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The Difference Between KM (Knowledge Management) & KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)

Anyone who carefully observes the continuing development of Knowledge Mobilization – particularly by means of social media – will recognize the difference between KM (Knowledge Management) and KMb (Knowledge Mobilization). Among knowledge mobilizers, knowledge brokers, researchers and researcher-users, the distinction is fairly clear; but for others the two terms continue to seem synonymous. They are not.

The field of Knowledge Management (KM) was established as a discipline in 1991. An important KM paper addressing what was earlier referred to as organizational knowledge was written by Ikujiro Nonaka who made the early connection between tacit knowledge (experiential) and explicit knowledge (articulated, codified, and stored) with knowledge conversion – the interaction of these forms of knowledge – particularly to enhance an organisation’s efficiency, productivity and profitability. KM places a strong emphasis on corporate knowledge culture. Nonaka used the following model to demonstrate:

The field of knowledge Mobilization (KMb) continues to emerge, roughly established within the past decade. Early-on Knowledge Mobilization also adopted KM as an abbreviated identifier, but is now using KMb to make a clear distinction. Some of the early KMb literature refers to knowledge mobilization as KM, which also causes some unfortunate confusion. For a very brief KMb history lesson click here.

I recently tweeted about the distinction between KM and KMb after thinking about ways to make the difference more concise and better understood. My tweet:

Knowledge Management (KM) is the content; Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is the process.

Knowledge Management is about strategies and practices of organizing information to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge in a systematic manner within an organizational structure. It is the seemingly confined content of knowledge.

Knowledge Mobilization is the overall flow and on-going and constant input and development of knowledge. It is the open process of putting available knowledge into active service to benefit not just one particular corporate or organizational structure, but for the greater benefit of all in society.

It is the more corporate and organizationally confining factor of KM that makes it different from the socially inclusive and contributory factor of KMb.

To provide an analogy: Knowledge Management is like a cup that contains and provides structure; Knowledge Mobilization is like the liquid that can fill the cup to overflowing – always open to the multidirectional flow and input of knowledge from many sources that contributes to the constant liquid being poured for and provided by everyone. Is knowledge ever a limited source?

Both KM and KMb are important for knowledge development. But the distinction must be made between the KM content and the KMb process; the KM organizational or corporate confinement of knowledge and the KMb social or community flow of knowledge.

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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.

The Knowledge Mobilization Paradigm Shift

Using social media for knowledge mobilization is the most important thing we can do as part of the newly-evolving paradigm shift from an information society to a knowledge society. We are seeing a transition from an economy based on material goods and information to one based on knowledge goods and mobilization using social media as an essential tool.

In order to understand this current paradigm shift, we must first recall previous societal revolutions from Agricultural to Industrial to Scientific – with the later leading to our more recent Information society and the subsequent greater manufacturing of material goods.

We must then understand the distinction of data, information, knowledge and knowledge mobilization. Of primary importance in the scientific revolution (and of course still today), data comes through research and collection. Information is how the data is organized. Knowledge is then built upon information, and Knowledge Mobilization is knowing what to do with that knowledge – how to synthesize the knowledge of both researchers and communities (academics and non-academics) in order to make it useful to society. Knowledge mobilization is the creation of multi-dimensional knowledge links or activities for the benefit of society.

At a recent business dinner I was asked by an executive member of an Ottawa based research organization how to best begin incorporating a knowledge mobilization strategy for what appears to be a research organization of  “old, white-collar dinosaurs” heading into irrelevance.

I suggested three key integrated steps to help them breath new life into their agency:

1) Face-To-Face Interaction: Getting their executive group to meet with other advisors from a variety of research, community and social media sectors – either in workshops, presentations or casual cocktail sessions – to generate conversation and ideas for funding and future projects.

2) Social Media Strategy: Developing a social media strategy that includes at least one designated social media staff member to help further promote the agencies work and firmly link and entrench the agency in the new paradigm shift by a successful use of social media tools like Twitter or Blogs.

3) Knowledge Mobilization (KMb): Constantly promoting and presenting the agency’s own knowledge while being informed by Face-To-Face Interaction and a Social Media Strategy about how to synthesize external knowledge with their own – through Knowledge Mobilization – for better use to society, and not just within their own specialization.

Researchers, government and community agencies are developing deeper relationships than ever before through knowledge mobilization.  Social media tools for knowledge mobilization are helping these agencies achieve meaningful results beyond just good information sharing.

The knowledge society is a new phase of society using social media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook that make knowledge mobilization faster, efficient and more practical. But some researchers, scholarly associations, federations and government agencies are still not aware of the major importance and role that social media is playing in this emerging society today.

Those recognizing the major significance of using social media beyond casual conversations and family/friends contact (see previous blog) will help keep the older forms and structures of academic, government and community agencies from becoming irrelevant and dying out. Those who don’t…well?

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.

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?

Portable GRUs (Global Research Universities) in Africa

KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)


Professor Simon Marginson, who teaches higher education at the University of Melbourne, recently presented the concept of the global research university (GRU) in a keynote address at the British Council’s Going Global international education conference in London. As quoted from the Times Higher Education blog, Marginson defined a GRU as a “multiversity”, active in all disciplines and fields “plus global systems and ranking … located in national systems of higher education, but also part of a global system at the same time”. Marginson also said: “In many nations, especially in Africa, there are no GRUs. None is in sight.” Although the blog did not address further why this might be so, it begs the question why are there no African GRUs in sight?

Perhaps a solution. According to textually.org, Africa’s digital technology is exploding across the continent as smart phone technology is increasing as much as 500 percent. Given remote access to web-based educational systems – like WebCT, and the unnecessary local physical infrastructure required, isn’t the concept of a portable GRU in the palm of your hand a no-brainer? Doesn’t it make sense as a goal of higher education to truly connect globally within and from impoverished countries already dealing with inequalities to promote greater global education?

Although the use of digital technology is growing in developing countries, Reuters reported that only 28% of all Africans had a cellular subscription at this time last year. Nonetheless, Africa continues to have one of the largest growth rates in voice, mobile Web and mobile commerce channels. One of the problems has been the cost of technology in such impoverished countries. The solution is providing handsets for less than $40 each, already being done for up to 6 million in Africa. African mobile usage has now surpassed fixed usage.

No doubt, Africa and other developing countries will continue to see a rise in the use of digital technology. As more individuals around the world have this type of global access and affordable cellular devices, the greater the possibility of seeing the further expansion of GRUs with portable GRUs – and a more educated global population. A more educated global population makes for greater economic development worldwide, and contributes to greater well-being of all citizens – local and global.

But we must remember to ask – by whose educational standards, whose educational values, whose educational beliefs? Western standards? Eastern standards? Northern standards? Southern standards? Or cooperative Global standards? GRUs, as part of a global system, need to accommodate open debate and higher thinking just as much as any on-campus classes in a physical university need to. Just as Web 2.0 technology has advanced the ability to socially interact and mobilize knowledge as never before, the greater this new web is cast across the globe to include rich and poor nations alike the greater the possibilities for global understanding and cooperation.

Professor Marginson calls for GRUs to be part of a “global system” but says “none is in sight”. Using digital technology to create portable GRUs around the world is the way to do it to put higher education – literally – in the hands of everyone. With the burgeoning of digital technology in Africa and other developing countries, perhaps portable GRUs there and around the world are closer than we think.

Defining the Digital Researcher

KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)

The term digital researcher is so new as a career title that a Google search found only vague references to this latest Web 2.0 profession. The term can also be described with the more common term – Internet researcher. Digital researchers can be from any discipline, and use the Internet as a means of gathering information and doing research – specifically pertaining to digital technology and social media.  I first heard the term as discovered by my husband, Dr. David Phipps (one of the innovators behind ResearchImpact) as he was web-surfing. David linked to Vitae – a research website with a Digital Researcher blog and event. I liked the term as it describes the type of research work I’m involved with, but I still coudn’t find any formal definition to describe a Digital Researcher. Up to that point, I was simply calling myself a researcher using the Internet as my main mode of inquiry.  But my enthusiasm for the specific title matched that of David’s.  So, I went searching online to find others like myself doing the same thing – and a definition to go along with it.

First stop, the central Internet encyclopedic source…Wikipedia, but I couldn’t even find a definition there! (Any takers up to the task of starting this new Wikipedia entry???) I did find references to a company called Digital Research, but not much else of help. The closest I came to a similar affiliation is the Association of Internet Researchers in the field of Internet studies, but still not quite a Digital Researcher definition.

The first Google link directed me to a paper written in English by German authors. It’s called The Digital Researcher: Exploring the Use of Social Software in the Research Process, published by Sprouts. According to their website they are “Sprouts: Working Papers on Information Systems (often referred to as ‘Sprouts’) is indexed Open Access outlet of emergent work and working papers carried out primarily by scholars of the information systems field and members of AIS, the Association for Information Systems.”

I am a great proponent of Open Access publications (as you will note from my call for more open access to journal papers in my previous blog). However, one problem that can occur is the lack of proofreading before submitting. A typo here or there can happen, but this paper – perhaps due to language/translation problems – had several typos. Don’t get me wrong; I found the paper very insightful about the research process along with great information about digital media, such as delicious, citeulike, connotea, scienceblog, scientificblogging, technorati, twitter and wikicfp. But Open Access does not mean oversights and sloppy writing.

Unfortunately, the paper is also rather elitist by focusing only on what might be considered “professional” scientists while ignoring community-based researchers entirely. It falls short of defining what a Digital Researcher is by claiming that Digital Researchers are only part of the scientific community, i.e. academia. It ignores anyone contributing to knowledge mobilization (not part of the formal scientific community) doing research using the expanse of social media tools inherent in the work of a Digital Researcher.

My work as a Digital Researcher is inclusive of all types of  knowledge mobilization – within science disciplines as well as within communities across the Internet (whether global, local, or global-local). Perhaps a formal definition of a Digital Researcher is required. Could I possibly be the first person to attempt to define Digital Researcher for the Web 2.0 generation? Here goes…

Definition of Digital Researcher: A person, who systematically investigates, collects and analyzes knowledge within social media, using digital technology that generates, stores, and processes data. The digital researcher then uses social media and digital technology to mobilize the knowledge acquired by the research.

At least it’s a start to defining the field. I thought you could find just about everything on Google? Guess I was wrong. (Oh, and feel free to quote me on this when you include it in Wikipedia!).

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.