiatives underway: “The knowledge mobilization event was a wonderful opportunity to connect with those who share the goal of bringing evidence into decision-making and practice.”

Continuing the conversation

In order to keep connecting the dots, Kjorlien and co-organizer Dr. Kinga Olszewska, PhD, are already planning next year’s event.

“One of the things we have heard very clearly from all participants was the need to continue the conversation and to create a community of practice that will capitalize on the existing expertise on campus but also help facilitate new conversations with different stakeholders,” says Olszewska, who works as research grants and awards facilitator in the Faculty of Arts.

To amplify the connection to community, Kjorlien and Olszewska will host the next conference off of the UCalgary campus.

“A community-facing event will allow for much more community involvement. This event will help communities voice what they would like to learn from the university and how they’d like to learn it.”

Anyone interested in learning more about further knowledge mobilization events can email Yvonne Kjorlien or Kinga Olszewska.

The Knowledge to Impact conference was made possible through the support of the following groups: Werklund School of Education, Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Social Work, School of Public Policy, Innovate Calgary, and the Office of the Vice-President (Research).