Guidelines for Effective Knowledge Mobilization

These guidelines are intended to help applicants and grant holders incorporate knowledge mobilization activities into their SSHRC-funded research, to maximize the impact of social sciences and humanities research.

The Guidelines for Effective Knowledge Mobilization are informed by the 2013 Evaluation of Knowledge Mobilization Funding Opportunities and by SSHRC’s continued efforts to promote knowledge mobilization in its programs, funding opportunities and corporate activities. SSHRC is, for example, currently engaged in knowledge mobilization activities through its Imagining Canada’s Future initiative.

These guidelines will help grant applicants determine the following:

  • To whom should research results be communicated?
  • How is the process of communicating research results best mapped?
  • How will the proposed knowledge mobilization activities advance the stated research goals?
  • Will interactions with knowledge users be fed into research design?
  • How will interactions be sustained beyond the life of the project?

Applicants’ use of these guidelines will also enable SSHRC’s merit reviewers to more effectively evaluate the knowledge mobilization activities described in funding applications. The guidelines also serve as a resource, when advising prospective applicants, for postsecondary institutions and partnering organizations involved in research and related activities.


What is knowledge mobilization?

Knowledge mobilization is an umbrella term encompassing a wide range of activities relating to the production and use of research results, including knowledge:

  • synthesis;
  • dissemination;
  • transfer;
  • exchange; and
  • co-creation by researchers and knowledge users.

Please see SSHRC’s definition of knowledge mobilization.


Knowledge mobilization and merit review at SSHRC

All SSHRC research grants and scholarships are awarded through an independent merit review process designed to ensure the highest standards of excellence and impartiality. When evaluating grant proposals as a whole—and Knowledge Mobilization and Expected Outcomes modules, in particular—merit reviewers apply criteria that specifically refer to knowledge mobilization activities.

Defining “appropriate research users”

Applicants should determine the most appropriate users of their research outputs, both at the outset and throughout the life of their project.

When identifying appropriate research users, applicants should do so in light of the project’s theme, research questions, overall goals and expected results. Researchers should address the following questions—even in cases where the audience is strictly academic:

  • Who stands to benefit from this research?
  • Which audiences will be involved, and how?
  • How will the audiences benefit from being involved?
  • What is the best way to communicate with these audiences?

SSHRC encourages its funding recipients to disseminate research knowledge in both official languages, whenever feasible and/or appropriate.

Most SSHRC grant applications contain a mandatory Knowledge Mobilization module. This module provides applicants an opportunity to provide a compelling rationale that will convince merit reviewers that the project will address the appropriate target audiences, and that its overall reach is both sufficient and appropriate. Knowledge mobilization plans are evaluated in relation to other elements of the proposal, particularly when assessing the project’s feasibility and its potential for impact within and beyond the social sciences.


Outcomes and impacts

Applicants should consider the following when describing how they will maximize the results of their research, and how they will ensure their results’ sustainability:

Outputs are the first set of short-term results most researchers typically see (e.g., number of publications, presentations, event attendees, new partners added to a team, or new stakeholders and/or research users contacted or added to networks).

Outcomes (also called “results”) include all activities undertaken as a result of new insights. Outcomes may include: the number of people in various target audiences that use the research findings, the number of students trained, new capacities created, policies developed, business strategies formulated, etc. Outcomes may be either foreseen or unforeseen, direct or indirect, intended or unintended.

Impacts are long-term outcomes or effects that take the form of changed thinking and behaviours. Impacts are reflected through such indicators as, e.g., global economic performance, competitiveness, public service effectiveness, new products and services, employment, policy relevance, learning skills enhancement, quality of life, community cohesion, and social inclusion.

Most SSHRC grant applications include a mandatory Expected Outcomes module. This module provides applicants an opportunity to outline the project’s expected outputs, outcomes and impacts. The applicant should present plans and/or indicators of success. For example, applicants might indicate that, by the end of the first year, the researcher will have had a specific number of meetings with key stakeholders and/or presented at a specific number of conferences. Expected outcomes are evaluated in relation to the other parts of the proposal.


Turning research into outcomes and impacts

Once an applicant has determined as many of the potential research users as possible, and outlined the project’s potential outputs, outcomes and impacts, they must determine the most effective ways to connect with the users.

Researchers must ensure that their proposed ways of reaching potential users are both appropriate and sufficient. While it is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of methods, media may include: books, refereed journal articles, data warehousing, social media, websites, films, plays, videos, exhibits, festivals, funding mechanisms, media coverage, op-eds, public service announcements, pamphlets, policy papers, reports, knowledge syntheses and workshops, or conferences and other events. As a general rule, the broader the means used, the broader the impact. Using open access publication platforms is another effective way of increasing the visibility of research results.

The summative evaluation of SSHRC’s knowledge mobilization funding opportunities identified the following best practices:

  • Meetings with knowledge users are an effective vehicle for forging strong and lasting connections.
  • When building relationships with organizations, build links across multiple levels, from frontline/program/policy staff to executives.
  • To produce knowledge mobilization products that meet users’ needs, researchers can use or repackage existing materials, or develop new ones, in concert with the users and their identified needs.
  • Larger projects typically employ a project co-ordinator. The use of knowledge brokers, who have specific skill sets, can be effective.
  • Ultimately, the more proactive and multifaceted the approach researchers take with users, the more successful and durable the relationship.
  • Successful projects often adopt more than one outreach medium in their knowledge mobilization plan.
  • At the outset of their project, applicants should develop indicators to gauge the success of their knowledge mobilization plan. Examples include: citation indicators, the number of newsletter/blog subscribers, and the number of recommendations to policy-makers that have been adopted.

Applying for a SSHRC grant

Applicants should address the Feasibility and Capability criteria in the Knowledge Transfer section of the online Canadian Common CV form, as well as the Research Contributions section of the SSHRC CV, by capturing the full range of their past experience in knowledge mobilization activities within and beyond academia.

SSHRC’s merit reviewers are encouraged to weigh the full range of contributions when deliberating on relative merit.


Related policies and web links

For knowledge mobilization-related eligible expenses, see the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide.

Other relevant policies include:

For more information on knowledge mobilization activities and research, please see:


Case studies

The following are examples of SSHRC-funded best practices in knowledge mobilization.

Case study #1: Network in Canadian History & Environment

Applicant: Alan MacEachern, Western University.

SSHRC funding opportunity: Strategic Knowledge Clusters (2007-14)

The Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE) has positioned research knowledge to inform social policy.

NiCHE is a network of about 500 Canadian and international environmental history and historical geography scholars, working in partnership with universities, government agencies, businesses, and non-governmental organizations, to deepen social awareness of the historical roots of contemporary environmental problems and situations. The following are some of NiCHE’s key contributions:

  • The Early Canada Environmental Data project, has assembled a digital database of over 700 collections containing historical climate records related to Canada. In 2014, NiCHE facilitated the transfer and long-term loan of a massive Environment Canada archive collection to Western University Archives. This was the largest such arrangement between a federal department and a university in Canadian history.
  • Nature’s Past, an environmental history podcast, has produced over 40 episodes. By late 2013, the podcasts had been downloaded more than 50,000 times by listeners worldwide.
  • The team’s website maintains resource collections for researchers, teachers and students, and provides a way for Canadians to understand and contextualize contemporary environmental issues. The site receives about 10,000 visitors per month.
  • Partnering with the University of Calgary Press, NiCHE has released, the Canadian History and Environment series of edited collections. The books are available in print, as well as free online.

Case study #2: Laboratoire d’histoire et de patrimoine de Montréal

Applicant: Joanne Burgess, Université du Québec à Montréal

SSHRC funding opportunity: Knowledge Impact in Society (2006-09)

The Laboratoire d’histoire et de patrimoine de Montréal has positioned research knowledge to inform Montreal organizations and citizens of their history.

The Laboratoire amassed a group of researchers specializing in Montreal’s history. Together, they are engaged in applied research, partnering with government organizations, cultural institutions and community groups. The intent was to develop and experiment with innovative forms of applied historical research through co-creation, where university researchers and research-user partners worked together to carry out the research, and develop and investigate new research questions.

The Laboratoire’s 13-member research team and 22 collaborators worked on 18 projects with about 15 institutions and organizations in Montreal. The project resulted in a suite of products and events shared with three segments of the community:

  • partner organizations and their staff;
  • audiences targeted by the partner organizations, including the general and informed public; and
  • personnel working in all other cultural, historical and heritage institutions and organizations.

Case study #3: Urban Aboriginal Economic Development National Network

Applicant: Greg Halseth, University of Northern British Columbia

SSHRC funding opportunity: Knowledge Impact in Society (2006-09)

The Urban Aboriginal Economic Development National Network, co-funded by SSHRC and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, brought together practitioners, policy experts, researchers and community leaders in a series of gatherings aimed at enabling participants to share their knowledge and experiences with each other.

Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples are becoming increasingly urbanized, and have many opportunities to enhance their economic well-being through labour force participation, increased income levels, and business development, while maintaining and deepening distinct Aboriginal cultures. The Network produced several series of documents to support economic development. These included 23 background briefs, an urban Aboriginal economic development website and research reports, news releases, and other research outputs.

The Network also created regional and thematic learning circles. These learning circles, in turn, held local and theme-centred discussions about how to conceptualize and enact urban Aboriginal development, bringing together academics, practitioners and policy-makers.

The Network also held two national gatherings, as well as the Academic National Gathering. These were opportunities for the regional learning circles to share their vision and progress, and to discuss common challenges.

The Network was co-managed by a University of Northern British Columbia researcher and the president of the Prince George Aboriginal Business and Community Development Centre.