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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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A Little Knowledge Mobilization History Lesson

The belief that having and exchanging knowledge greatly contributes to the advancement of civilization is argued to go back as far as the Greeks (Rich, 1979. Science Communication, 1, 6-30). From the early twentieth-century, one of the great fore-thinkers and contributors to the idea of relational behaviour and knowledge exchange is the French sociologist and social psychologist Gabriel Tarde. Among his theories, Tarde proposed a different way of looking at the social world, not from the perspective of the individual or the group, but from how products, acts and ideas (including knowledge) can be used to classify individuals or groups.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend an Ontario KTE (Knowledge Transfer & Exchange) Community of Practice (CoP) event. I am a member of this KTE CoP and was excited to finally meet nursing scholar and knowledge utilization researcher, Carole Estabrooks at her presentation: Exploring the Applicability of Research to the Practice of Knowledge Translation. The decades of Estabrooks’ work and experience was evident as she shared her knowledge about the history, contexts and research being done in the practice of knowledge translation (knowledge mobilization) today (see blog about KMb definition & terminology).

In a longtitudinal analysis paper, Estabrooks  and colleagues have traced the historical development of the knowledge transfer field between 1945 and 2005 with an author co-citation analysis of over 5,000 scholarly articles. Their research shows limited citation before the 1960s. It’s not until the mid-1960s that a flourishing of the literature on knowledge transfer and knowledge utilization began, with the largest increase from 1995 to 2004. One of the most cited authors and contributors to the field is considered to be Everett Rogers.

It was Rogers who furthered Tarde’s “laws of imitation” in the 1962 book Diffusion of innovations. Rogers also identifies nine major disciplines in which research diffusion is most prominent: anthropology, early sociology, rural sociology, education, public health/medical sociology, communication, marketing, geography, general sociology, and a miscellaneous “other”.  Certainly, many of the members of the KTE CoP are included in these and equally diverse backgrounds. Evolving from diffusion of innovation, Rogers worked with colleagues G.M. Beal and Ronald Havelock to develop the term knowledge generation, exchange, and utilization to provide a more interactive understanding of the process of knowledge use, with a view that knowledge should be useful to society.

Estabrooks explains that knowledge transfer and knowledge utilization emerged as two new domains from the parent domain diffusion of innovation between 1975 and 1984. It’s not until 1992 that a new domain of knowledge utilization appears with the emergence of evidence-based medicine. More recently, knowledge mobilization has emerged to fill the void of the limitation of evidence-based medicine’s exclusion of theoretical or creative forms of knowledge. Other forms of knowledge include indigenous knowledge (such as narrative traditions) or informal knowledge that may influence a greater exchange of ideas leading to government and community policy-making.

It’s the more inclusive and multiple-contribution elements of knowledge mobilization that create greater opportunities to inform and enhance how knowledge is exchanged and co-produced today – especially today via social media. Knowledge mobilization stems from a long history – as far back as the Greeks – and continues to echo the view that exchanging knowledge continues to greatly contribute to the advancement of society – whether from dialogue in the Greek Acropolis to blogging on the Internet.

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.

KMb “In for the long haul”

KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)


I just finished reading and tweeting about In for the Long Haul: Knowledge Translation Between Academic and Nonprofit Organizations. (I was only able to access the full document through our university’s journal licence).  Although the paper specifically focuses on researchers and non-profit organizations (NPOs), the authors rightly point out three essential factors that influence any effective knowledge mobilization: strong interorganizational partnerships, using skilled knowledge brokers (like those found at York University’s KMb Unit and ResearchImpact – Canada’s Knowledge Mobilization Network) and meaningful involvement of “front-line personnel”, those involved in direct contact between researchers and community organizations.

The paper uses KT (Knowledge Translation) to describe what is also known as KMb (Knowledge Mobilization), and states that KT is “a two-way process” by “equal and engaged partners”. This may be a simple way of describing the ideal reciprocal nature of knowledge exchange between what has been referred to as the two-communities view (social scientists and policy makers living in two different worlds), which – by extension – includes researchers in academia and community-based organizations.

I suggest that using KMb goes further to describe a more multi-directional aspect of knowledge utilization. Knowledge can be translated and/or exchanged in several multi-directional and engaging ways:

  • mobilized from researcher to researcher within the academy
  • mobilized from researcher to practitioner or vice versa
  • mobilized from one NPO working with another
  • mobilized from NPO(s) to practitioners to researchers
  • mobilized from NPO(s) to researchers
  • mobilized from researcher(s) to researcher(s) via a community-based tool such as blogging or Twitter
  • mobilized from a tweeter/blogger that informs the research in academia
  • mobilized from word-of-mouth story-telling to NOP(s) to researcher to researcher – as only a few examples.

All of these multi-directional modes of KMb inform and can also involve policy makers and knowledge brokers.

Knowledge Mobilization is a more precise and encompassing term that speaks to more current social relationships and tools used in a world of knowledge that continues to evolve with and from web 2.0 technology. Using social media tools to inform and enhance knowledge mobilizaiton helps create a channel of equal and engaged communication- not only in academia and the realm of policy makers, but also within the world of social media and networks – but only if it is accessible to all.

The paper states that it offers some KT lessons learned from close partnerships with vulnerable populations like sex-trade workers and street-youth. It should be noted that the dedicated work and time-consuming efforts of over a decade of research and community involvement are a testament to excellent KMb efforts by the authors and community contributors to the article.

Yet, there are three points I’d like to conclude with and leave you with for any comments:

1) Why are two papers I have linked to in this blog only accessible through academic channels and not at a community level? (Did you try the title link and the two-communities link above to get the articles?)

2) Why are we still using a variety of terms (Knowlege Transfer, Knowledge Exchange, Knowledge Transfer and Exchange, Knowledge Utilization, etc.) to describe all of what Knowledge Mobilization does?

3) Why did the authors of In for the Long Haul not make reference to the knowledge broker and KMb Unit at the University of Victoria as part of this paper? (Two of the authors are affiliated with UVic, and one was involved in early discussions about the start up of the KMb Unit at UVic. The UVic knowledge broker learned of the paper through Twitter).

The paper talks about the “Snail’s Pace of KT” and urges readers to “Pick up the KT pace”.  Perhaps it’s time they followed their own advice. Perhaps it’s time those researchers picked up the KMb pace.