Why Knowledge Mobilization? / Pourquoi la mobilisation des connaissances ?

By David Phipps – RIR (York)
Why is knowledge mobilization emerging as an institutional paradigm for community university collaboration? Limited resources and increasing public accountability require that university researchers and their non-academic partners collaborate to accomplish more with less.
Pourquoi la mobilisation des connaissances émerge-t-elle en tant que paradigme institutionnel pour la collaboration université-milieux ? Les ressources limitées et l’imputabilité face à la population exigent que les chercheurs universitaires et leurs collaborateurs non académiques collaborent afin de faire plus avec moins.
Mobilizing Minds is a knowledge mobilization project that is lead by then University of Manitoba and hosted at York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit. We are pleased to support the KMb activities of Mobilizing Minds who have been previously featured in Mobilize This! on November 8, 2010, February 24, 2010 and March 6, 2009 among  other entries. Mobilizing Minds recently held a meeting involving researchers, community partners and young adults. The three day long event was in part retrospective assessment of progress part prospective planning and part the necessary renewing of bonds among a group spread over 6 universities, 2 provinces and about 8 community partners. One of the activities was a lecture by Cameron Norman. Cameron is Assistant Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.  Cameron tweets as @cdnorman and we have been following each other on twitter long before we were connected through Mobilizing Minds. Cameron spoke to us about Design Thinking.
Cameron and his colleague Andrea Yip (@andrealyip) gave us first an orientation to design. “Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impost meaningful order” (Victor Papanek, 1985). Design Thinking therefore “refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context” (thank you Wikipedia).
One of the design thinking tools we learned and practiced was the 5 Whys that help you get close to your subject matter by asking “why” five times. I did this with Maria Luisa Contursi of Mind Your Mind (@mindyourmind_ca), the principle community partner for Mobilizing Minds. Both of us did this for the same project and came up with different reasons for why we were doing the project. There is no right or wrong answer. This exercise helps you get close to your subject.
I tried this imagining the “why” of knowledge mobilization from the perspective of different KMb stakeholders.

University researcher: Why do I engage in KMb?

  • Because I want partners for my research
  • Because I want other people to use my research
  • Because I want my research to make a difference
  • Because research and knowledge should not be held inside the academy
  • Because society expects a return on investment in my research

Graduate student: Why do I engage in KMb?

  • Because I want partners for my research
  • Because I am considering options to an academic career
  • Because I don’t think there will be faculty jobs for me
  • Because there are pressures on academic budgets
  • Because everyone needs to do more with less

Community/Government partner: Why do I engage in KMb?

  • Because I need research and evidence to help me make decisions
  • Because I need to have greater confidence that I am making the right decisions
  • Because I need to demonstrate my programs are producing results
  • Because my stakeholders are demanding greater accountability
  • Because resources are increasingly limited

Interesting. If I imagine their perspectives correctly then we put our efforts into KMb because society expects a return on tax dollars, because we need to do more with less and resources are limited. All three are related to operating in a climate of limited resources. In such a climate we turn to collaboration to take advantage of complementarity and create opportunities together that we would not have been able to accomplish working in isolation. This is a very different motivation than that other university based knowledge transfer: technology transfer and commercialization which started in the 1980s with the promise of financial return to the university and the economy.
KMb is the process of identifying, creating and sustaining collaborations between university researchers and their non-academic partners.  KMb is a process that results in social innovations arising from those collaborations. In a climate of austerity we turn to collaboration to do more with less and create a return on investment in research and health/human services.
Why knowledge mobilization? That’s why.