Mobilizing Knowledge Inside the University / Mobiliser les connaissances dans l’université

by David Phipps (RIR York)
Bugs and ballet make for an interesting combination and they illustrate that knowledge mobilization can happen within the university as effectively as between university and community.
Insectes et ballet forment une combinaison digne d’intérêt. Ils illustrent que la mobilisation des connaissances peut se produire au sein même de l’université aussi bien qu’entre cette dernière et la communauté.
ResearchImpact-RéseauImpactRecherche (RIR) has posted 279 blogs on Mobilize This! Our readers have viewed the blog 73,133 times (as of November 6, 2011). Every single one of them dealt with some form of knowledge mobilization (KMb) and advocated connecting university research and talent with non-academic audiences to inform decisions about public policy and professional practice.
Until now.
KMb is a process that connects researchers to decision makers.  Sometimes decision makers are other researchers.  Sometimes knowledge brokers need to broker relationships inside the ivory tower. That’s where Bugzzz comes in.

On August 25, Y File published, “Dance and theatre professors begin work on ‘Bugzzz’”.  As reported by Y File “Bugzzz aims to challenge the notion of progress, particularly our uncritical obsession with technology. The project proceeds as if human civilization has self-destructed because of our over consumption of resources. Only insects remain and it is they who take an archeological look at the value of civilization through art, specifically through Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Tosca.”
Side bar: my PhD was in invertebrate (ie bug) immunology and I recently started dancing again after a 7 year break from the ballet studio. That’s why Bugzzz caught my attention.
I contacted one of the principals behind Bugzzz, Gwen Dobie, and asked if she had ever spoken to any of York’s entomologists (bug experts) to inform her creative work. Gwen replied “We’d be pleased to meet with any bug researchers you may know. It would certainly enrich our process.” I was offering to help her connect to scientific research and expertise to inform her creative and artistic decisions about movement, sound, behavior and design (costume, lighting, stage etc.).  Very knowledge mobilization. All inside the university.
On October 13 I had the pleasure of introducing Gwen Dobie (Theatre) and her colleagues William Mackwood (Dance), Barbara Evans (Film) and Teresa Przybylski (Theatre) to three faculty from the Department of Biology: Andrew Donini (mosquitoes and midges), Amro Zayed (bees) and Laurence Packer (dead bees…with over 100,000 specimens of bees he  has the largest bee collection in Canada with bees the size of the head of a pin and bees bigger than 3 cm….some black and yellow…some black…some blue!!!).
The scientists showed off their facilities, pictures and bugs and the artists asked lots and lots and lots of questions, about colony vs. individual behaviours (do bugs have empathy?), what/how do bugs hear and the waggle dance (see video below).
The scientists were incredibly giving of their time and expertise. The creative artists were engaged, intrigued, enthralled. I had a blast since it allowed me to reflect on two interests: bugs and ballet.  The scientists and artists all felt that the morning was valuable. Feedback from participants included:

  • I’m so pleased we were able to have this opportunity to receive a small insight into your very interesting investigations. It will deeply inform our own research/creative process (Gwen Dobie).
  • It was fun. Best wishes for your production and feel free to visit again if you wish (Andrew Donini).

Thanks to all for their interest. Thanks to Amro who gave us honey from his bee hives and thanks to Barbara Evans for the pictures from the morning. Be sure to check out the following video about how bees communicate and manage to give directions all without a GPS.