Learning from International Knowledge Intermediaries

The follow blog post by David Phipps, RIR-York, was originally posted on Research into Action’s KTExhange Knowledge Translation Weblog on November 17, 2011. It is reposted here with permission.
On October 6, 2011 I wrote about knowledge intermediary organizations in Canada, US and UK:  York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit (KMb Unit, Canada), The Research Into Action project of the Institute for Health Policy at The University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, Texas (US), Community University Partnership Program at the University of Brighton (UK) and Centre for Research in Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh (UK). These four are examples of universities investing in a capacity to link academic research to non-academic organizations so that research can inform professional practice and public policy. Each employs a number of professional staff engaged in a variety of knowledge brokering/knowledge intermediary functions. After some very quick and dirty analysis (don’t kick at the table in the blog too hard) we see that although each has some similarities there are some differences.  The four organizations fall into two groups as follows:
Cupp and KMb Unit: university wide; primarily hard money from the university; high degree of social, exchange based, interactive strategies for knowledge brokering; focus on engagement with the community sector.
 RIA and CRFR: located within research units but reaching out within the university; primarily project (soft money) based; engage in contract research on behalf of partners; some social and exchange based strategies (CRFR>RIA) but knowledge transfer/translation more prevalent; focus on engagement with policy makers and professional practitioners.
This gives us a basis for comparison.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and interacting, and sometimes working, with all of them.  Unfortunately they don’t know each other but hopefully I can act like KMb crazy glue.
If I had the pleasure of sitting down with the lead staff from each of these units, Rick Austin (RIA), Dave Wolff (Cupp) and Sarah Morton (CRFR) this is what I would ask them:

  • Tell me your story from bright idea to implementation.
  • How do you measure success?
  • How do you use social media: as a communication or engagement strategy?
  • What has been your biggest surprise (good or bad)?
  • What has been your biggest disappointment or ongoing challenge?
  • What is your 5 year vision?
  • If you could change one thing what would that be?

These are nice qualitative questions. Quantitative analysis would include our usual metrics:

  • Number of information sessions with faculty
  • Number of information sessions with non-academic audiences
  • Number of faculty and students involved
  • Number of projects brokered
  • Number of knowledge exchange events
  • Funding received for projects
  • Social media metrics (followers, klout/twittergrader, page views, downloads)

And if we really wanted to get serious doing a compare/contrast among our units we would survey our user communities: faculty, students, government partners, community partners and probe around costs/benefits, barriers/facilitators and reputational gains for the university.
Although some are relatively new to knowledge brokering I would also include the other five ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche universities in this analysis: University of Victoria, University of Saskatchewan, University of Guelph, Université du Québec á Montréal, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the four New Brunswick universities who are investing in the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network, a province wide knowledge mobilization initiative. All of them have invested in an institutional capacity for knowledge mobilization but each has unique aspects to their implementation.
The goal of this analysis would not be to say who has the best broker model because they all work well in their own environments. What we lack now is an understanding of why these different models work well and what can others learn from our experience so they can inform their own decisions about their own investments in knowledge mobilization.
I am, in fact, sitting down with Sarah Morton on November 30 and Dave Wolff on December 2. I sense we will have something to talk about.