Knowledge mobilization: Stepping into interdependent and relational space using co-creation.

Skipper, Y. and Pepler, D. (2021) Knowledge mobilization: Stepping into interdependent and relational space using co-creation. Action Research. 19(3) 588–605.


In recent years, there has been a growing interest in using co-creation approaches, with academics and partners working together to create research and interventions to achieve impact. Action research typically starts with the question ‘how can we improve this situation?’ and then co-creates knowledge with and not on or for people. This approach contrasts with conventional approaches in which academics create knowledge and then disseminate it to users via conferences, reports etc. The co-creative approach involves a shift in academics’ thinking and approaches. The success of co-creation depends on the academic shifting from being self-focused and independent to being other-focused and interdependent. In this paper, we outline the theoretical background that has informed our thinking and practices related to knowledge mobilization, and our novel relational approach. We illustrate our approach using two co-created projects, focused on enhancing early literacy and supporting mothers with substance use problems. We hope that this will help others consider when it may be appropriate to use a co-creative approach and how to engage in this co-creation process, including awareness of common barriers and benefits.

For those steeped in knowledge mobilization practice and/or scholarship there is nothing that is new conceptually, but the lens of relationships and self-construal bring a new interpretation of something we already know. And read below for an interesting metaphor for knowledge mobilization.

In traditional research, the research takes an independent perspective and dissemination is often practiced for knowledge mobilization. In co-constructed research and knowledge mobilization, the researcher takes an interdependent perspective to maximize real world applications for the research.

The core difference here is self-construal which can be defined as the way a person understands themselves. An interdependent construction is recommended for researchers seeking to develop relationships with practice-based partners to support co-creation.

Quoting a reference, the authors state

that our culture, gender, social class and ethnicity can impact our preferred ‘self’, which we use most frequently due to socialization and cultural expectations. Those from Western countries, higher socio-economic status (SES), and White ethnic groups, especially men, tend to favour the independent self. In contrast, those from Eastern countries, lower SES groups and minority ethnic groups, especially women, tend to favour the interdependent self

They state a researcher can flip between an independent and an interdependent perspective but that interdependent perspectives are recommended to successfully work in a co-creation model.

Commonly known barriers of time, trust and administrative burden such as compensating partners and participants need to be addresses when considering a co-creation model of research and knowledge mobilization. To address these the authors provide some guidance

  1. Relationships drive the project and enable problem solving and persistence
    • Find the shared passion
  2. Finding common objectives and creating trust is essential
    • Relationships should be considered at all levels
  3. Build relationships not only between researcher and practice partner but between researcher and research participants
  4. Co-creative research and knowledge mobilization depend on trust, respect and safety
    • Discuss early on what it means to create a safe space

The authors cite a metaphor that is new for me.

Our paper has built on the metaphor provided by London et al. (2018) of ‘weaving’, with the warp symbolizing the formal structures and the weft symbolizing the dynamic process in which partners work together to share their knowledge.

Questions for brokers:

  1. Does knowledge mobilization look different in Eastern vs Western countries? If not, should it?
  2. Which part of the weave are you: warp (the yarn held stable) or the weft (the yarn that is passed over and under the warp)? Can you have one without the other in knowledge mobilization?
  3. Would the same interdependence work or be recommended at the research-policy interface as it does for the research-practice interface?

Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to facilitate discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other parties interested in knowledge mobilization.