Should we be bothering the Gods of Knowledge?

Charlotte Bozic attended the UK’s first Knowledge Mobilisation Forum, which took place in London. Here, she talks about knowledge gods, Second Life and why knowledge mobilisation really is worth the bother.

‘Knowledge mobilisation…why bother?’

If the query of one delegate had been taken literally, it could have ended the discussions at the first UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum there and then…but luckily this challenge was accepted, and met in a way that exceeded expectations during two lively, inspirational and thought-provoking days.

As a communications professional with a background in higher education, pre-forum I was stymied as to the true meaning of ‘knowledge mobilisation’ (also referred to as knowledge exchange/brokering/transfer). My modus operandi lies in strengthening an institution’s reputation through sharing good news and developments.  I’ve always seen knowledge exchange as fitting in to the research/business side of things, not something I’d usually interact with.

I wasn’t alone in my confusion.  Throughout the conference, substantial effort was made to define knowledge mobilisation, with vaguely allegorical talk of water bottles, rope mountains and my favourite – knowledge gods. Some felt uncomfortable with the term ‘knowledge mobilisation’; all were in agreement about the need for further dialogue and exploration to address this.

For me, it was about keeping things as simple as possible. I wanted to know what the difference was between communications and knowledge mobilisation, something I made myself ask during an initial ‘open mic’ session. Despite my worry that it didn’t carry enough intellectual clout, my question was subsequently chosen as a discussion topic and led to many interesting discussions.

Delegates were from all backgrounds, including science, design and even fiction writing, making it by far the most diverse conference I’ve attended.  We weren’t alone, as the conference was screened via Second Life*, a virtual reality site experiencing a renewed wave of interest for its ability to host events online. (Memorable moment:  ‘Avatars’ ranging from a cat to a Darth Vader lookalike delivering an impromptu ‘Thriller’ dance during a break. Surreal, but very amusing!).

Part of the forum’s success was a move away from the traditional conference format – this was not an event where you could sit back and switch off. Forum Lead Cathy Howe assured us that everything should be fun, and that if we weren’t having fun, we should move to another discussion. ‘Open spaces’ encouraged debate and ideas creation and a professional development hour expanded learning horizons. Not forgetting the ‘speed networking’ – a novel if noisy way of working the room and completely melting the ice!

The forum was inspired by a similar event in Canada, which is leading the way in knowledge mobilisation. Peter Norman Levesque, President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilisation and host of the Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum, talked about the need to build an infrastructure to enable and support knowledge relationships, advising us to ‘think meta’.

He was joined by a variety of interesting speakers, including designer Mel Woods, who discussed the importance of increasing serendipity ‘as a space where something might happen’ in knowledge exchange; Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Health Care and Dean for Research Impact at Barts and the London School of Medicine, whose precise definitions of different types of knowledge took us right back to Aristotle; and feminist writer Suzanne Hunton, who stressed the importance of sharing knowledge and the impact just one person can have. She also talked about why her storybook princess would be the one chopping the prince’s headsoff, but that’s a different story…

‘Knowledge’ covers anything and everything, as was evidenced by the walk through poster exhibition created by delegates, with topics including severe mental health, maternity care research and design innovation. There was even a Second Life presentation on problem solving via virtual worlds that journeyed to space – perhaps proving there is no limit to how far knowledge can be mobilised!

A lot of emphasis was placed on creating communities of practice – how can we work better together to share knowledge? So many factors prevent this – institutional politics, academic silos and an increasing dependence on the internet as opposed to face-to face-interaction being only a few.

So far, so good. Were any conclusions reached though?

Yes – and no.

Knowledge mobilisation IS different from communications, but there are too many similarities to place the two in different camps. Both are about the sharing of information. Yet knowledge mobilisation goes a step further than communications:  put simply, it’s about sharing knowledge created with people who will actively use it for the greater good of society. Patient care research can improve the experience for future patients, whilst using Second Life enables us to think big without boundaries.  At CYCJ, the practice and research work we do is aimed at improving youth justice, and ultimately, leading towards a safer Scotland. If we don’t share our knowledge and supports its use, it won’t result in these benefits.

Maybe we’ll never fully pin down ‘knowledge mobilisation’, with its slippery and transitional nature. But I can conclude that it is definitely worth engaging with. I’ve taken back to CYCJ a veritable feast for thought, and a real enthusiasm for progressing our own knowledge mobilisation agenda. Hopefully I’ll be the one doing the speaking at the 2015 forum…

*I was pleasantly surprised to see Second Life being used again. My experience of this virtual world was akin to the Emperor’s new clothes – a gimmick that everyone pretended to see as amazing but which was in reality, pointless. Fairly harsh, but I struggled to understand its purpose as an online tool that could enhance my (first) life.

One thing that Second Life did do well was to provide a virtual space for conferences, events, seminars and lectures. This was initially underplayed but it’s coming into its own now. It was fantastic to interact with the people attending the forum in Second Life, giving them the chance to be ‘present’ instead of trying to catch up via Twitter. I think there’s definitely mileage for another blog entry to be written on the use of Second Life and knowledge mobilisation.

About the blogger

Charlotte Bozic is Communications Coordinator for CYCJ. She manages the Centre’s marketing and communications activities, including digital marketing, media relations, internal communications and branding. Read more about Charlotte.