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The term knowledge mobilization (KMb) refers to moving available knowledge (often from formal research) into active use. More than just "bridging the gap", KMb seeks to make connections between research/expertise and policy/practice in order to improve outcomes in various organizations or sectors. KMb involves knowledge sharing between research producers (e.g. university researchers) and research users (including professionals or others whose work can benefit from research findings), often with the help of third parties or intermediaries. The concept has grown out of increasing recognition that verified empirical knowledge should be the basis for many policies and practices. Social science research deals with the people side of quality of life issues and nation-building that are so crucial to the future of humanity. Human, technological and cultural developments are needed for economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, social harmony and cultural vitality. Yet using research in the social sciences presents particular challenges because the issues are often complex and long-term, and deeply affected by local contexts.
The term KMb gained wider use following the publication of the evaluation report of the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) in 2004. This led SSHRC to create a division of Knowledge Products and Mobilization to enhance and accelerate the movement of research findings into policy and program development. Although many other terms are used to describe this same work, KMb, or knowledge mobilization, is the term most often used by the social science and humanities fields in Canada.
As in many other areas of social science, many different terms and approaches are used to define the knowledge mobilization process in different sectors and disciplines. The health sector often uses the term knowledge translation, whereas the business sector uses knowledge management, and so on. The Research Supporting Practice in Education (RSPE) Team at the University of Toronto – Ontario Institute for Studies in Education has created a synthesized list of the various terms and definitions currently being used.
There is considerable overlap between different terms but the subtle differences can affect our understanding of the topic. For example, the term Knowledge Transfer, implies that knowledge is like an object that can be given from one person to another, whereas terms such as Knowledge Exchange or Knowledge Mobilization imply that knowledge is altered as it passes from person to person. However, regardless of the term, the underlying intent in all cases is to make research matter more in policy and practice for organizational and system improvement. The term 'knowledge' also carries multiple meanings. Some literature describes two types of knowledge; explicit and tacit. Tacit knowledge is gained through personal experience, and is difficult to codify and transfer; where explicit knowledge is often instrumental and can be more easily transported through various mediums. KMb tends to focus on explicit knowledge derived from formal research, while recognizing that tacit knowledge is also very important in practice.
Even within formal research settings, there is often disagreement about how much and what kinds of evidence provide sufficient warrant to claim that something is 'knowledge'. A similar debate exists over what can be regarded as 'use' of research, with considerable evidence showing that research has an impact in diffuse ways and sometimes over long periods of time A detailed definition of knowledge mobilization, in relation to other practices such as community engagement, can be found on the website of the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship.
Knowledge mobilization is a proactive process that involves specific efforts to build relationships between research producers and users, such as formal and informal events, networks, and collaboration on resources for research use. The broad concept of knowledge mobilization encompasses a variety of strategies, including producer push (where researchers do the work of trying to share knowledge), user pull (where research users seek information), knowledge exchange and the co-production of knowledge. These strategies may be informal or formal and can take place in many different places and ways.
The internet has become the prime vehicle through which research knowledge is shared, although direct personal connections among people remain a powerful means of sharing knowledge. In some fields or organizations there are specific roles for knowledge mobilization specialists (whose roles may have various names) to find, evaluate, synthesize and summarize findings to tailor and maximize the use of relevant and appropriate research. The goal is to replace practices based on belief with evidence-based practices in order to produce more effective outcomes. Researchers and research users can both benefit from the interaction required by KMb. Collaboration among various parties can improve the research enterprise as well by facilitating more relevant and effective scholarship as well as increased take-up of research findings.
Knowledge brokers or intermediaries act as bridges between the users and producers of the knowledge. They have to ensure that relevant information is made available in the right format. These ideas of quality research informed by the needs of research users, accurate interpretation, open access and just-in-time service are the bases for good researcher-user interface, often provided by knowledge brokers who can synthesize a large body of research and look for policy and practice implications that facilitate use of research results. Many different individuals and organizations play a brokering or intermediary role, from think tanks to lobby groups to political parties to professional or trade associations, to promoters of particular products or strategies. These various bodies may have very different motivations and degrees of objectivity in their approach. Much brokering occurs as part of political debate, in which the contention among ideas is part of broader political processes.
Research into the role of knowledge brokering in the UK health sector found that key individuals often play a major role in knowledge mobilization. A large study of knowledge mobilization by University of Oxford researchers found effective 'knowledge leadership' is crucial to moving evidence-based research into organizational practice, and creating 'epistemic fit'.
The Canadian Health Services Research Foundation (CHSRF), which has made extensive use of knowledge brokering and promoted evidence-informed decision making in the health services field, has developed extensive tools and resources that are finding use outside the health field. Similarly, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) have developed the idea of knowledge translation as a means to make better use of research in the health field. The RSPE provides many examples of and resources for knowledge brokering.
Networks are an important mechanism to support KMb. A number of KMb networks support professional knowledge brokers and the practice of KMb. ResearchImpact-RéseauImpact Recherche (RIR) is Canada's KMb network. Led by York University in Toronto, and pioneered by the work of David Phipps, it includes knowledge brokers from York University, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Montréal, Carleton University, University of Guelph, University of Saskatchewan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, University of Victoria, McMaster University, and University of New Brunswick. (DRUSSA) is a network of 24 universities developing professional supports for research uptake (=KMb). The Canadian  (KTECoP) has over 800 members and has chapters in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. Ed Comms (www.educationcommunities.org) is the open to all knowledge mobilization network supported by a world wide network universities and educational organisations that form the Education Futures Collaboration (www.edfuturescollaboration.org). A core goal of Ed Comms is to link researchers and research users and to support educators to find others interested in collaborative working particularly to scale up small scale research so that educational research can be more impactful.
Open access and open data
Movements such as open access and open data can play a positive role in KMb. Access to scholarly research and data sets has increased partly as a result of these movements, as well as greater digitization and dissemination of resources by government and NGOs. However, many institutions do not yet make their research publicly available, lack an open access repository or directory, or have well organized websites for posting research-based resources. However access to research is not nearly sufficient for Knowledge Mobilization, as the main barriers to research use are less a matter of knowing than they are of the capacity and motivation to use that knowledge in practice.
The field of KMb has been developing for about 50 years now. A good review of this work is in Estabrooks et al. (2008) There are many excellent research articles examining research utilization. In 2007, Sandra Nutley and colleagues from the Research Unit for Research Utilization (RURU) at the University of Edinburgh published one of the most comprehensive guides to KMb, Using Evidence: How Research Can Inform Public Services, which identifies three interacting domains: research production, research use, and the intermediary process that links these two domains. This book provides an extensive review of the literature on research utilization from traditional constructs to contemporary design, from the practice and policy perspectives, and examines strategies to enhance research utilization and measure the impact of research use.
Many resources regarding this field, including definitions, conceptual models and links to other organizations, can be found on the website of the RSPE team at the University of Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and at KMbeing.com. A recent review of current research in knowledge mobilization can be found in the London Review of Education.
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