Those of you who follow me on Twitter or read my last blog post will probably know that I’ve just returned from a trip to Canada (Ontario, to be precise). This was part of my training and development plan for my NIHR-funded Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship. It’s fairly well accepted that if you want to find out more about knowledge mobilisation, Canada is the place to go, but sometimes our colleagues and funders can seem a little cynical about the widespread appeal and it can be easy to lose sight of why Canada is so important in the knowledge mobilisation landscape. So, let me remind you by sharing a few insights from my epic Canadian trip.
My journey began in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city (after flights from Manchester and Toronto). No sooner had I landed than I was off to meet the inimitable Peter Levesque, consultant, founder of the Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum and knowledge mobilisation force of nature! During our walk in the sun we talked about what drives us, how we like to work and the boundary-less nature of knowledge mobilisation and discovered a shared affinity for disrupting the status quo in the name of knowledge mobilisation. It was a great opportunity for me to continue thinking about my own knowledge mobilisation identity.
The following day was mostly taken up with meeting some of the team from the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health. With a team of knowledge brokers, they aim to help professionals find, use and share evidence that can improve care and outcomes for children, youth and their families and caregivers. It was my first chance to see an organisation with a dedicated team of knowledge brokers, and so was incredibly inspiring. Our conversations revolved around models of knowledge brokering, whether you need subject expertise to be a good knowledge broker and how they could continue to develop their team of knowledge brokers. And they have a great video about knowledge mobilisation terminology (click on the image on the right)!
That evening I had a chance to meet with members of the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Knowledge Transfer and Exchange Community of Practice. Over drinks a few of us talked about using storytelling as a way of reflecting on and learning about our knowledge mobilisation practices and I was able to share a bit about a reflective learning set which I run for knowledge mobilisers in the UK.
Day 3 and it was off to meet with staff at SSHRC (where I gave a presentation about my framework for knowledge mobilisers) and the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. In between I took the chance to go and catch up with someone I’d met the evening before, who’d made a big impression on me. Kate Wetherow (seen here showing off her poster at the KMb Forum) is a knowledge management specialist working for the Canadian Co-Operative Society (an international development organisation). Kate’s aim is to help the organisation mobilise knowledge internally and externally using a variety of knowledge sharing mechanisms (lots of them visual). These include a ‘knowledge wall’, post-it notes for process mapping and an ‘agony aunt’ column in the staff newsletter where staff can ask questions (and share their wisdom and insights) about tricky work situations they are facing. I’d not come across any of these methods before, but could immediately see how valuable they could be if you’re trying to help people to share what they know with one another, particularly within organisations and teams.
After a quick weekend break, it was time to hit the road. First stop, the city of Kingston and PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network). As an umbrella network of Canadian research scientists, graduate students and national youth organizations, PREVNet has co-created more than 150 organization-specific bullying prevention initiatives. Here, my conversation with Wendy Craig (scientific co-director) involved reflecting on the differing levels of engagement between partners and the difference between ‘consultancy’ and ‘co-creation’. Again, it left me with a lot of food for thought…
Next stop, Guelph and Waterloo, and a packed day meeting knowledge mobilisers from 4 different organisations, thanks to the brilliant Anne Bergen who brought us all together. The first was the Community Engaged Scholarship Institute (at the University of Guelph). CESI fosters collaborative and mutually beneficial community-university partnerships and builds mechanisms for universities and communities to work together in innovative and strategic ways. An insight from Georgia Simms (engaged practitioner in residence) was particularly memorable, when she talked about the impact of physical space on knowledge mobilisation and needing to ask questions like ‘Where will/does knowledge sharing happen?’ when planning knowledge mobilisation activities. The second was Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO), a non-profit organisation which aims to move gambling related research into practice and policy. It was great to reflect with their CEO, Trudy, about the challenges of running their ‘ask a question’ service for decision makers, and to meet one of their knowledge brokers, Travis, who has published a great ‘beginners guide’ to knowledge mobilisation for researchers. The third organisation was the Canadian Water Network which focuses on bringing people together to achieve shared goals for water management in Canada. From them I gained some sense of what works if you are trying to bring different partners and groups of people together and that it’s not always about engineering meetings between the people you think have the most relevant knowledge and expertise, but is often about inviting and allowing motivated and interested people to come forward. The final organisation was the Research Institute for Aging, a charitable, non-profit foundation which links research, training and practice to enhance care and quality of life for older adults. We met at their new home, the Centre of Excellence for Innovation in Aging which includes a research building connected to a long-term care home and a living classroom where future health care professionals are trained. Their vision for linking research and practice through co-locating researchers, care staff, students and older adults was truly inspiring and it was great to talk with them about their future plans and think together about their knowledge mobilisation practices.
After such an exhausting day it was a relief to just meet with one group of people the following day – this time at Western University in London (Ontario!) The campus was truly stunning (if a bit Harry Potter-esque!) and it was a real pleasure to meet with Anita Kothari and some of her colleagues to find out about their research into knowledge mobilisation and integrated knowledge translation. Our conversation was wide-ranging and covered our shared interest and work on the mobilisation of ‘non-research’ knowledge and the various types of listening which support learning.
Following lots of travelling around, my final stop was Toronto where I was based for just over a week. This gave me a much-needed chance to stop and reflect on conversations so far, but not until I’d met with a few more people! First on the list was the brilliant David Phipps and his equally brilliant colleague Michael Johnny. They are responsible for the Knowledge Mobilisation Unit at York University, which was just about to celebrate its 10th anniversary. As ‘veterans’ in the field of knowledge mobilisation, it was great to have a chance to benefit from their wisdom and insight and think together about some of the gaps in the field and work still to be done. Michael described the unit as ‘content agnostic’ (i.e. they will partner and work with anyone from any academic discipline or community organisation). This seemed like a great way of describing what knowledge mobilisation is about and has definitely stuck with me as a label I can apply to myself!
After a bit of ‘philosophising’ with the Toronto chapter of the Canadian KTE CoP (see last blog post), it was on to my final meeting with Amanda Cooper, a knowledge mobilisation researcher working in the field of education. Sitting in the sunshine, and then in the shade of a restaurant, we shared experiences, insights and ideas about knowledge mobilisation theory and practice and found an enormous amount of common ground which turned out to extend far beyond our research interests! I left buzzing with ideas for further projects and collaborations.
So, after all those visits to all those people, what did I learn about knowledge mobilisation in Canada? First, there are LOTS of organisations and teams who dedicate themselves to mobilising knowledge. Even though I had visited so many, I felt as if I’d barely scratched the surface, an impression which was confirmed when I attended the Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum the following week and heard about even more people doing inspiring work! I think we can safely say that Canada leads the way in knowledge mobilisation practice. Second, amongst the people I met it seemed to be taken for granted that knowledge mobilisation deals with knowledge of all kinds (and not just research findings) and this perspective seemed to be both respected and embraced. Third, knowledge mobilisation is understood and valued across disciplines and subject specialisms. There is a ‘shared language’ of knowledge mobilisation in Canada which makes it possible for knowledge mobilisation specialists to come together and learn from one another, even if they are working in very different areas. Finally, although there is a vast amount of innovative knowledge mobilisation practice going on in Canada, relatively little of this has been written down or shared in any ‘formal’ sense. The question I asked more than any other over my time there was “Have you written that up anywhere?” (by which I meant short reports, blog posts or web pages rather than journal articles). The answer was so often ‘no’, which suggests that if you’re looking from the outside you’ll only ever be able to see the very tip of the Canadian knowledge mobilisation iceberg.
In the end I left Canada with the overwhelming sense that I had finally found my knowledge mobilisation ‘home’ and had been welcomed into an exciting and vibrant family of knowledge mobilisers. It was a journey well worth making.