Reflections From a Broker’s Spring Travels / Réflexion d’un courtier en tournée printanière

Michael Johnny, RIR-York
1 Broker.  3 Conferences.  5 Flights.  10 National Partners.  16 days.  62 Presentations attended.  140 conversations.  6334 Kilometers.  Being an RIR knowledge broker in the spring…priceless!
1 courtier. 3 conférences. 5 vols. 10 partenaires nationaux. 16 jours. 62 présentations écoutées. 140 conversations. 6334 kilomètres. Être un courtier de connaissance du RIR au printemps… ça n’a pas de prix!
Yes, it’s that time of year, travel season!  And the totals above only represent June 1-16 and do not represent RIR’s presence at CAURA/ACARU in Montreal in May.  During this 16-day window, I had the pleasure of attending in an RIR national network meeting, the annual Canadian KMb Forum, Congress, and the recent CU Expo.  I am sitting in Corner Brook, NL as I write this, the CU Expo only recently formally closed.  This year things feel different and I mean that in a very positive way.  Each of these events over the past 16 days has provided transformational learning opportunities for me.  This reflection piece has provide me pages and pages of notes to look over, business cards to read over and follow up with and chances for me to leverage new knowledge and information to help make me a better knowledge broker.  So… with all that, here are some thoughts:

  1. The value of a network – my bias with regard to RIR is strong; I believe in it and feel invested in it.  On June 1 and 2, members of RIR met for informal and formal meetings where we looked at the roles, responsibilities and tasks for our members, both at a Director and Broker (operational) level.   I will share a takeaway from a CU Expo session on June 14 about Innovation in Newfoundland, where one panelist shared this about collaboration, « You get out of it what you put into it”.  That makes me feel encouraged because all participants worked hard to come to some common understanding about what RIR can be, and have self-identified roles to help achieve value for us all.  These two days may help propel us on a good trajectory for the next two years!
  2. Vision – Peter Levesque is President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization and led the extremely successful 2nd Annual Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum in Mississauga, ON.  One of the services offered by his Institute is a KMb strategy building session.  One item he has shared in this session which really stood out for me is the continuum of KMb planning, from vision, mission, strategy, action, outputs, outcomes and impact (and there are likely others, but this is suffice for now).  I am drawn to Peter because he is a visionary and working in the same field he does is a fortunate circumstance for me.  However, let me fast forward to today, June 15, 2013, where I had the extreme pleasure of hearing Dr. Vianne Timmons, President and Chancellor of University of Regina.  Dr. Timmons provided one of the most powerful and visionary talks on community-university engagement I have ever heard.  The reason for this was her messages of enhanced needs for service and for deep meaningful engagement between university and community.  I manage a service unit at York University and take that responsibility seriously, but Dr. Timmons’ messages provided for me passion and renewed commitment to work harder to achieve a statement His Excellency, Governor General David Johsnton made, “this community belongs to this university”.  Here, in my work, the takeaway is a clear vision that roots KMb with neighbouring communities enables success by following Peter’s spectrum along to where action can result in positive outcomes and significant impact.  Daniele Zanotti, CEO of United Way York Region, in his keynote talk at the KMb Forum, enlightened me on some of the impacts of the work of York’s KMb Unit, impacts I was unaware of until he shared them.  At the foundation of my work in knowledge mobilization is a vision, which for me, is rooted in service and meaningful engagement.
  3. Impact – RIR partner institution and CU Expo host, Memorial University (in fact, four of the five CU Expos have taken place at RIR member institutions) were able to showcase their excellent work in community-university engagement and KMb.  Rob Greenwood, Executive Director for the Office of Public Engagement for Memorial U, and Executive Director of the Harris Centre spoke about accountability as an important aspect of transformation in collaborative work.  Accountability has developed a negative connotation which is not always necessary.  David Phipps of York University has written that impact is felt at the level of the end user.  It is my feeling that in a collaborative model of engagement between universities and communities, there is shared accountability and impact helps to reinforce the desired outcomes, as well as the unanticipated or unexpected outcomes of a collaborative project.  This places importance on shared governance, a common vision and activities that are realistic and measurable, and lastly, as Rob stated with such passion, communicate, communicate, communicate!

MUN Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, NL
Grenfell Campus, MUN, Corner Brook, NL

These are all large and significant takeaways from a busy schedule.  And here are a couple more.

  • It is all about the relationships.  Technology and tools matter, but people want to meet face to face and we need to enable this.  I know this from my work of seven years as a broker, but this has been reinforced and explicitly stated at the RIR meeting; Congress in Victoria, BC; CU Expo in Corner Brook (three separate times in presentations).
  • Details matter – The CU Expo in Corner Brook was the most well organized conference I have ever attended.  Every detail for a delegate was addressed and questions were dealt with immediately, individually and to the satisfaction of the person asking (me!).  Armies march on their stomach and brokers plan, play, share, scheme and dream with theirs too (along with some pints)!

ResearchImpact booth at CU Expo 2013
ResearchImpact booth at CU Expo 2013

I do have specific ideas to consider (or, takeaways that can improve my practice, because I didn’t spend all my time thinking big!):

  • A regional network of knowledge brokers (many people assume these duties without the job title).  Can we connect and convene to learn, share and do our work better?
  • Explore a policy-centred delivery mechanism so policy issues from our partners can be better addressed with academic research support.  There are examples of good practice to consider.
  • Begin to read literature.  An even better idea when your Director recommends it!
  • Alternative forms of engagement… brainstorming needed.  FM radio, 100.1 CU Expo Radio was one of the most innovative resources I have witnessed to engage community around KMb and other processes of community-university engagement.
  • Work with partners to strengthen marketing and communications.  And the best thing about this is we’re a partnership… I don’t need to have all the answers!

David Phipps at the ResearchImpact booth at Congress in Victoria, BC
David Phipps at the ResearchImpact booth at Congress in Victoria, BC

I’m tired. I miss my family.  I miss my office.  But it is these opportunities; the laughter, the seafood, the screech-in, the business card exchange and the significant one-on-one time with partners who are now friends that make me appreciate the value, importance and responsibility of doing this work.  My support system has expanded greatly over the past 16 days.  But like His Excellency shared, “How do we exercise our responsibilities?”  Due to the lessons learned over 16 days, I am better equipped to answer that.
Time for more seafood and more reflection!