Exec Director describes the Knowledge Mobilization Unit’s evolution. The sky’s the limit for this powerhouse as it engages with others around the world interested in impact.
Knowledge mobilization (KMb) bridges the all-important gap from new knowledge, borne of research, to real-world application, and informs policy by demonstrating a measurable impact on society. At York University, the KMb Unit, part of Innovation York in the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, champions this work.
Since 2006, this department’s success under David Phipps, executive director, Research & Innovation Services, has been noted internationally. Building on this achievement, the KMb Unit is expanding its horizons. Phipps sits down with Brainstorm to discuss going global.
Q: Why is KMb important? Why now?
A: KMb formally started in Canadian health research in 2000 when the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) was launched to create new knowledge and to translate that knowledge into improved health for Canadians. Then around 2005/2006, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) created a new program where every grant application had to have a KMb strategy and an outcome statement geared towards impact.
More recently, “Investing in Canada’s Future: Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research” crystallized the conversation around impact. David Naylor chaired the committee and the sponsor of the report was Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). So, we’re seeing that impact is now a regular feature of most of our granting and research programs.
In Canada, York University leads a network called Research Impact Canada, which involves 14 Canadian universities plus one university in the United Kingdom (UK). We help to accelerate that process from research to impact. At York, impact and KMb are featured in our University Academic Plan, our Strategic Research Plan and the Plan for the Enhancement and Intensification of Research. This is part of our DNA at York.
Q: Describe the genesis of the KMb Unit at York.
A: Three things came together to create the KMb Unit. One was York’s program mix of 60 or 70 graduate programs across all disciplines. We have a strong social justice and liberal arts tradition, and an engineering school. This means that our research has the potential to make an impact on commerce, public policy and professional practice.
The second piece was my background in technology transfer and university-industry partnerships to create impact from STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Knowledge Mobilization is part of our DNA at York.” – David Phipps
The third element was leadership. The KMb Unit, created by our first Vice-President Research, Stan Shapson, is now led by our current Vice-President Research & Innovation, Robert Haché. He has encouraged the growth of KMb within Innovation York and Research Impact Canada.
Today, the Unit is managed by Michael Johnny, an expert in KMb, and overseen by the Director of Innovation York, Sarah Howe. Krista Jensen, Knowledge Mobilization Officer, brings 10 years of experience to this role and rounds out the service capacity of our team.
Q: How is KMb at York expanding globally?
A: We’ve done a lot of work in UK universities and the Association of Research Managers and Administrators in the UK. We’ve also got a signed memorandum of understanding with the National Alliance for Broader Impacts in the States. We’re working to determine how we can each grow our capacities.
Other regions, like Australia and the Netherlands, also have research impact assessment systems, so we’ve got conversations underway with the organizations in those countries. Again, it’s about learning from each other.
Most interestingly, I’ve started an email exchange with a state-sponsored organization in Iran that works with universities. They are interested in supporting impact in social sciences and humanities.
Q: How will the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program and York International be involved?
A: VISTA is a very large project that’s undertaking world-leading research in vision. Our KMb Unit is working with VISTA to translate research results for public use and explore the impact of those research results to ensure that research results move into clinical practice, public policy and products to benefit consumers.
We’re also working with York International. As well as responding to requests for engagement, we’ll be going out and identifying where those pockets of expertise exist, internationally. We will engage to bring that expertise back here to inform our own practice.
Q: How will Research Impact Canada be involved?
A: Research Impact Canada has identified international engagement as a strategic priority for the next three years of our planning process (2017 – 2020). It has recently welcomed the University of Brighton as our first international affiliate member. We’re excited because Brighton is an international leader in community-university engagement; we’re pleased to be able to bring that expertise into the network.
Additional international work by Research Impact Canada includes my presenting at the New Zealand Rehabilitation Association Conference, with a theme of impact. I’ve been invited to be part of the Expert Advisory Group advising the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Ministry of Health to help implement their Health Research Strategy.
All this to say that impact is emerging as a global cohesive theme among research organizations. We see this playing out both at the researcher level and the institutional level. I think in the future, we’re going to see sustained conversations at many levels of our universities, at the executive level, the Presidents and the Vice-Presidents Research; the administrative level, for research administrators; and where it really makes a difference: for our students and our professors.
Q: What does this activity say about the international reputation for York?
A: York has an outstanding international reputation. We have hundreds of thousands of alumni around the world. We’ve got hundreds of agreements in place with other universities in every continent. And York’s leadership in Research Impact Canada is just one more feather in the cap of our international reputation.
“We care about world-leading research. We’re also interested in making a difference to our local and global economies, environments and societies.” – David Phipps
York’s growing international reputation now includes our efforts around maximizing impact. We care about undertaking good, world-leading fundamental research, but we’re also interested in making a difference to our local and global economies, environments and societies.
Our investments in leadership in Research Impact Canada complements York’s existing international profile but also creates a new element around the international recognition for our leadership in creating impact.
By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, firstname.lastname@example.org