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Knowledge Mobilization: Definition & Terminology

Knowledge Mobilization (KMb)

Whenever I mention the work I do in knowledge mobilization, inevitably someone asks me to explain what that means.  Unfortunately, there are a variety of similar terms being used to roughly define the same thing, which has a tendency to “muddy the waters” of explanation.  I engage with other professionals – especially through the Ontario Knowledge Transfer & Exchange Community of Practice (KTE Cop) – and I continue to push for agreement on the use of one, clear term (knowledge mobilization) to describe the work we do. But, it’s not that simple to find agreement as each term has its own history and sometimes very defensive, personal appeal.

First, to define KMb:

Fellow knowledge mobilizer and Director of Knowledge Mobilization Works,  Peter Levesque states that the term originates from the French term mobilisation – making ready for service or action.

KMb consists of a variety of methods in which research and knowledge is transferred, translated, exchanged and co-produced to enhance the practical application of knowledge between researchers and research-users (individuals and community organizations seeking to use research to inform decisions in public policy and professional practice).

Yet KMb is not limited to academic or more formal knowledge. It also includes informal knowledge such as narratives or even Internet blogging/microblogging/wikispaces if it informs and contributes to the greater benefit for society.

However, a multiplicity of terms and concepts are used to describe aspects of KMb including knowledge utilization, knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange, knowledge management, knowledge translation, diffusion of innovation, research impacts, and research utilization. Three of the most frequently used terms are knowledge transfer, knowledge utilization, and knowledge exchange.


I argue that all of these terms – including knowledge transfer and knowledge transfer & exchange – falls short in stating the multiple influences of the co-production of knowledge. Exchange still suggests a sharing of knowledge within separate fields of application. KMb is a more recent term and is gaining greater use as it focuses more on the multiple contributions and co-production of new knowledge.

KMb emphasizes the multi-directional links or activities among researchers and research-users with greater emphasis on the multiple contributions and co-operation for the creation of knowledge. KMb includes an array of interdisciplinary methodologies and techniques at many levels and directions to mobilize knowledge within a broader framework.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in conjunction with McMaster University’s Health Sciences Department and Health Information Unit (HiRU), along with the Canadian Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools has created a Wikispace intending to help define and compare terms and concepts across a variety of disciplines using KT. CIHR uses KTE, while The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) prefers using knowledge mobilization as a more appropriate term.

With so many terms being used to describe the same thing, perhaps it’s time to agree on using only one term – a more inclusively descriptive term – knowledge mobilization.

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4 responses to “Knowledge Mobilization: Definition & Terminology

  1. David Phipps June 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    as I commented on your previous post, my feeling (as blogged about http://researchimpact.wordpress.com/2009/05/01/km-kmb-kt-the-other-kt-kte%E2%80%A6-now-consider-ki/) is “such dialogues are interesting but we know what we mean and know it when we see it so as practitioners, let’s get on and “just do it”.

    Maybe we can throw CHSRF, SSHRC, CIHR, KTE CoP, NCE etc etc etc in a room, give them a bunch of beer and tell them not to come out until they agree….until the next scholarly paper that has a new model and a new acronym….

    In the meantime, those of us at ResearchImpact will (to borrow from our Memorial University colleagues) ” “just get her done).

    • KMbkteam July 6, 2010 at 1:49 pm

      It would certainly make an interesting discussion to see how CHSRF, SSHRC, CIHR, KTE, CoP, NCE and other KMb groups would debate this topic. Yes, we know what it means as practitioners, but for those just becoming familiar with the concept of knowledge mobilization the confusion over term usage adds more confusion. A definitional conference might not be such a bad thing.

  2. Michael Johnny September 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I agree with KMbeing on the points raised. Terminology, pick your term as identified above, is not intuitive or self-explanatory in this line of work. Second, the nuances between terms, while they have practical meaning, underscore a shared philiosophy and perhaps this is where there needs to be some conversation (or beer talk as David Phipps suggests!) on advancing this shared understanding. The confusion is certainly noticed inside the profession, but I am not sure what the impact of this outside of it. Perhaps it closes practitioners to valuable information from the field and study of knowledge mobilization versus knowledge translation. However, improved practice (by myself as a knowledge broker) will also help sharpen the conversation, even if its only over beers. I would like to see come clarity on this, but for now will focus on providing relevant items for discussion through good practices and some research and analysis of our service unit at York U. Thanks for raising this.

    • KMbkteam September 2, 2010 at 7:34 pm

      Thanks MJ for your comments. I’m all for beer talk if it contributes to a general consensus on terminology. Problem is, I think we’d need some “beer talk” the size of an Octoberfest Celebration to gather all within the field of knowledge mobilization, knowledge translation, knowledge translation & exchange, etc… to begin to understand the ways the field is “muddied” by a lack of consistent terminology. Perhaps there’s a need for a specific conference for discussion on moving closer together in the use of terminology. In the meantime, the great work that’s being done by professionals in the field to create more university research outreach and collaborate with community partners for the better of society remains the most important part of knowledge mobilization – regardless of what it’s called.

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