A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Health Services Research UK Symposium in Nottingham. I last attended 3 years ago, but back then I had just become the proud holder of a National Institute for Health Research Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship. At the time I was wondering what I’d got myself into and what might await me in this new and emerging landscape. It was all quite daunting. I knew that there were 4 others who were in the same position as me who had just been awarded one of these strange new fellowships and over the course of the Symposium we managed to find each other. It was a relief to talk to others in the same boat as me and to realise that none of us had it quite worked out yet.
Back in Leeds my thoughts turned to the ‘reflective learning set’ I’d planned to set up as part of my fellowship. This was to be part of my training and development plan, and was based on the idea that peer to peer learning can be particularly helpful in new and emerging fields where there is relatively little in the way of formal training. The other Fellows seemed like obvious members and so in January 2015 we held our first meeting.
I suggested that we use a specific method to help us reflect on our experiences and learn together. Developed in the context of health promotion practice, the method involved using storytelling and structured reflection to draw out key insights from personal experiences and practices (read more about the method here and here). It seemed like a perfect method for us as we began to develop our practice as new knowledge mobilisers. 3 of us volunteered a story at this first meeting and we used one key question to help us focus our discussions and learning – “what can we learn about knowledge mobilisation from this story?”
Over the next two and a half years the group grew and expanded as we invited each new cohort of Fellows to join us and we continued to use the method to help us reflect on our experiences. You can find details of all the KMR Fellows here.
Fast forward to the 2017 HSRUK Symposium. Now that we were relatively well established, we felt the time was right to offer some of our insights and learning to others with an interest in knowledge mobilisation. What better way to do this than in a storytelling workshop?! During the workshop 4 of us shared stories – mine was titled ‘all action, no thought’, Lesley’s was about ‘collaboration and compromise’, Kate’s was ‘talking the talk and walking the walk’, and Lynne’s was intriguingly titled ‘John Barnes and the iceberg‘. As well as sharing the stories we also shared the insights about knowledge mobilisation that we had developed when we had reflected on them:
- In knowledge mobilisation, there is a tension between (on one hand) wanting to disrupt and provoke to challenge existing ways of thinking and acting and (on the other hand) wanting to keep people happy to persuade them to change.
- Knowledge mobilisers are often the first to try to do things such as crossing sectoral boundaries, helping people to think in different ways, and working in the spaces between organisations, but working in this way can be hard.
- Stopping and thinking. For people to change how they work and what they do it is often necessary to persuade or even force them to stop what they are doing and take time to reflect and think – and perhaps even having to teach them how to think.
- A challenge of knowledge mobilisation lies in presenting complicated material to audiences from different backgrounds. Treading a path between complexity and oversimplification, often using stories or metaphors, is an important skill.
During the workshop we also gave people an opportunity to develop their own insights by discussing our stories amongst themselves and using pictures and words to capture their thoughts. This prompted further powerful insights which gave us even more food for thought.
As my time as a Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellow comes to an end, I’ve had some time to reflect on the reflective storytelling approach we used. It wasn’t always easy to keep on track and consider what we could learn about knowledge mobilisation from the stories. Sometimes, when the stories were about challenging situations and difficulties we had faced, it was all too easy for us to try and ‘problem solve’ for one another. But when we did focus on what we could learn we developed powerful insights and ideas to help us develop our practice. So for the sake of our learning and development as knowledge mobilisers, let’s keep telling (and reflecting on) our tales from the frontiers of knowledge mobilisation.