Systems Approaches to Knowledge Mobilization / Les approches systémiques de la mobilisation des connaissances

David Phipps, RIR – York

York University, on behalf of the ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) network, was consulted by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) as they researched organizations who were taking a systems approach to knowledge mobilization. They have allowed us to comment on and post their report in Mobilize This!

L’Université York, en tant que représentante du RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR), a été consultée par l’Agence de la santé publique du Canada dans le cadre de leur recherche d’organisations faisant appel à une approche systémique de la mobilisation des connaissances. Il nous a été permis de commenter le rapport et de l’afficher sur Mobilize This!

PHAC Banner

Much knowledge mobilization happens in the context of a single intervention, study or program. But those programs happen in the context of organizations and those organizations in complex systems. In 2007, Sandra Nutley (yes, Sandra again… amazing how so much of her work informs so much of ours!) wrote in Using Evidence, “the evidence that we have about developing effective organisational – and system – level research use strategies, while emerging, is still fairly thin on the ground”. Apparently not much changed when in 2011 Sandra and her colleague Sarah Morton wrote “systems models of research use are [still] the future” (Sarah Morton and Sandra Nutley. 2011. “What happens next? Getting Research into Policy and Practice” in Jamieson, L. Simpson, R. and Lewis, R.(eds) Researching Families and Relationships, Palgrave MacMillan, UK.). My knowledge mobilization journal club post titled “Systems thinking, knowledge and action: towards better models and methods” received 684 views as of December 1, 2012 and in that journal club I cite another paper, Cherney, A. and Head, B. (2011) ‘Supporting the knowledge-to-action process: a systems-thinking approach‘, Evidence & Policy, 7(4): 471-88. So there has been some thinking and writing done on systems level knowledge mobilization and research use.

And now we have one more piece to add to this thinking. The good folks at PHAC recognize that preventing chronic disease is complex and that approaches to addressing chronic disease prevention need to take a systems perspective. To this end they did a scan of nine Canadian, Australian and UK agencies that are incorporating some aspects of systems thinking in knowledge mobilization. York University, on behalf of RIR, was pleased to be part of this scan that interestingly also included the United Way of Greater Toronto.

 The full paper can be found here- Systems Approaches to KMb

 The authors used a framework for solution strategies for complex problems and illustrated 23 solutions strategies with examples from their scan of the nine organizations. They also presented three broad success factors with sub-components and illustrated each of the sub components with examples from their scan.

  • Lessons about conditions and the business model (i.e. context matters) with seven sub-components
  • Lessons about knowledge mobilization activities with five sub-components
  • Lessons about skills with four sub-components

What I liked most about the scan is it reinforced the role of networks and co-production as being common approaches to systems of knowledge mobilization. Knowledge transfer and translation techniques (i.e. making packaged research accessible to decision makers) were not featured in any of the cases. Undoubtedly many of the organizations do actually make research accessible (for example, our ResearchSnapshot clear language research summaries); however, these are likely a means used to support networks and not an end in themselves.

Check out the Summary Table presenting all nine cases as they relate to a ten features of complex systems. One interesting observation is that four of the nine had annual budgets over $500,000. RIR-York has a budget of half that but it is wholly dedicated to knowledge mobilization services.

Sandra Nutley and Sarah Morton suggested in 2011 that systems level research use is still in the future. For some of us the future is now.

Thanks to PHAC for allowing us to present this interesting scan on systems level knowledge mobilization.  For more information on this report please contact Kerry Robinson who has kindly given permission to share her contact information.

Kerry Robinson, Ph.D.

Manager, Interventions & Knowledge Mobilization

Interventions and Best Practices Division

Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention

Public Health Agency of Canada