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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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The Echo of Social Media Past, Present & Future

KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)


I frequently use Wikipedia to define information – as I was about to do for this blog to explain social media (for those still unfamiliar with this term). I also frequently do a Google Search to find websites (new and old) to reflect on past research, gather information for my current research, and get ideas for future projects as a digital researcher. Although I found a blog post from 2008, its current relevance prompted me to take pause to question my own knee-jerk Wiki-p reaction, and re-evaluate my own presumed understanding of past views about social media and what the ever-evolving social media means today.

Furthermore, I frequently skip over online marketing websites, but made an exception for this new found older link – AriWriter.  I had never heard of Ari Herzog before, but was impressed. His blogs can be applied way beyond mere marketing, and as Ari professes, it’s an excellent website for “social media tips”. Ari Herzog’s archives are full of insight, and worth the time to read some of his latest as well.

Before clicking the link away as just another out-dated or annoying online marketing scheme, I saw that Ari rightly continues to point out how “Everyone sources Wikipedia as the tell-all for definitions, but the volunteer-driven site currently uses this vague sentence (not so anymore): “Social media are primarily Internet-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” And Ari’s right. According to this out-dated version of the Wikipedia definition,  it sounds like a rather limiting one don’t you think? The latest Wikipedia entry does a much better job. (It sounds like Ari’s Wikipedia statement got heard and appropriate changes were made!).

Ari goes on to present a number of other definitions by social media practitioners up to the time Ari wrote his October 2008 blog (Robert Scoble, Feb. 2007; Isabel Walcott Hillborn, Oct. 2007; Mark Dykeman at Broadcasting Brain, Feb. 2008; Joseph Thornley at Thornley Fallis, Apr. 2008; Jim Cuene, May 2008; Santosh Maharshi, May 2008; Ben Parr, Aug. 2008; David at Marketing Integrity, Sep. 2008; John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing, Sep. 2008).

Ari was following a suggestion by Jason Falls (a social media explorer) to escape the echo chamber. Jason wrote about the fashionably-cool use of the term social media after attending a Blog World & New Media Expo in 2008. (The Expo advertises an extensive gathering of media mavericks and thought leaders). But Jason seems to have walked away from the event feeling as if many of his fellow social media experts need to pass on their knowledge outside of the Expo “echo chamber” to those who don’t know what social media is, or how to use it for its best and most promising potential. I wonder if any of his fellow social media practitioners have followed his advice since that Expo?

Ari picked up the gauntlet early on, and because of the Twitter-ification of social media –  challenged his blog readers to think about what social media is, and asked the question

Ari’s followers provided some interesting comments and definitions.

Two things I like about returning to older blogs: how our definitions continue to evolve as web-technology evolves; and how past experiences, ideas, and knowledge teach us something about the present, and make us think about the future.

The daily expanse and speed at which new webtools are being provided, and the personalized ways that information is being shared can make it difficult for any non-savvy individual or business to keep up with social media. Yet, as Jason and Ari state, the first step is defining what something is to better understand it, and then making it known. A final step is always re-evaluating and redefining.

As for my own definition of what social media is for the present…

Online social interaction of sharing experience, information, and knowledge that includes various forms of communication, collaboration, presentation, opinions, entertainment, and branding…(for now).


Web 3.0 (known as The Semantic Web) is on its way and is expected to be as revolutionary as Web 2.0.  I wonder what the definition of social media will be in the future?