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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.

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?