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Category Archives: research

Political Obstacles To Knowledge Mobilization

At a recent Ontario KTE (Knowledge Transfer & Exchange) Community of Practice (CoP) presentation, I had the opportunity to join a discussion with former Ontario Deputy Minister of Education, Ben Levin and Janet Mason, Assistant Deputy Minister of Planning & Research with the Ontario Provincial Government’s Cabinet Office. (Ben Levin is currently Professor and Canada Research Chair in Education Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).

The topic of conversation was Research to Policy – how researchers inform government policy and how government policy informs research.

Ben Levin began by talking about his experience in the world of politicians. He jokingly says he was “coerced” to serve as Deputy Minister – first in Manitoba, then in Ontario – due to his extensive experience as an educator. Link to a previous presentation that Ben made at a KMb Seminar while in government here.

Levin suggests that the biggest obstacle to research becoming policy is the government system itself. Due to the very nature of the Canadian, partisan political system, a mindset exists that already inhibits any politician’s desire to make their opponents’ research interests their own. Levin says when promises are already made by politicians, it’s difficult to listen to research. A further point Levin made is that the time constraints of four-year political terms means politicians only pick a few issues during office – limiting the research that is actually selected for policy.

Levin also says a final obstacle is the electorate – the voters themselves – who may not necessarily be interested in the same research to policy agenda that the politicians are. Levin asserts that these three factors are the main obstacles to overcome to achieve policy results from research.

Janet Mason agreed with Levin and pointed out that the government process overly focuses on stakeholders and is one of the main barriers to knowledge mobilization in achieving research to policy. Mason suggests a need to get conversations in a “safe place” that isn’t politicized – which includes public consultations. When I asked her for clarification on where such a “safe place” might be, she was unable to answer directly, but suggested that the partisan nature of limiting research to policy needs to be momentarily put aside for the more significant issues that effect the general public (like education tuition and the environment) to become a priority.

Mason stressed the importance of public consultations in the political process while acknowledging the current political barriers that exist. The bottom line: if you can’t mobilize voters, you can’t mobilize knowledge.

Both Levin and Mason agree there is a political or policy window of opportunity in getting research to policy, with Levin quoting from John Kingdon’s  book Angendas and Public Policies for further information.

They provided a further lesson about the delicate political balance that politicans face in not being too far ahead of the electorate.

Although it may seem a rather gloomy prospect for any researcher to get their findings into policy based on such political barriers, Levin encourages researchers to continue with the process of research through knowledge mobilization for the value of evidence-based research itself with the hope that some of that research might make it over the hurdles of the political obstacles that continue to exist.

Defining The Digital Researcher (Part Two)

KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)

In an earlier blog I explained how the term Digital Researcher is fairly new to describe an emerging style of research that exclusively uses the Internet for data collection and knowledge mobilization.  I mentioned that I couldn’t even find a definition in one of the key Internet encyclopedic sources…Wikipedia, and asked if there were any takers up to the task of starting a new Wikipedia entry. As I use this title to describe my work, I decided it was time to submit my own Wikipedia entry to define what I do.

A Digital Researcher is a person who uses digital technology such as computers or a PDA and the Internet, especially the World Wide Web, to do research (see also internet research). A Digital Researcher seeks knowledge as part of a systematic investigation with the specific intent of publishing research findings in an online open access journal.  The intent is also to acquire research knowledge exclusively from the Web while also using the Web to inform further research and knowledge mobilization.  Although this research can be both quantitative and qualitative it does not necessarily follow strict internet research ethics using the formal scientific method as it involves collaboration using social media with public input to inform research and knowledge mobilization. There are a number of objections to this stance, which are all relevant to Wikipedia research.[1] [4] and research ethics.[1] The usual view is that private and public spaces become blurred on the Internet.[2] [3].

Research may also be formally published in academia through peer-reviewed journals or through the further use of social media. Digital researchers are involved with Basic research or Applied research using data analysis software such as SPSS or JMP.

The term Digital Research was originally used to describe a now defunct company created by Dr. Gary Kildall to market and develop his CP/M operating system and related products. It was the first large software company in the microcomputer world.

In my earlier blog my definition was shorter, but was expanded in the Wikipedia definition for greater reference-linking and understanding. It’s my hope that other Digital Researchers or anyone wishing to provide input will contact me and contribute to improving or further informing the credibility of this Digital Researcher definition. Please also feel free to contribute to the Wikipedia definition. I look forward to hearing your views. Thanks.

Free Knowledge Mobilization with a Social Media Strategy

My grandmother always said, “give a little for free and you’ll get alot in return beyond yourself.”

I volunteered at a number of places throughout my life, thinking about “good karma” or giving  back to worthy causes. Yet, what started out as a volunteer position at York University’s  Knowledge Mobilization Unit is starting to turn into an aspiring career choice. In 2007 an offer to work (gratis) contributing to ResearchImpact created an opportunity to combine my interests in research, social media, human behaviour and the use of knowledge – in the multi-abbreviated world of KMb, KT, KE or KTE (your choice).

Coming from a fresh degree in Psychology, and work on a research project investigating the practical use of research findings within York’s Department of Psycholgy helped convince York’s Manager of Knowledge Mobilization, Michael Johnny,  to take me on. And (“bah-rump-bum-bum-bah” – sing the jingle if you want), I’m loving it. (I hope you got that free pop-culture reference, and  I won’t have to pay for infringing any copyright laws).

In a way (as Angie Hart would say about knowledge brokers who make connections), I am a “boundary-spanner” in my efforts to combine university research within the community of social media. I work (volunteer) for a university while also being immersed within community as an upaid Digital Researcher (I’m still waiting for any job offers!). My efforts present what is at the heart of knowledge mobilization – multidisciplinary collaboration between university and community-based research, and a contributional exchange of experience, skills and interests from both those inside and outside of academia.

Digital technology is ubiquitous. Researchers and brokers who are savy in recognizing the significance of using social media as part of a knowledge mobilization strategy are forging new paths of academic openness and community collaboration.  I feel privileged to be part of a KMb team using a digital strategy in ways such as thisthis, this and this. I’ve seen first hand how adopting readily available digital tools like Google Earth or Twitter are valuable.  They can be used for something as easy as visualizing patterns of brokering projects/KMb networks to informing and exchanging knowledge via microblogging.  Such social media research tools are changing the expediency and way we think about how research is pursued and collaborated. Research must be inclusive of the benefits and ever-present influence of digital media in our every-day lives to inform future research practices.

I enjoy the opportunities that come with engaging and working with other knowledge mobilizers across Canada and internationally – especialy by means of social media. Don’t get me wrong;  I like face-to-face communication and recognize its necessity, but I’m eager to spread the word about doing research using social media and including social media.

Yes, there are necessary costs to research; grant applications need to be done and not many researchers are willing put in volunteer time. But, it’s important to make use of the current “freebie” elements of digital technology as a vehicle for knowledge mobilization – at no cost. Incorporating a social media strategy in research projects enhances research. It provides a more expedient means of communicating findings over a wider audience – and in turn – is informed by the social media audience contributing to further research and connections.

Grandma isn’t around to know how far digital technology has evolved and shapes our lives today, but the message is still the same…give a little (knowledge mobilization) for free (using social media) and you’ll get alot in return beyond yourself.

Peer-Review, Open-Access, and Research as a “Public Good”

Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences is currently meeting in Montreal (May 28-June 4), and The Canadian Association of University Research Administrators (CAURA) met in Calgary earlier this month. At each of these events, I had the pleasure of discussing the use of social media for research dissemination and the future role of Open Access Journals. In Calgary, the conversation questioned the demise of peer-reviewed journals. In Montreal, the pre-Congress workshop looked at Open-Access and research as a “Public Good”. (Check out my tweets about the workshop on Twitter @KMbeing). Both discussions touched on the breaking down of old forms of research dissemination and the emergence of new collaborative styles.

I’d never really thought about the demise of peer-reviewed journals before, as I make full-use of them to inform my own work as a Digital Researcher, especially on the so-called back-end when final publication takes place. On the front-end, I’ve been involved in the rigorous process of getting research findings published in a peer-reviewed journal (with no guarantee) after upwards of six-months or more. Unfortunately, this scrupulous process not only stale-dates the already ‘aging’ findings, but also overlooks the importance of expediency in providing findings that are immediately relevant to other current research taking place.

The long-accepted “normal” dissemination process of academic research has been a publish or perish reward system involving the drawn-out submission to and approval from peer-review – with the final “reward” being publication. Shouldn’t the final reward be research for the public good?

I still believe in research expertise, assessment, and publication; but the old, lengthy peer-review process has become a rather out-dated mode that initially “uses” the public as “subjects” for the research process, and then excludes them from public access of the research findings. More importantly this old style ignores the more immediate and collaborative approach of knowledge mobilization – with its focus on more timely community-academic interaction to inform current public policy from research findings, even in the early stages of research before any publication.

There is a need for a more updated peer-review process, a process that includes “peer-review” at every step of the research process – and that process appears to be Open Access.  Such journals take into consideration the current influence of social media, public collaboration, and the knowledge of current research as a public good. That is the future, and it means collaboration beyond the Ivory Tower of Academia to inform and disseminate research as a public good and a public right within the world of digital media. The old method of peer-review may not be dead – but it is on life-support. Its recovery medicine is to evolve into a more inclusive process. This process includes the notion of research as a public good – freely, and readily available throughout each stage of the research process. Through open access and social media research not only informs, but is informed.

Don’t get me wrong. Peer-review still has an important role to play in open-access – and even open-access has its own problems. Two underlying concerns at the Montreal workshop (as in the world-at-large) that continue to hamper the evolution of peer-review and open access are power and money. The workshop prompted some very important questions:

  • Who controls the research and how it gets used?
  • Who pays for the research/dissemination as a “public good”?
  • Why does research have to be a “public good”?
  • Who defines what is “public” or what is “good”?
  • What is a “public good”?

These are all great questions, and our workshop discussion prompted much needed debate that needs to be continued. It’s clear that the ways of thinking about how research is done, shared, and paid for needs some re-evaluation.

I don’t profess to have the answers, but think it’s important to ask questions. That’s why discussions like the ones at CAURA and the pre-Congress workshop are important.  Yet such questions need to address the immediacy of research communication, the importance of university-community collaboration, and the practical application of research beyond publication with the public and for the “public good”.

What do you think?