More Effective Capacities are Needed at Canadian Universities to Support Knowledge Mobilization

  • Canadian Universities
  • Capacity building
  • Knowledge Mobilization
  • Project leads:
  • Hamid Golhasany

Challenge description

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is an interdisciplinary field that aims to shorten the gap between the latest research evidence at universities and policies and practices in society. The ultimate goal of KMb is to create impact from research projects and improve citizens’ lives. Many stakeholders are involved in KMb, but universities are in a key position to facilitate KMb for researchers. Engaging in knowledge mobilization requires dedicated time, skills, and resources. However, many researchers and students report that they do not have adequate access to necessary supports at universities. Root Causes: Universities make considerable attention and investments to encourage researchers to produce more scientific outputs (like articles). However, similar investments and attention are not provided to promote and support KMb, contributing to this challenge. Especially, early career researchers feel that in order to survive in academia and advance their careers, they have to allocate most of their time to scientific production at the expense of mobilizing their new knowledge and expertise to improve policies and practices in society.

Regions affected by the challenge

This challenge affects researchers across Canada, though its significance might be different for academic groups. For instance, this challenge might significantly affect early career researchers as they often are in more precarious vocational positions and try to secure longer-term academic positions. This is due to the universities’ extensive focus on professional incentives that primarily value knowledge production rather than knowledge mobilization. Another group that might be affected by this challenge is the graduate students that are expected to demonstrate research productivity early in their studies. This pressure on students might result in dropping out of university programs.

Groups affected by the challenge

Consequences: This challenge creates tensions in academia and impacts researchers’ professional and individual lives. First, governments worldwide, such as in the UK and Australia, are implementing policies to assess the impact of the investment on research projects. This is challenging because capturing and documenting societal impact is difficult in some fields and in some types of studies, such as abstract research. Second, some policies could infringe on the academic freedom of researchers by providing funding to particular research fields that have immediate applications in society. Another consequence of this challenge is creating mental and physical pressure on researchers. When adequate and effective supports are not in place to facilitate KMb for researchers, pressuring researchers to engage in KMb could challenge their mental and physical health.

Potential solutions

One solution could be creating more supporting structures and incentives at individual and organizational levels for researchers to engage in knowledge mobilization. These supports could include career promotion incentives, professional development opportunities, introducing impact champions, and employing knowledge mobilization experts. Furthermore, universities need to highlight the importance of knowledge mobilization in their missions and organizational priorities. This emphasis will then be reflected in their strategic roadmaps. Despite the importance of developing individual and organizational capacities for KMb, very few operational and conceptual guidance exists to carry out capacity development effectively. Moreover, the current knowledge about capacity development is dispersed in different fields, making capacity development more prone to anecdotal information than academic literature evidence.