Thursday, November 18, 2010

Knowledge Broker Stories: The case of the accidental knowledge broker

Dr. Vicky Ward
Story #14

The case of the accidental knowledge broker
Dr. Vicky Ward

In 2007 I embarked on a project which was designed to build a better understanding of the knowledge mobilisation process. Although there are lots of models and frameworks which depict knowledge mobilisation (linear models, cyclical models, complex system models) few of these have emerged from or been tested in real-world settings. The difference with our project was that this was precisely what we aimed to do.

In trying to investigate how knowledge mobilisation unfolds in the real world, in real time, we needed to set some boundaries around what we were investigating. We also knew that we would potentially need to facilitate the process in some way. The solution we hatched was ‘knowledge brokering’. A knowledge broker, we reasoned, would give us something specific to watch, would help us to gain access to settings where knowledge mobilisation was happening and would act as a catalyst for that process – speeding it up to fit in with the timescale of our project. The plan was to employ a knowledge broker who would be able to work with teams in a local mental health organisation and from whom we would be able to collect data about the knowledge mobilisation process (we never intended to assess the ‘effectiveness’ of knowledge brokering). Little did I know that this knowledge broker was to be me…

As the project researcher, my role included identifying and recruiting teams who wanted to use evidence in planning or evaluating mental health services. Because we wanted a good deal of buy-in from these teams I did this by ‘touting our wares’ around the organisation, looking for people who wanted to join in. I began by attending some high-level meetings to talk about the project and then began to meet with teams who were interested in helping with the research. Quite soon we began to realise that the idea of employing a separate knowledge broker to work with these teams was both unfeasible and unnecessary. After all, I had already built good links with these teams, positive relationships were developing and the teams had begun to believe that I was willing (and able) to work with them to help them achieve their goals, rather than single-mindedly pursuing some academic research agenda. So it was settled – I would carry on doing what I had started and become the knowledge broker working with these three teams.

Personally, I found this idea extremely challenging. I had read that knowledge brokers needed to be ‘experts’ both in the academic literature/knowledge which they were bringing to bear on a particular problem and in the real-world setting for that problem. In my case, this meant that I should be an expert in mental health research and mental health practice. The problem was, I was neither, since my training and early career had all been conducted in the area of music education! However, I soon found that not being an expert seemed to facilitate rather than hinder the knowledge mobilisation process. For instance, by being ‘constructively clueless’ I could help the teams clarify and articulate the problem they wanted to address, discuss their previous knowledge, experience and assumptions and consider the types of knowledge they needed and trusted and how this was likely to be used. The potential downside was that sometimes my input was not recognised as being legitimate, but this seemed to be more of a problem with senior managers than with the teams I was directly working with.

Having learned my lesson about being an ‘expert’, I proceeded to learn some other lessons about knowledge brokering and knowledge mobilisation. First, I found that knowledge mobilisation was hampered when knowledge brokering was seen as a ‘knowledge management’ role which was only performed by me. I saw that when team member’s emphasis was purely on getting me to find, package and disseminate ‘evidence’ on their behalf their problem-solving became fragmented, alternative viewpoints were not understood and evidence was used to support a pre-determined course of action. Second, I found that knowledge mobilisation was facilitated when knowledge brokering was owned and participated in by the team members and when it was shaped by their day to day activities and tasks. I saw that when this happened, it enabled different views of the problem to emerge and the team uncovered varying types of knowledge (both ‘academic’ and experiential) which could be used in different ways.

Following on from this project, I am now focusing on applying the lessons I have learned to other
settings. For instance, learning that knowledge brokers do not need to be experts has given me the confidence use my knowledge brokering skills in a range of different settings. Learning that knowledge mobilisation and knowledge brokering are complex, shared processes has also helped me to relinquish ownership and embrace more of a facilitation role. But perhaps most importantly, learning how the knowledge mobilisation process unfolds has given me a template for ensuring that my future research projects have the capacity to make an impact on the real world. Check out our website to see if it can do the same for you!

To cite:

MLA format
Ward, Vicky, "Knowledge Broker Stories: The case of the accidental knowledge broker." Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted November 17, 2010. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Ward, V. Knowledge Broker Stories: The case of the accidental knowledge broker. Retreived (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Knowledge Broker Stories: From Science to Science Communication to Knowledge Brokering

Story #13

Even while doing my Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo (UW), I realized I wasn’t cut out to be an academic. Despite my great respect for scientists and the scientific process, the complexities of multivariate statistics and the interminable nature of the peer-review publication process ultimately tipped the balance for me in terms of pursuing other career opportunities.  

Making connections, getting things done, often with or by partners, and, ultimately, seeing my work as practical and useful to others was what turned my crank. Since graduating, my career has been built more on my communication and organizational skills than on my understanding of the migrations of Atlantic salmon.

I’ll admit I was slow to characterize what I did as knowledge translation or brokering (KT/KB). So how did a “salmon biologist gone wrong” land at the sharp end of KT/KB in the federal government Science and Technology community?

My career’s been more meander than a defined path. Since graduating I’ve never actually formally competed for and won a position: doors opened, sometimes in the most unlikely of circumstances, and I happily walked through.

From UW I joined an NGO, unsurprisingly one related to salmon conservation. There I headed the publications arm and served as the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s Executive Director, Canada. My first official foray into communications.

Five years on, I was asked to join the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to lead a disparate science group that did not “fit” well in the traditional fish-counting science structure. Consequently I had to hone my ability to “sell” what we did. I wrote prolifically, both in the peer-reviewed literature and in various other media. Day to day I managed research and operations, but science communication became a vocation.

A two-month detour for a liver transplant, and an unfortunate series of circumstances in the life of a colleague, meant that I was in the right time and place to take on a two-year interchange assignment as Director of Recreational Fisheries for the Province of New Brunswick. There, the ultimate challenge was getting science to senior officials and political masters in a timely, polite, engaging, yet firm manner. Speaking truth to power.

My assignment over, I re-joined the Feds, this time in Environment Canada (EC), once again leading a diverse group of researchers including some wonderful “entrepreneurs.” This time, explaining the needs of the Division to administrators proved a significant challenge, all the while continuing to build networks and promote the work of the unit more broadly.

My by-now standard “four or so years in a job” were up, and I was considering a senior position with a university. I asked someone for a reference and instead was persuaded to come to work for his organization. And so, serendipitously, I found myself in my first bona fide “science communications” job as Director of Science Liaison Branch with EC’s National Water Research Institute (NWRI).

I found I was pulling it all together: forming the unit, including hiring someone to run a series of national science-policy workshops, dealing with media and other enquiries, developing an internal newsletter, and revamping the NWRI website. I got heavily involved in the Canadian Science Writers’ Association, forged new networks, and eventually became a board member.

A major transformation in Environment Canada in 2006 included formation of a Science and Technology Branch. The new Assistant Deputy Minister, who came from outside EC and was part of one of those networks I’d been involved with, was aware of our work and thought highly enough of it that my group was somersaulted, literally overnight, into a more centralized role to cover the gamut of EC science activity for the new Branch.

In a fit of self-preservation, or possibly self-immolation, I accepted the role of Acting Director General, forming a new Directorate that included, surprise, surprise – several groups that had key functions, but were, like my own group, outliers among larger science-delivery Directorates.

Over the course of the following year I helped stabilize things in the new Directorate and used my new position to advance some science-policy linking initiatives close to my heart. I was also fortunate enough to be selected for the inaugural Science Communications Residency in Banff.

A two-week master class in science communications, this experience was a transformational micro-sabbatical. I was not a science communicator in the generally accepted sense: delving into the literature (with a big tip of the hat to the health field), and working with new collaborators, I came to better understand the nature of my group’s work.

What we did was very different from what I came to define in a 2008(1) book chapter as Big-C Corporate Communication. Our work was little-c S&T communication. It was, in fact, knowledge translation and brokering.

I stopped the grinding travel to and from Ottawa and elsewhere, and returned to my substantive position as Director of S&T Liaison. There, my unit has continued to build a series of KT/KB tools and approaches that are serving EC well and bringing demands from other federal departments and agencies to share and build on our experiences.

In October 2009, we hosted a federal Interdepartmental Dialogue on KT and KB in Burlington, Ontario, where a number of ideas were supported by the collective group (over 40 participants from 15 federal departments and agencies). These included a need to address challenges for HR classification of KT/KB jobs, build a KT/KB toolbox for federal departments, and the concept of a first-ever International KT and KB Conference and Community of Practice. Reaching out from there, we have discovered others with common interests, including, of course this site, Research Impact, and the KTECOP.
Needless to say, my current work is very much a team effort and I have been blessed to have been working with Leah Brannen and Karl Schaefer, my two Section Heads, for almost a decade. Staff turnover has generally been low and along the way we’ve collectively done some good, learnt from many challenges, published in the field, and had some fun.

You can get an overview of our activities via our EC S&T Expert (one of the tools we’ve built) profiles  (AlexKarl – LeahJaimeMichaelShannonCourtneyJulieKristinScottJanet), and also access a Canada Public Service eMagazine feature on our work.

Or you could give any of us a shout…

Dr. Alex T. Bielak
Director, S&T Liaison
S&T Strategies Directorate
Environment Canada
March 2010

(1)Bielak, A.T., A. Campbell, S. Pope, K. Schaefer and L. Shaxson. 2008. From Science Communications to Knowledge Brokering: The Shift from Science Push to Policy Pull, p. 201-226. In D. Cheng, M. Claessens, T. Gascoigne, J. Metcalfe, B. Schiele and S. Shi (ed.), Communicating Science in Social Contexts: New models, new practices. Springer, Dordrecht.

To cite:
MLA format
Bielak, Alex, "Knowledge Broker Stories: From Science to Science Communication to Knowledge Brokering.” Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted March 25, 2010. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Bielak, A. Knowledge Broker Stories: From Science to Science Communication to Knowledge Brokering. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Knowledge Broker Stories: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Building the Science, Practice, and Profession of Knowledge Translation

Story #12

Tinker: to manipulate experimentally
Tailor: to make, alter, or adapt for a particular end or purpose
Soldier: a person who works diligently for a cause
Spy: to discover by close observation or investigate intensively

I fell into the field of knowledge translation without warning.  In 2001, I accepted responsibility and leadership for a provincial project that, ostensibly, involved training practitioners in child and youth mental health organizations to use a standardized outcome measure that would enable them to measure functional improvements in their clients and to manage treatment change.  Use of the tool was mandated by the province, and we were tasked with ramping up 120 provider organizations; number of practitioners – unknown!  This, in itself, was a large undertaking.  In retrospect, there were many things I didn’t know about my assignment when I started. Not the least of which was the term “knowledge translation”.

Training practitioners to learn a new skill is an educational activity, or so I thought at the time.  One develops a training workshop and makes it available to the target audience.  Knowledge is provided orally, through didactic instruction and discussion.  Manuals and other written documentation support learning, and hands-on instruction is provided in how to master the new practice; in this case, how to score, interpret, and use the outcome tool.  A standard is set to measure mastery of the material, and then training is over.  Or is it?

It was probably in the third year of this outcome initiative that I realized the following: 

  1. Effective training is not a one-off endeavour,
  2. training is only the first component of practice change; implementation and adoption must follow,
  3. many factors influence the change process and need to be addressed, and
  4. people don’t want to change – this last point is a real sticker! 

Practitioners we had trained earlier came back requesting refresher training, either because they hadn’t actually used their new skills when they were first trained, and/or because they had experienced significant staff turnover since their original training.  Questions buzzed around me and my team:

Why weren’t people using what they’d learned? 

Why didn’t they see the value of this new skill for their practice and for the kids? 

How could we distribute training expertise and ensure that new staff were trained on-site? 

Why did some organizations embrace the new practice while others waxed and waned or merely blocked us out? 

How could we share the knowledge and enthusiasm of the early adopters with those who were not so keen to change? 

It was about then, as we crested the mountain of our training labours, that we glimpsed the chain of mountains extending beyond.  Oh dear.

Click went the proverbial light bulb!  I was now aware that the assignment was a wee bit more complex than originally envisioned.  The task was not simply training for a new skill.  The task was to enable practice change in thousands of practitioners across the province.  Like most academics, I went to the books and started to read. Surely someone has done this before!  I was quickly immersed in multiple disciplines – business, education, health, and psychology – where I learned that practice change was an emerging field of study, and that while many were beginning to recognize the need for successful ways of changing practice and bringing evidence to the real world, very few had attempted this feat, relatively few had studied it empirically, and fewer still had attempted to change practitioner behaviour on the scale that we were. 

My first inroad into applying what we would now refer to as a knowledge translation strategy came from the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in communities of practice (1991).  This tried and true approach was proving useful in education, NGOs, and business in facilitating knowledge sharing on specific topics for communities of people. Might this be a useful approach for bringing the early adopters and the laggards together?  Five years of regional communities of practice for practitioners, and one CIHR-funded study later, we know it is. (To date, approximately 6,000 practitioners have been trained to be reliable raters of the outcome measure.)

And in this way, my work on supporting practice change, and the program of research in knowledge translation that is embedded in this systems work has taken shape.  Our team has studied communities of practice as a support strategy for practice change, developed a range of supports to augment the two-day training workshops that enable new learners to maintain ongoing contact with the experts, and we are now exploring the use of social media to support practice change.  A 5-year CIHR Emerging Team grant with colleagues at McMaster is supporting the development and evaluation of an implementation framework that has us working with five child and youth mental health provider organizations and two school boards to figure out how to bring evidence-based practices into schools and mental health centres. 

All the while, my foray into knowledge translation has followed another path.  As I’ve watched the field develop over the last decade, it has been apparent that there are new developments in both the science and the practice of knowledge translation.  With respect to the latter, this has been most evident in the rise of knowledge translation positions within health care organizations, educational institutions, community-based and volunteer sector organizations.  I have taken an interest in these postings, whenever they found themselves in my ‘in’ box, and have met many of the people who have filled them.  Many have found their way to the Ontario Knowledge Translation and Exchange Community of Practice, formed by me and my SickKids colleagues in collaboration with the Institute for Work and Health and the Health Systems Research and Consulting Unit (HSRCU) at CAMH.  The KTE CoP has met three or four times a year since 2005, and we have helped one another learn about KT practice, methods, and science.  Around the same time, my colleagues at HSRCU and I were funded by CHSRF to develop and evaluate a knowledge translation training workshop for scientists, the purpose of which is to help health scientists understand how KT plays a role in their science, how to engage with multiple stakeholders, and how to develop KT plans for science and measure the impact of their work.  The Scientist Knowledge Translation Training© course continues to be offered through the SickKids’ Learning Institute

These two activities coupled with a growing market for KT Managers, KT Directors, and KT Specialists highlighted, for me, the need to develop professional training for individuals seeking careers in knowledge translation – as practitioners, not as clinicians or scientists.  And so, the Professional Certification in Knowledge Translation is in the making.  Sponsored by The Hospital for Sick Children and its Learning Institute, and with the support of the University of Toronto’s School of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education for Professional Development office, work is underway to survey KT professionals across Canada and to develop a competency framework and curriculum.   A link to the KT professionals survey will be posted on the Learning Institute website and the KTE CoP website, and circulated widely, in late January 2010.

It’s an inspiring area to be working in, and I greatly value all I have learned along the way, thus far, from my KT colleagues – the scientists, the practitioners, and the community partners who have joined us on the journey!  There are new mountains ahead and much to tinker, tailor, and spy for this soldier.

Melanie A. Barwick, Ph.D., C.Psych.
The Hospital for Sick Children

To cite:

MLA format
Barwick, Melanie, "Knowledge Broker Stories: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Building the Science, Practice, and Profession of Knowledge Translation.” Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted January 3, 2010. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Barwick, M. Knowledge Broker Stories: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Building the Science, Practice, and Profession of Knowledge Translation. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Knowledge Broker Stories: How to develop and deliver and effective KMb strategy

This is not so much a story as a reflection on some of the things I have learned about knowledge mobilization.  Let me start with an example - the issue of staying in school.

We have volumes of research that show the benefits of graduating high school and getting at least some post secondary education, yet we continue to have higher than desired drop out rates.

How do we address this issue?

We don’t address it by engaging in yet another research project, we address it by identifying a specific audience and developing knowledge mobilization strategies to impact that audience and then determine what is the right information (which may or may not require additional research), right format, and right timing.

If you want to influence the teenager directly then you develop tools to reach them - visual graphics, e-games, peer role model programs, etc. and deliver them at a time when they are likely to be influenced.  If your intended audience is parents you use different strategies.  If your audience is provincial policy makers you use yet other strategies.  In all cases, involving representatives of the audience (building relationships) as early as possible in the process will help ensure successful results.

Influencing decision making requires both the research and KMb to be audience driven - not knowledge product driven. They must both be demand (user need) driven, not supply (research or researcher desire) driven.  I often hear a researcher say “well, I wrote this very important paper about issue X and yet things have not changed”, to which I reply “who asked you to write a paper about issue X?” and you can guess the answer I receive more often than not. Before engaging in a research project it is important to have a clear understanding of who your intended audience(s) is and what their needs are.

For a researcher, demand driven clearly means answering a question someone has asked.  But what does it mean to be demand driven or audience driven KMb?  It means adopting KM  strategies and processes that will successfully influence the intended decision makers... and that is why getting the four “rights” in the above definition right, becomes critical.

Now if anyone says defining an audience as the driver for research is subverting the research process or that the research process is by nature curiosity driven, not driven by an audience, I would counter, all research, even basic science, is audience driven.  It is simply that for basic science the audience is often so fundamentally understood, it is simply part of the research culture and thus often not even articulated.  With a purpose of influencing intellectual discourse (adding new knowledge to the field), basic research has a clearly defined primary audience: the academy, either other researchers or students.  The best way to influence these decision makers is either peer reviewed journal publications or academic conferences. In other words, an effective KMb process for an academic audience is traditional dissemination!

My Key Lessons:

¥The research process should be viewed as a whole, not segmented into “production” and “dissemination”.

¥Research and KMb should be audience driven. That is research design, implementation and knowledge sharing or uptake, to be successful, must have a clearly defined audience at its centre.

¥If we accept that research is intended to influence decision making then it follows that the KMb process is as critical as the research process and should be undertaken with the same rigour.

¥Just as quality research production requires an expert researcher, quality KMb requires expertise as well. Researchers should not be expected to carry the burden.

¥Partnerships are important. Establishing a partnership of relevant stakeholders up front, as you are defining the issue to be addressed, will dictate to a large extent, the type of research questions to ask, the most relevant research methods, KMb methods and KMb experts.

¥A project work plan and budget should include all aspects of the project , not simply the production component. (one of the most frequent frustrations I hear when I speak to researchers is that funders expect more comprehensive KMb processes than simply publishing and yet are often unwilling to provide either the financial resources or the time to deliver effective KMb. That said I also believe there is a fair degree of lip service paid to the aspect of KMb by many researchers applying for funding - they see it as another trend in funders and often cut and paste a generic KMb paragraph in their proposals without the true desire or expertise to carry it through. Ultimately both of these issues will have to be addressed before KMb is truly institutionalized across Canada.)

¥Just as there are multiple audiences, there needs to be multiple forms of KMb (there is no “one size fits all”). Influencing policy makers requires a different strategy than influencing practitioners or individuals.

As a society or as agencies interested in influencing public policy, if we are serious about our desire to improve the role of research in decision making we have to focus on more than simply excellence in research, we must also emphasize excellence in KMb.  In my experience,  once the question “who do we want to influence?” is answered, the issue of what type of research methodology, KMb strategy (ies) and stakeholders to be involved will become clear.

Daryl Rock

To cite:

MLA format
Rock, Daryl, "Knowledge broker stories: How to develop and deliver and effective KMb strategy.” Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted December 16, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Rock, D. Knowledge broker stories: How to develop and deliver and effective KMb strategy. Retrieved (enter date) from []

Knowledge Broker Stories: Putting Consumers at the Centre of Knowledge Transfer

In the first story of this series I outlined how in 2003 that in my role as Director of the Ontario Occupational Health Services Network I brokered a transfer of knowledge from occupational medicine specialists to primary care teams.  I facilitated a feedback loop that helped modify a work history taking tool for ease and relevance of use in a busy primary care practice.  What of the workers for whom this tool was designed to make a difference?  What role should they play?  Did they have something to add to the process?  As we pondered these questions, subsequent knowledge collaboration began to take shape.

The Toronto Workers’ Health and Safety Legal Clinic disseminates a Worker’s Guide on the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act.  The Guide is a straightforward booklet that conveys in plain language what workers need to know about health and safety law.  I began conversations with the Legal Clinic about how the Work History Taking Tool was meant to support workers in very parallel and complementary ways to the Worker’s Guide.  The shared theme between the two initiatives was providing knowledge that would help workers prevent injuries on the job.

Into these conversations we invited the LAMP Occupational Health Centre, which provides health advocacy to workers, especially with respect to prevention and worker’s compensation.  We also invited St. Michaels’ Hospital Occupational Health Clinic, which by this time had posted the revised Work History Taking Tool on their website. 

With this additional focus on the worker’s perspective, we devised some additions to the Worker’s Guide.  We added a copy of the Work History Taking Tool to the Guide, accompanied with questions such as: “Did you know that your work and health are connected?” and “When was the last time you talked to your doctor/nurse about your work exposures at the workplace?”  These and a few other prompts then led the reader of the Guide to either ask their primary care provider to talk about work health risks or be more prepared and understanding when the topic arose.   

I am sure many of us could think of additional examples of involving consumers in the knowledge exchange process meant to make a difference in their lives.  Another example in my experience is work I did in the late 1990s as Coordinator of the Ontario Diabetes Complications Prevention Network.  In that initiative we assembled 8 regional networks that met every 6 weeks over a two year period.  Each network included specialists (endocrinologists), family physicians, diabetes educators and persons with diabetes.  The results of these network meetings helped inform the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on its future policy directions.  The most significant follow-through from these joint provider/consumer meetings was the subsequent expansion of community-based diabetes education, mostly attached to community health centres in Ontario, which have a very strong consumer advocacy orientation.

Knowledge transfer in health and social services is becoming more integral to the design of service systems.  These two brief examples in occupational health and diabetes illustrate that consumers can be involved in stimulating the process of enquiry or advising on the design of service systems.   As knowledge brokers, I think we will need to think about many more ways to put the consumer at the centre of the process.  After all, it really is all about them.

Hal De Lair

To cite:

MLA format
De Lair, Hal, "Knowledge broker stories: Putting Consumers at the Centre of Knowledge Transfer.” Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted December 16, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
De Lair, H. Knowledge broker stories: Putting Consumers at the Centre of Knowledge Transfer. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Knowledge Broker Stories: “Me” as part of an innovative system

Knowledge brokers are an important component of the knowledge value chain.  If one needs justification for knowledge brokers, consider what the U.S. non-profit sector looked like at the beginning of the decade: 1.6 million Organizations; 10.9 million Workers; $29 billion in funding; and 57,000 funding sources. 

Many of these 1.6 million organizations had the same target populations: policy makers, researchers, families and children.  The obvious question is, how can individuals, practitioners or policy-makers realistically assess, filter and apply information coming from 1 million plus organizations?  How can we go on creating knowledge when studies show that less than one third of research ever makes it to an application/implementation stage?

That is where we come in.

My story is probably like some of yours.  I spend the better part of my week fashioning existing knowledge into consumable formats.  I enjoy innovation and look at brokering as an opportunity for process, market and technical innovation (as opposed to traditional product and service innovation).

To me, the brokering process is founded on various fields of study (marketing, sociology, knowledge management, change management, evaluation) as well as personal values (utilitarianism, equality, service, and advocacy).  I draw on a tool belt of skills that are forever being sharpened or traded out for emerging market requirements.  Right now, I would say the skills and values I draw on most are: passion, listening, humor, objectivity, patience, an outcomes orientation, flexibility and adaptability.

It’s the latter two skills that motivated me to write this post.  Not too many years ago, under the mentorship of some wonderful future-thinkers, I spent quite a bit of time working on the front lines of developing intelligent systems.  In these systems the literature often speaks of various types of “intelligent agents” (e.g., watcher/monitor, learner, shopping/buying, search, helper/personal, change, reflex, goal-based, utility-based, interface, mobile and data/information agents).  Moreover, intelligent systems are fashioned to support decision-making; especially founded on just-in-time (J.I.T.) information.

A pitfall of decision systems is - they are often configured to answer questions/scenarios they think will occur.  The reality is: everything changes.

Consider the evolution of knowledge systems. 

Decision Support Systems (DSS): “Get me the third quarter numbers”;

Executive Information Systems (EIS), “Get me projections of fourth quarter numbers based on this scenario.”;

Intelligent System, “Can we sell Twinkies to China?”. 

DSS and EIS are not adaptive and flexible, and it’s only been through the process of trying to automate Intelligent Systems that we have discovered the limitations of automation.

Years back, to build intelligent systems and better value chains, people began writing about the value of “knowledge workers”.  Now we are beginning to better delineate what “knowledge workers” do (e.g., “brokering”).

Back to me.  I won some accolades here and there this decade for co-creating knowledge communities and collaborative portals.  Most recently, I’ve been developing a knowledge community in an entire new field of study for me that is showing promise.  But, for fidelity-sake, if you asked me how this is done, I could not spell it out completely.  Again, it’s an adaptive process, drawing on an ever-shifting set of skills.  However, there are tactics worth sharing.

Things that fascinate me include writings about goal-oriented design, personas, and a concept that Gerry McGovern coined called “carewords”. 

Simply put, using “carewords” is the process (via content analysis or survey) of determining the language information consumers (readers) like to use and then using that language to communicate back to them.  It sounds like common sense, but once we operationalized this, our readership and information use went up 200-300%!  Also, thanks to the concept of “push/pull/link/exchange” shared by friends in Canada, I spend much more time planning out networking and exchange activity in the knowledge communities I facilitate.  I am a continual trend-spotter, but monitor with ROI in mind. I spend the better part of my days trying to get people to walk in information consumer shoes; talking to persons about extending engagement with information consumers beyond seagull events, while monitoring the decline of traditional dissemination…charting detours around fading knowledge practices.

Right now we can all say, “Remember typewriters”.  One of these days we are going to look back and say, “Remember Twitter”.  I think it’s this potential for continuous innovation, resulting in increased knowledge utilization that drives my passion for brokering.

Jonathan Green

To cite:

MLA format
Green, Jonathan, "Knowledge broker stories: “Me” as part of an innovative system." Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted December 15, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Green, J. Knowledge broker stories: “Me” as part of an innovative system. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Monday, December 7, 2009

Knowledge Broker Stories: Defining Knowledge Mobilization from a Strategic Perspective

In 2001, when I became director of Strategic Programs at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) I was asked to provide colleagues with a clear definition of KMb.  Already widely used in academic circles, the term KMb was nevertheless still not very well understood.  And it was even less well understood by decision makers outside of the ivory tower. 

After reviewing various definitions and finding none of them to be as clear as I would need in addressing the various audiences with whom I interacted, I created my own definition.  My driving criteria was to create a definition that would be readily understood both within and outside of academe, remembered, and useful in helping to integrate research into mainstream decision making processes. The definition I created was:

Knowledge mobilization is getting the right information to the right people at the right time in the right format so as to influence decision making.

This easy to remember definition has become widely known and used by academics, policy makers and practitioners around the world. As you read it you realize that KMb is not an “end of the research process” activity but rather is integral to the entire process, from initial question design, through implementation to outcomes.  With this definition I was attempting to explain, in common language, a process that is often complex, time consuming and iterative.  Having presented this over the years to countless groups I continue to have people come up to me and say “I get it now!”

The core phrase is “to influence decision making”.  I chose the word “influence” consciously.  Some ask why not the word “inform”?  The one implies action while the other is more passive and as I will outline below, successful KMb is about action.  Clearly this reflects a personal bias but in fairness I think it a valid one.  That is “funded research is intended to influence decision making by someone, not simply to add new knowledge to the world at large.”

“To influence decision making” requires an understanding of who’s decision you are trying to influence - who is the intended audience of this evidence and why?  Understanding the intended audience is the core to successful KMb and that understanding will only come through an established relationship.  It is not that you cannot share information with an audience you do not understand, this happens all of the time.  But to truly influence that audience you must “get inside their heads” and the best way to do that is by involving them in your process, establish a relationship, get to know them.  (As an aside, marketing experts know this and can be quite effective at influencing behaviour, even without evidence!)

You will note there are four “rights” in this definition and as logic logic dictates “for every right there is a wrong!”  The more wrongs you have, the less likely you are to achieve your goal: “to influence decision making” about a certain issue.  Once you have a clearly identified audience, the “what”, “when”, “where” and “how” become easier to answer.  So often we develop what we consider to be the “right” information only to present it in the wrong format or at the wrong time or to the wrong audience.

Daryl Rock

To cite:

MLA format
Daryl, Rock, "Knowledge broker stories: Defining Knowledge Mobilization from a Strategic Perspective." Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted December 7, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Rock, D. Knowledge broker stories: Defining Knowledge Mobilization from a Strategic Perspective. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Friday, December 4, 2009

Knowledge Broker Stories: Lasting Interpersonal Relationships

My interest in better connections between research and practice is long-standing and deeply rooted in the various kinds of work I have done in education.  As a young, elected member of a school board in Manitoba in the 1970s I was struck by how little of our policy seemed to be based on sound evidence.  Later in the 1970s I was the director of a small non-profit organization in Manitoba that worked on bringing evidence to bear on policy and practice.  That is when I did my first real KM work – writing various short summaries of research findings for educators. 

Since that time my career has gone back and forth between academia and government.  I also served for a couple of years as Chief Research Officer for the Peel School District in Ontario.  I’ve been a professor and researcher at The University of Manitoba and now hold a Canada Research Chair at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).  I’ve also held senior civil service positions in education in Manitoba and Ontario, including serving as deputy minister in each province. 

In all these roles I’ve worked to bring research into the policy process more strongly and effectively.  Much of this work was intuitive – for example, producing summaries of research for educators, which is something I have done in four or five different organizations.  In government I’ve helped to create, in both Manitoba and Ontario, stronger practices around knowledge mobilization not only in making policy, but as part of the work of both ministries. 

In my current role as a research chair, my primary research focus is on knowledge mobilization; I have a team of graduate students and external partners with whom we work.  Our program of research and KM can be found on our website –

This is an exciting time to be working on KM issues.  There is a worldwide explosion of interest in the field, not only in education but in other sectors as well.  Many initiatives are underway, but just as importantly, more research is being done so that knowledge mobilization can itself become guided by stronger knowledge, so that less effort is wasted on well-intentioned but ineffective practices.  For example, a great deal of effort goes into creating organizational websites, yet many sites get very few visitors.  Moreover, according to the analysis our team is doing, many sites do not use principles of effective communication.  Similarly, much effort goes into creating research products of various kinds but often these products are poorly designed in relation to what we know about effective communication.  Even more, we know that the key to mobilizing knowledge is creating lasting interpersonal relationships that carry over into daily work, yet a great deal of KM work is still in the old world  - rather like my message here – of trying to convince people through writing.  So there is much room for improvement and greater impact, even within existing resources and efforts.

Ben Levin

To cite:

MLA format
Levin, Ben, "Knowledge broker stories: Lasting Interpersonal Relationships" Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted December 4, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Levin, B. Knowledge broker stories: Lasting Interpersonal Relationships. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Knowledge Broker Stories: From Cleaning Streetlights to KMb!

My story is not much different from other people working as knowledge brokers.  No one aspires to do this work at an early age.  As a child, my mother said I wanted to clean streetlights.  Well, a healthy respect (OK, fear) of heights has all but squashed that dream, but I do feel in all honesty that I may have the best job at York University, that of knowledge broker.

First, I feel a little background is in order.  My career before beginning at York was in adult education, more specifically, Aboriginal literacy, where for 15 years I worked as a practitioner, project manager, trainer, consultant and as a researcher.  My interests in research and my abilities to respect and liaise between the unique environments of research, program delivery and policy analysis gave me the confidence to walk into a completely new role at York University in February 2006.  With no clear blueprint on how to develop an institutional knowledge mobilization unit, I was led by values of honesty and respect to develop the relationships – both within and outside of the university – necessary to support this work.  These values were reinforced to me early in my career as critical for building credible and trusting relationships with people across sectors.

My brokering responsibilities have me working with enthusiastic graduate students, brilliant academic researchers (across multiple disciplines and departments), innovative community leaders and dedicated policy professionals.  My challenges are in creating a clear and common understanding to the opportunity, the constraints from all parties and the needs for resources and ongoing support.  It has been exciting to see ideas shared over a coffee emerge into a large-scale collaborative project! 

I enjoy the learning opportunities that come with working with an emerging community of knowledge brokers across Canada.  These learning opportunities come through my interactions with colleagues across Canada, here at York, and in all aspects of my life, because my teachers extend beyond 9-5 (or 7-3 in my case)!  I like the fact that the values I bring to my work help make me a better worker. 

I have reflected on my role at York and honestly feel that there is no better place for me within the university.  I no longer aspire to clean streetlights, but I do feel like I am living the dream!

Michael Johnny, MA
Manager, Knowledge Mobilization
York Research Tower, 2nd Floor
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON  M3J 1P3
416-736-2100 ext. 88876

To cite:

MLA format
Johnny, Michael, "Knowledge broker stories: From Cleaning Streetlights to KMb!" Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted November 24, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Johnny, M. Knowledge broker stories: From Cleaning Streetlights to KMb! Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Knowledge Broker Stories: Knowledge Broker Through Partnership Working

In the summer of 2009 I presented my Inaugural lecture to mark being made Professor of Child, Family and Community Health at the University of Brighton. Often an Inaugural traces the intellectual roots of professorial achievement and is aimed at a university audience. But for me it provided a unique opportunity to talk about working with the community on issues that are important to them. The title of my talk? ‘What makes us resilient?’ Determined that this presentation should be fully accessible to the public, I worked hard to make it part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. Astonishingly my talk was so oversubscribed that I’ve now had to deliver it several times in different locations. My kids are getting very bored of turning up for it, and soon I’ll have to bribe them to come. My inaugural tells the story of how, from a background of poverty and disadvantage, I ended up doing a doctorate at the University of Oxford, adopting three children with special needs from the care system, training to be a practitioner working directly with disadvantaged children and families myself, and researching practical approaches to resilience.

I’ve always tried to live by the now famous slogan ‘the personal is political’, and intellectually understand my career narrative to be embedded in this term. Throughout my life I’ve worked closely with those whose lives are barely – or perhaps invisibly – touched by the concerns of the university. Moving on from a research investigation into what was wanted by parents and carers in the way of fostering and adoption support services, I began working as a psychotherapist in the child and adolescent mental health services, becoming increasingly interested in practical ways to work with children with complex needs. And, with the emphasis on practice, my research work relates the findings of hard research to practical interventions, feeding back into the research process knowledge of the needs, the practicalities, and the effectiveness of resilience work. I am working through several ‘Resilient Therapy Communities of Practice’ (RT CoPs) set up on the south coast of England. Communities of practices are groups of people who join together with a passion for a shared interest. Ours is helping children with complex needs to bounce back through applying the resilience evidence base to practice and to family life. The term RT CoPs is a bit of a mouthful, but what we do is very practical. These RT CoPs are composed of parents, carers, students, health and social care practitioners and researchers. We meet together once a month in a facilitated space to apply RT to our different settings and co-create books, training materials, etc. to support the development of RT. CoPs are a template for other social concern groups, not just to be a sounding board, but to be active investigators in their own right.

Luckily, the University of Brighton has always been supportive of a ‘partnership’ approach to my research, and over the last few years the University’s Community-University Partnership Programme (Cupp) has been able to expand its own work substantially, along with an overall shift in emphasis at the Corporate level towards partnership and collaborative working In an ambitious collaboration, 40 community members and academics produced a ‘warts-and-all’ book on our collective experiences in community-university partnership development.

As Academic Director of the Community University Partnership Programme, I have learnt a great deal about developing mutually beneficial partnerships with communities and their organisations, and about incentivising other academics to become involved in this type of scholarship. Over the past year, I have been invited to Canada, Sweden, Germany and Australia to talk about, and to talk to, those involved in the practice of exchanging ideas. I never lose an opportunity to stress how important it is to draw strength and knowledge from the local community, and how community partners need to lead developments too, otherwise we academics are in danger of finding ourselves talking only to each other. I stress that partnership working is a two-way process that can, and should, transform not just what work is selected for investigation, but the manner in which it is undertaken, and the processes by which it is made available more widely.

All of this quite a lot to juggle, but at the same time, is immensely rewarding. If there is one sticking point to pick out, it is not the common narrative about recognition of my work in tenure and promotion etc. Rather, it is a disappointment that I do not always succeed in persuading academics and university establishments to put the kind of hard work necessary into including community members and their organisations in ‘meta-level’ conversations and decisions about community-university partnerships (for example at conferences, seminars and working groups). Time and time again community university partnership conferences take place with but a smattering of community participants present. I know from my own experience, that capacity building in this area is very complicated and time-consuming. Simply inviting people to attend events isn’t enough. It involves meticulous, long-term relational work, the imagination to recognise the barriers to community participation (funds, time, inaccessibility of academic discourse, perceived strategic relevance etc.), and the determination to overcome them. Hard work and a tall order on top of everything else I know. Yet, if those of us with leadership roles in universities don’t put the work in here, we risk community members and their organisations forever being peripheral players, rather than co-producers of knowledge. All this strongly reminds me of the mental health service user slogan ‘Nothing about us without us.’ Would that this were true in the world of community-university partnerships.

As my colleagues and collaborators would be the first to point out, these kinds of partnerships are not easy – power dynamics are rife as the literature in this area discusses at length. Also, I have enough self-knowledge from years of lying on a couch whilst training to be a psychotherapist to realise that I can be a right pain to work with at times. But at least life is never dull in our world of community university partnerships, and there are always spaces to be found in which we genuinely deliver on mutually beneficial work. I firmly believe that when we get it right, working together produces better practice and better scholarship. Putting people in touch with one another for mutual benefit is a privilege, as is listening to the stories people tell us about their concerns. Making my own, albeit it sometimes bungled attempts to develop a career within this paradigm, is a clear priority for me. Equally valuable is the opportunity this kind of knowledge brokering presents to evidence that universities can and do offer their services to others, for the greater benefit of all, not just for those lucky enough to be ‘ivory tower’ educated.

Resources referred to:

Aumann, K., and Hart, A. 2009 Helping children with complex needs bounce back: Resilient Therapy for parents and professionals. Jessica Kingsley: London ISBN 978-1-84310-948-8

Hart, A., Maddison, E., and Wolff, D.(eds) 2007 Community-university partnerships in practice. Niace:Leicester ISBN 978-1-86201-317-9

Hart, A. and Blincow, D. with Thomas, H. 2007 Resilient Therapy with children and families. Brunner Routledge: London ISBN 978-0-415-40384-9

Personal profile:

Angie Hart

To cite:

MLA format

Hart, Angie, "Knowledge broker stories: Knowledge Broker through partnership working." Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted November 10, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format

Hart, A. Knowledge broker stories: Knowledge Broker through partnership working. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque

Monday, November 9, 2009

Knowledge Broker Stories: Knowledge Mobilization is at the core

Knowledge Mobilization is a big part of my work.  I don’t think of it however, as a separate piece.  Since 2001, I have served as the Executive Director of an applied research centre – the Centre for Families, Work & Well-being at the University of Guelph (  We do most of our work in collaboration with organizations with identified research needs.  Knowledge brokering, exchange and translation are simply essential to my job.

Our focus has a deep resonance with people’s lived experience.  We have the opportunity to talk about practical problems that occur in all of our lives but that show up in a myriad of ways for each of us.  The popular press uses “work-family balance” as a handle for some of this, but I would ask that we shift to thinking about caring and working in webs and networks.  This often leads to contradictions in relationships  - as they occur in different contexts rather than as a simple set of scales to be tipped.

My starting point in working with community organizations or individuals is not to produce documents that follow social marketing guidelines.  We don’t start from the concept of getting messages across in the right way to the right audience and developing that sort of logical framework to rationalize all the work –although, there are lots of good folks doing that kind of work, many resources available and it is great to have people doing those things as part of our broader team.  My work is to bring together “those audiences” as players in the research process at the beginning rather than only as end users.  This is a deliberate attempt to confuse the distinction between evidence based practice and practice based evidence. We just don’t deliver but also respond when some of those “audiences” approach the university.

For me, the “broker” role is both being an architect and a facilitator.  Following a route of devising and supporting large complex research partnerships like the Father Involvement Research Alliance or the Rural Women Making Change Alliance  I tend to think of the structure of the problem and then weave in the content.  I try to support careful thinking about who from the academy or community should be invited and what role we will all play at a table responding to community research needs. 

These considerations change not only the research questions, the way those questions will be “operationalised”, and the “sensibility” or ideological foundation demonstrated through the assumptions of the research (no objectivity claims from me), but also the way that new knowledge will be generated and will flow across systems.

Having policy makers, community people and university researchers eat at the same table means that whether you like it or not, word will get out.  Part of the discovery process is how to harness the flow that is already there.  This is a thinking process that is much different than deciding which evidence based practice will be delivered to those waiting for it.  We focus instead on sharing ideas, coming to agreements and principles of working together, and have excellent conversations to both support the work as well as produce good outcomes.

Facilitation is critical – at the beginning, the middle and the end – managing the tensions that arise and structuring or restructuring so that people can do the good work they want to do.  Conceptualizing, carrying out and moving research results to practice is an art when done in collaboration.  The closer you are to how the research itself is (or was) conceptualized (the more you expand your brain to understand the research or practice area if not your own) the better the mobilization efforts will be.  From this you will be able to recognize that those unexpected challenging moments are really opportunities to push the work forward.  To summarize, my best work includes constant learning, good conversations, and occasionally failing but always with really good food.

Linda Hawkins

To cite:

MLA format
Hawkins, Linda, "Knowledge broker stories: Knowledge Mobilization is at the core." Weblog Entry. Knowledge Mobilization Works Blog. Posted November 9, 2009. Accessed (enter date).

APA format
Hawkins, L. Knowledge broker stories: Knowledge Mobilization is at the core. Retrieved (enter date) from []

If you would like to contribute a story to the Knowledge Broker Series, please contact Peter Levesque