Innovation and Knowledge Mobilization

A colleague at a Research Impact Canada member university recently asked me (David Phipps) about innovation, knowledge mobilization and indicators to know the difference. This is the e-mail exchange.

Sharon: How do you know when innovation is happening in a knowledge mobilization process? What are the indicators?

David: Do you mean an innovative KMb process or a KMb process that supports innovation in a project?

Sharon: The latter.

David: I am watching my latest guilty pleasure, “Superman and Lois”, I will think about this and get back to you.

After Superman and Lois, and a night to sleep on this question, this was my answer.

Lots of definitions we can get stuck in but to keep it simple:

Knowledge mobilization helps connect science (or research more broadly) to society (including industry, government, and community). It’s stuff we do to help maximize the broader impacts of research (broader than scholarly impacts, impacts on society).

Innovation is addressing a problem by doing something different/new.

So when we employ knowledge mobilization activities then sometimes innovative solutions are found. A unique feature of knowledge mobilization is the intentional engagement of stakeholders. University based technology transfer (=commercialization) doesn’t usually engage industry partners through the research process. We patent and license to industry after the “innovation” has been discovered. Knowledge mobilization would bring the industry partner in at the front end to consider their needs and engage industry throughout the process. Same with policy innovation with government partners, same with innovation in social services with community partners.

So, innovation arising from knowledge mobilization activities develops novel approaches to a challenge when stakeholders concerned about that challenge are engaged.

Your question is about the metrics of innovation arising as a function of knowledge mobilization activities. There are few quantitative metrics. Quantitative metrics come into play when the innovation (i.e. new social service) is deployed to end users and the community agency can say “we treated XXX people and solved their problem by YY%”. But that is a measure of the community partner’s end process not the actual innovation per se.

Since stakeholders are engaged in knowledge mobilization, my recommendation would be to obtain narratives/testimonials from the stakeholders and write a case study to document how the research informed an innovative approach by the stakeholders to the challenge they are experiencing. Research on research impact demonstrates that the narrative case study is the correct unit of assessment when looking to document research impacts.

In Research Impact Canada, we developed a tool to help collect and communicate the evidence of impact. It is derived from the UK Research Excellence Framework impact case study. We have adapted it, created a guide, adapted the case study template, and added a semi structured interview guide derived from contribution analysis. We have a book chapter forthcoming that describes the tool and I will circulate that once it is published.

Short question, long answer. Hope this helps. Now back to Superman.