Article by our Digital Learning and Youth Leadership Program Lead, Hamza Arsbi
Researchers work diligently to produce knowledge that could benefit humanity and add to our understanding of this world. Tragically, much of the research is usually not disseminated properly, a life’s work could be published in a journal to never be read, misrepresented by the media as clickbait, or even denied by political movements because they do not fit a certain worldview. These are all real challenges fueling the increase in misinformation at a time when we need access to reliable knowledge to tackle global crises. A strong knowledge mobilization strategy could be a powerful tool for both researchers and their institutions to become key contributors to the fight against misinformation. While most research funding comes with some requirements regarding knowledge mobilization, researchers and institutions often submit a template or formula that helps them gain the funding without really considering knowledge mobilization as a priority. Not having a clear strategy that is understood and implemented hinders the translation of research into action (Ginexi and Hilton, 2006).
Knowledge mobilization is simply defined as the connection between academic research or creative works and organizations, people, and government to change behaviour, improve programming, and informing policy change. Knowledge mobilization is a strategy for building broader relationships with the larger community beyond peer-reviewed journals and specialized conferences. Representing research in a more faithful and accessible way, which can become the catalyst for social change, innovation, and political reform.
Components of a Knowledge Mobilization Strategy
1- Defining Knowledge Audiences
Developing a strategy must always start with defining who the audience is. Knowing exactly who you are trying to reach is the basis on which you will build other components of the strategy. Audiences can be define based on the way they interact with the research:
– Peers and Partners: this would include colleagues within the same academic field or organizations that are interested or invested in the research. The interaction with peers and partners can be of great value in terms of feedback, collaboration, and development of the research.
– Decision-Makers and Government Agencies: while government agencies might be considered as partners, they could also be approached from another perspective. Exploring how knowledge mobilization can help Decision-Makers and government agencies in improving their policies beyond any initial collaboration can be an added value.
– Specific groups: that might be interested and motivated to engage with the research and its findings but are not directly involved. This could include community activists, students, civil society and other organizations. While they do not have as much power as decision-makers, these communities can be a powerful partner in providing real-world feedback and turning knowledge into action.
– Population at large: public awareness and access to reliable information are vital as we tackle issues from the pandemic to climate change. Considering how the research and its findings can interact with the larger community would add value to the findings as well as contribute to social change.
2- Knowledge Mobilization Goals and Objectives
Based on the audiences the strategy aims to connect with, a set of goals and objectives should reflect why the research is important? and why is this knowledge being mobilized?
A simple formula to answer these questions can be to think of (1) the contribution the research is making, (2) the audience interacting with the research, and (3) the impact (or intended impact) of this contribution. Summarizing this into short sentences.
3- Knowledge Mobilization Activities and Channels
In-person activities offer an opportunity to engage with audiences at many levels. Research consultations and feedback sessions are a way to increase the audience’s interest in the research and gain valuable insights. Mentorship and training can also be a component of engagement that can bring more interest to the topics covered. Making research more approachable by engaging people at multiple levels increases its visibility and impact.
Digital Mobilization Strategies are a way to reach a wider audience. This can be through building dedicated platforms to host the research, posting research briefs through partner sites, even creating a newsletter or a blog. Thinking of Digital strategies should be adaptive. This includes considering videos, social media, and even memes as tools to disseminate information and create awareness of the research.
4- Feedback Utilization and Sustainability
Research projects can have a limited lifespan but their impact shouldn’t. Sustaining the impact of the research beyond publication can ensure opportunities to expand through future projects and create a community around the knowledge being produced. Knowledge has the power to help people solve real-world problems which is why researchers and institutions must create strategies that allocate funding and resources for knowledge mobilization. Establishing communication channels with audiences, partnering with media organizations, and conducting public speaking training are some of the ways knowledge can be taken from research journals and into the mainstream.
Through my work, I conducted desk research and a listening series with audiences. This has provided me with some insights into the needs and realities of access to information. Here are some recommendations and reflections that could be helpful when considering a Knowledge Mobilization Strategy:
Prioritize Access: To ensure everyone has the space to express their voice and participate in the discussion, making it significantly richer, it is vital to think about access to information. Setting up a paywall might bring in some revenue but hinder access. Similarly, creating high-definition videos might look impressive, however, it would be inaccessible to communities with limited internet. Similarly, using specific social media sites might prevent people from accessing the organization’s knowledge because their country has not allowed the site locally or cultural norms prevent females from having social media accounts. These are only some of the examples of how accessibility can be hindered by the use of incompatible technology, language, or pricing. Being mindful of the audience’s needs and realities can magnify the research’s impact.
Build Partnerships: Identifying and creating partnerships with key knowledge producers and platforms can increase the reach and effectiveness of content. Partnerships can reduce costs and open space for sharing resources and mutual growth.
Meet them where they are: Traditional media has become limited in reach. Exploring new ways to reach audiences and being audacious in testing new ways of communications can be extremely effective. From Facebook groups to Instagram posts to TikTok videos, each can reach specific audiences in innovative ways.
Lead by Example: To convince others of the power of knowledge and data in driving development, organizations must showcase how they use Data in decision-making themselves. This can also be through showing the audiences how their feedback is leading to new services and improvements.
Provide Support: Having easy and engaging knowledge is one component, creating a clear support system around the knowledge is another. This includes creating avenues for help and communication between the audiences and the organization or researcher, it can be as simple as an FAQ page and a dedicated email address.
Balance the power dynamic: It is important to recognize that some audiences and contributors, such as decision-makers and funders, will inherently have more power than youth, vulnerable communities, and social activists. Designing the research to recognize diverse perspectives and engage them as peers, partners, and sources of knowledge can enrich the research and increase wider engagement.
Ensure Privacy and Security: Especially in the social sciences and the humanities, doing no harm when working with at-risk communities is vital to ensuring a positive impact. What data is being collected? how is it being used? and who has access or power over the data? These are questions to consider when designing research.
Motivate: Thinking about incentives is important to move audiences. Whether it is gamifying the learning process to make it more engaging or adding perks and rewards for utilizing the knowledge, incentives are specific to each context but go a long way to build a community around knowledge production.
Research and the creation of new knowledge can help humanity tackle its biggest global challenges. In the age of misinformation, researchers and institutions are on the front lines of the fight for access to reliable knowledge and data-driven decision-making. This is why Mobilization Strategies are a necessary component of research that gives life to knowledge and moves them from theory to practice.