Guidelines for Effective Knowledge Mobilization



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

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.



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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 or co-production by researchers and knowledge users.

Effective knowledge mobilization includes plans to store data in the public domain, where appropriate.

Please see SSHRC’s definition of knowledge mobilization.



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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.

Most SSHRC grant applications contain a mandatory Knowledge Mobilization module that allows applicants to describe the appropriate target audiences, and to demonstrate that its overall reach is both sufficient and appropriate. In particular, knowledge mobilization plans are evaluated when assessing the project’s feasibility and its potential for impact within and beyond the social sciences.

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. This includes considerations of managing, storing and preserving data, where appropriate, in light of the Tri-Agency Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management.

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, when and how?
  • How will the audiences benefit from being involved and how will the research benefit from their involvement?
  • 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. SSHRC further encourages researchers to publish their results in the language of the community where the research takes place, especially in the case of Aboriginal languages.



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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:

All recipients of SSHRC funding must submit an end of grant report to document how they have used grant funds, and on the outcomes and impact of their research.

Outputs are the first set of short-term results most researchers typically see (e.g., number of publications, presentations, event attendees, new data sets, 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 (including data sets), the number of students trained, new capacities created, policies developed, business strategies formulated, advancements in understanding reconciliation, 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 global economic performance, competitiveness, public service effectiveness, new products and services, employment, policy relevance, learning skills enhancement, quality of life, community cohesion, and movement toward reconciliation 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.



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Turning research into outcomes and impacts

Once an applicant (in concert with team members and partners, where appropriate) has determined potential research users and outlined the project’s potential outputs, outcomes and impacts, he or she must determine the most effective ways to connect with users. In cases of co-production of knowledge in particular, the partners and research users are in the best position to guide the course of research to ensure that users’ needs are met.

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 sharing through online repositories, social media, dance, performances, oral histories, 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.

SSHRC has identified the following best practices:

  • Meetings with knowledge users, especially at the outset of the project, are an effective vehicle for forging strong and lasting connections.
  • When building relationships with organizations, build links across multiple levels, from front-line, program and 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.
  • All research teams, but especially those engaging in co-production of knowledge, should outline at the outset of projects the roles and responsibilities of all participants to ensure the voices of all team members, including partners, are represented at all stages of the project.

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.



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Related policies and web links

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

Other relevant policies include:

For other useful resources on knowledge mobilization activities and research, please see:



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Examples

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


Example #1: Marine transformations and adaptive governance



Keywords: co-production of knowledge; community; science-policy; power; government

Applicant: Derek Armitage, University of Waterloo

SSHRC funding opportunity: Insight Grants (2010)



Armitage et al. (2011, 2015) present examples of how the co-production of knowledge involving Indigenous communities, scientists and policy-makers has strengthened governance practices in several Arctic communities. Knowledge co-production is a collaborative process of bringing diverse knowledge sources and types together to address a defined problem, and to build an integrated understanding of that problem:

  • In the Mackenzie River Basin, scientists, policy-makers and local community organizations combined their different knowledge types to frame the research and real-world problems around the allocation of water resources among the various jurisdictions and users. Scientists and traditional knowledge holders all provided input as they worked together on solutions and carried out monitoring and information sharing regarding the local ecosystem.
  • In Husky Lakes, NWT, multiple beluga entrapments in sea ice spurred a knowledge co-production process to overcome past conflicts. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the regional co-management board and the local Hunters and Trappers committee developed a process to jointly determine how to manage the entrapment with a series of meetings as the entrapments occurred, as well as jointly producing an action plan for the future. The result was a collaborative plan to manage the entrapments humanely and to ensure that the harvested resources were shared among many communities. This process of knowledge sharing and collaboration has evolved over time to address a specific problem, and to strengthen the governance networks needed to better deal with difficult issues in the future.


Example #2: The social psychology of musical engagement and public outreach for research in the psychology of music



Keywords: knowledge mobilization; uptake; audience; engagement

Applicant: Daniel Levitin, McGill University

SSHRC funding opportunity: Insight Grants (2011) and Public Outreach (2009)



Musician, cognitive psychologist, record producer and comedian Daniel Levitin provides myriad examples of how researchers can mobilize their results to target non-academic audiences. Whether he is connecting via his website, best-selling books, radio and television appearances, his work as a consultant in the private and not-for-profit sectors, or his academic publications, Levitin adapts his communication vehicles to both his audience and his content. For example:

  • Music industry: Levitin has contributed to the music industry via the production of liner notes, publications in trade magazines (e.g., Billboard, Grammy) and three patents, as well as by being a consultant for Apple and a member of the Board of Directors for SOPREF (Quebec record labels). Several recording artists, such as Joni Mitchell and Stephen Stills, have consulted with Levitin because of his research on musical engagement.
  • General public: Capturing uptake and engagement is most difficult when the targeted audience is the general public. However, Levitin discusses the social psychology and engagement aspects of music in his two best-selling books about music, The World in Six Songs and This Is Your Brain on Music, as well as in over 1,000 interviews, 100 YouTube videos and two feature documentaries about his SSHRC research. Levitin connects music, emotion and wider society by explaining, for example, how music can be used to communicate important information to the next generation and to defuse conflict.


Example #3: Improving understanding about the use and impacts of technologies in education



Keywords: knowledge mobilization; uptake; professional practice

Applicant: Thierry Karsenti, Université de Montréal

SSHRC funding opportunity: Canada Research Chair in Technologies in Education (2013)



Through his work as a Canada Research Chair and in collaboration with 56 schools in three provinces (British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec), Karsenti (2013) examined how tablets have affected the Canadian educational system and those involved, from students and teachers to parents and administrators. The research demonstrated that using tablets in education can significantly improve learning, motivation and collaboration. It is also an important source of information for students. Notably, the goals of the project included increasing uptake, or use, of research results within the practitioner (i.e., school and school board) communities and ensuring that tablets were a useful educational tool in classrooms that benefit both teachers and students. After three years of studying the integration of tablets in the 56 schools, Karsenti identified 40 positive impacts on elements such as students’ self-esteem, creativity, problem-solving skills, autonomy, teamwork, structured thinking, planning and organizing, first-language learning, and mutual assistance. Students found that using a tablet made learning fun, improved collaboration and ultimately sparked interest in technology as a learning tool. Drawing on the research, Karsenti recommended that teachers be provided with valuable professional development to support technology in the classroom, and school administrators should similarly support teachers in using mobile devices such as tablets.