Leadership for Knowledge Mobilization

The following post was originally posted to Pathways to Possibility‘s website.

On July 5th, 2023, Michael Johnny, Darren Levine, and Laura Stephan co-hosted the webinar “Leadership for Knowledge Mobilization“. 

In this session, we talked about how knowledge mobilization, leadership and the power of collaborative relationships intersect. It is often said that knowledge mobilization is all about relationships. We dove into this concept in the session and explored how we can, individually and collectively, exercise our leadership for effective knowledge mobilization.

We also explored leadership through a 21st century service and values-oriented lens. Participants included representatives from academic, government, community and industry sectors. Throughout the webinar, participants were invited to meet, interact and reflect on their experiences while sharing and learning with others in attendance.    

Missed the session? Below you’ll find a brief summary of some key takeaways from Michael, Darren, and Laura.

Michael, why did you have an interest in this collaborative webinar? 

“My interests in collaborating in this capacity was driven from my positive experiences working with Darren in an earlier career iteration. Also, and important to me, was a chance to use this session to examine intersections between knowledge mobilization, leadership and a values-based approach to ‘fostering connections to drive impactful change’.  This is a unique conversation in the field of knowledge mobilization and one, I felt, was worth exploring.”

What is knowledge mobilization?

“Knowledge Mobilization is an important process in helping advance our society.  While it is not an intuitive term, its processes encapsulate taking the best of what we know and making that knowledge useful to people in our community. While this is a growing professional and scholarly field, it remains relatively new and one that is worth examining.”

Can you tell us a little bit about what’s involved in the knowledge mobilization process?

“There are many models of knowledge mobilization, so I will share a little bit about the process I am familiar with.  It is a model of co-production of knowledge and it brings together interested parties at the front end of the research cycle to collaborate on a common, co-created research question.  My role as a knowledge broker is to manage the relationship building process and give the participants insight around the broader process, considering issues such as time, funding, governance and communications.  Regardless of the model of knowledge mobilization, there is an objective of moving knowledge into action and it is often knowledge brokers or intermediaries who help support and facilitate these processes.”

Darren, what does leadership mean when we are thinking about knowledge mobilization?

“Before we can engage in dialogue about leadership, it is important that we are in alignment and looking in the same direction about what we mean when we say ‘leadership’.” 

“We can think about leadership as influence, and through this lens everyone can have a powerful influence, irrespective of position, job title, or where we might find ourselves within our organizations. At the same time, it is important to recognize that leadership is a ‘me to we’ journey. It starts with each of us, with our self-leadership, and how we step into our leadership each day. It then extends from us to others as we support others to exercise their leadership while also managing tasks and processes we are responsible for within our workplaces.”

“As we then think about how we can exercise our leadership for knowledge mobilization, I believe a service and values orientation becomes important. Many knowledge mobilization projects require partnerships across sectors. For example, maybe it’s a partnership between a university and a community agency to take new research from the university and put it into practice through the community agency to enhance how services are delivered. This requires that we balance our goals with those of our partners, and work together to co-create and implement a shared vision, plan and pathway forward. This is where I believe a service and values orientation is important. Asking ourselves, for example, how might we…

  • Work together to conceptualize future potential for everyone involved?
  • Discover what we and our partners believe to be important – not just in the goals we are working towards, but how we will work together? 
  • Listen to understand through empathy?
  • Balance a focus on both leading people and managing processes as we guide others through the knowledge mobilization process?
  • Build community by fostering a sense of togetherness, unity, and a sense of “we-ness” – that we are in this together and we need one another’s expertise and experience to succeed? 
  • Identify a set of shared values that will anchor and guide our work together?” 

“These are just a few examples of the types of questions I believe are important to ask as a foundation to working together for knowledge mobilization. And as we exercise our leadership through a service and values focused orientation, I believe we are creating the conditions for the creativity and innovation necessary for knowledge mobilization to emerge.” 

Laura, how are creativity and innovation important for knowledge mobilization?

“When it comes to collaboration, creativity and innovation help guide the way as we experiment and put new ideas to the test. As we shift our focus from “me” to “we,” we open the door to new ideas and exciting potential. This is where innovation can be fostered, ideas come to life, and individuals step forward and demonstrate their creativity, together as a community.” 

“At the heart of this journey is Human-Centered Design (HCD), a powerful framework that is not just a process; it’s a mindset of leading with empathy and being guided by feedback from those we are designing for at every step. It involves creating products, processes, or programs with the voices of those effected guiding every step of the journey.” 

“HCD involves a series of mindsets, in the session we touched on three key mindsets that are important for leadership for knowledge mobilization: 

Learning from Failure: Learning from failure is about fearlessly experimenting, taking small steps, and collecting feedback along the way. It’s about stepping forward, knowing that even if things don’t go as planned, each experience offers insights for improvement.

Empathy: Empathy is the heart of HCD. It’s about stepping into the shoes of those we design for, understanding their needs and perspectives. Empathy encourages us to go beyond our comfort zones, to encounter new scenarios, and to be open to unexpected feedback. It guides us to listen and let the end-users’ insights drive the process.

Embrace Ambiguity: Embracing ambiguity is important. Innovation can be messy, especially in collaborative projects. As diverse perspectives come together, the outcome might not be crystal clear at each step. It’s about stepping into the unknown and being comfortable with allowing the voices in the room to come forward, even if the path seems different than what we thought it might be.”

“As we navigate collaborative projects and solve bold challenges, these mindsets are key for successful innovation. They help us integrate research findings into tangible, real-world solutions and guide us in collaborating effectively with others.”

What are some next steps?

“This introductory webinar was well received! Feedback from those in attendance reflected an interest in continuing to meet as a learning community to delve more deeply into the many areas of focus that surround knowledge mobilization. We are currently exploring this possibility and look forward to continuing to host important dialogues surrounding how we can, individually and collectively, exercise our leadership for knowledge mobilization and research impact.” 

“At the same time, we welcome the opportunity to work together with others to advance knowledge mobilization.”

Interested in learning more? Please contact Michael, Darren and Laura at:

Michael Johnny   mjohnny@yorku.ca 
Darren Levine     darren.levine@pathwaystopossibility.ca 
Laura Stephan    laura.stephan@pathwaystopossibility.ca 

About the authors: 

Michael Johnny is the Manager of Knowledge Mobilization at York University. Learn more about Michael and work of his team at https://innovationyork.ca/about-us/

Darren Levine is a Consultant supporting individuals and organizations to reimagine possibilities in today’s changing landscape. Darren is also Associate Faculty in the School of Leadership at Royal Roads University. Learn more about Darren at PathwaystoPossibility.ca 

Laura Stephan is a Consultant specializing in storytelling, leadership, and innovation to drive meaningful results. Learn more about Laura at PathwaysToPossibility.ca