Universities Create Evidence but Can We Also Use It? / Les universités produisent des données scientifiques, mais savent-elles s’en servir ?

Researchers in higher education (HE) institutions produce lots of research based evidence. When that evidence is about higher education how good are our HE leaders at gathering, synthesizing, assessing and implementing evidence for HE policy and practice? Do they know they need help to do this?
Les établissements d’enseignement supérieur sont la source de nombreuses recherches fondées sur des données scientifiques. Quand ces données concernent l’enseignement supérieur lui-même, dans quelle mesure les dirigeants des établissements réussissent-ils à les rassembler, à les synthétiser, à les évaluer et à les intégrer aux pratiques et politiques ? Sont-ils conscients qu’ils ont besoin d’aide pour y parvenir?

LFHE logoThe Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) is “committed to developing and improving the management, governance and leadership skills of existing and future leaders of higher education.” They have had a long standing interest in the impacts of HE. This includes a recent assessment of the UK Research Excellence Framework impact case studies from legal, governance and management research. You can read more about that study on our Knowledge Mobilization Journal Club. Their latest endeavour concerns a « What Works » centre on HE evidence use. The UK gov’t has sponsored seven What Works centres on topics ranging from education to clinical practice to aging and more.
To help frame their thinking about a What Works centre for HE they performed a quick survey of What Works centres and international KMb organizations, a deep dive into one What Works centre and interview 17 leaders in HE and knowledge mobilization including me and John Lavis (McMaster Health Forum) providing an international perspective. While statements from interviewees are in the report John and I are the only ones quoted in the report which was published on July 20, 2017.
What we said is in the report but two things stand out:
1. The focus of the What Works centre will be on the HE institution with HE leaders as the primary focus. Check out a couple of recent KMb journal clubs here and here on institutional perspectives of KMb.
2. The report highlights the need for the What Works centre in HE to achieve impact on HE practices and policies.
But in this I encourage the authors to go a little further. They quote John Lavis speaking about the need to end a policy dialogue with next steps and assign action items. I recommend they do active follow up to support the uptake of the evidence. We know from models like PARIHS that evidence needs to be facilitated in the context of its use in order to create the conditions for effective evidence use. Bailing on the end users once you disseminate the evidence will not facilitate its uptake. Active facilitation needs to happen in the context (i.e. on site) of its use.
Don’t just send evidence to HE leaders. Do workshops with stakeholders to help them learn the evidence (=uptake). Help stakeholders evaluate the evidence to facilitate implementation into new HE policies and practices. Help stakeholders assess the impact of the evidence on those policies and practices.
Dissemination is necessary but not sufficient to support impact.
I will repeat that because it is key: dissemination is necessary but not sufficient to support impact
LFHE then undertook an ideas lab session to design elements of a successful What Works centre. This ideas lab identified three desirable features of a What Works centre for HE. These include the following and my comments on each:
A knowledge map that would help connect knowledge needs with the people who hold the knowledge
• Maps are hard to keep current and do not easily capture emerging knowledge needs. At York’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit we do not rely on codified knowledge maps but on knowledge brokers who know those who have expertise in demand. Speaking of knowledge brokers….
Impact Champions – boundary spanners who would work for the knowledge sharing system appointed for their skills and expertise in line with specific knowledge needs suggested by the system
• Knowledge brokers = Impact champions (although without a cool name!). Like the knowledge brokers connecting the Research Impact Canada (RIC) institutions impact champions will need to be embedded within networks of academic and non-academic experts to enable connections. LFHE needs to support networks of champions, researchers and end users.
A digital dating system which could be developed in the future as an adjunct to the knowledge map to support the impact champions and their work
• Again, RIC has something to contribute to the LFHE What Works centre. Yaffle.ca performs exactly this function for Memorial University of Newfoundland and we are exploring it as a platform for RIC. LFHE should look to Yaffle as an existing platform and reach out for an introduction. Why re-invent it when you can build on almost 10 years of experience with Yaffle.
Final observation is that the What Works centre should not be predicated on a knowledge supply and demand model. Leaders of HE have their own expertise that needs to be leveraged to implement the evidence in the context of its use. It’s not that HE researchers or the What Works centre has knowledge and HE leaders need knowledge. It’s more about finding the fit between complementary expertise.
The RIC network has much to share to help LFHE in their efforts. It’s not that RIC has knowledge and LFHE doesn’t. It’s that we have certain experiences and expertise that might be complementary to their own experiences and expertise.
That’s mobilizing knowledge about knowledge mobilization.