Knowledge Mobilization

Canadian Water Network is committed to improving the relevance, uptake and application of research knowledge for water-related decision making in Canada. We do this through knowledge mobilization, which is a fundamental focus of CWN’s approach and is woven into everything we do.

Knowledge mobilization is based on bringing together researchers and end users (who use research for decision making) throughout the research process to ensure findings are relevant to the decision-making context and to ensure maximum uptake and application of results. We accomplish this through our national research consortia, workshops and other project initiatives.

  • A few years ago I shared an academic journal article I'd written with a colleague who worked for a provincial government ministry and asked him, “Do you think this article will influence the policy cycle?” He laughed and said, “No – the decision makers above my level simply don’t read this kind of stuff.” That was a rude awakening! Since then my goal has always been to try and influence policy and practice more directly; that's not going to happen with journal articles alone. 
    Rob de Loë, CWN-funded researcher 

  • I don’t think research has any impact unless we incorporate knowledge mobilization. It has changed my research from something that was interesting and academically stimulating to something that has had significant impact. For me, it has brought nothing but success. It has enhanced my ability to secure funding, bring in partners, and it’s a great way of attracting really high quality students. So go for it… make sure your research has practical application today. 
    Khosrow Farahbakhsh, CWN-funded researcher

  • Knowledge mobilization is incredibly beneficial because you feel that you are helping to change the world. You can see that your work is actually being applied, whereas in many cases, I have published academic papers and nothing has ever happened. So it really made my job more exciting, and made the job of my students more exciting. Many of them want to do something; they want to change the world. 
    Hans Schreier, CWN-funded researcher

To learn more about knowledge mobilization and the benefits of becoming involved, explore the answers to the questions below.

What is knowledge mobilization?

Knowledge mobilization is a process that facilitates research-informed decision making. At Canadian Water Network, knowledge mobilization hinges on understanding end user decision needs and supporting researchers in responding to those needs. 

When dealing with complex water management decisions, CWN has found that end user involvement at all stages of the research is critical for ensuring that research is well positioned to inform decision making.

In recent years, many researchers and end users have become frustrated by the limitations of communicating research results to end users after projects have ended. Increasingly, they realize that active end user engagement throughout the project — from design of the research question and project plan, to the conduct of the research and interpretation of the results — is the only way to ensure that research knowledge is actionable for end users.

Why is knowledge mobilization needed?

Knowledge mobilization is necessary to inform practice and policy. Although it is tempting to think that good research will eventually make its way into the hands of those who need it to make informed decisions, there are many barriers that may prevent this from happening. Here are just a few examples:

  • End users are often located within organizations that do not have access to a wide range of academic publications and other resources.
  • End users may lack the technical background to effectively search for and apply relevant research knowledge.
  • Despite researchers’ best efforts, research is often presented using scientific language, making it difficult for end users to interpret and apply knowledge.
  • Research designed with end user application in mind but without sufficient end user involvement may fail to adequately address end user decision needs.
  • The extent to which relevant research knowledge is actionable may depend greatly on politics or other factors outside of the end user’s control.


A few years ago I shared an academic journal article I'd written with a colleague who worked for a provincial government ministry and asked him, “Do you think this article will influence the policy cycle?” He laughed and said, “No – the decision makers above my level simply don’t read this kind of stuff.” That was a rude awakening! Since then my goal has always been to try and influence policy and practice more directly; that's not going to happen with journal articles alone.
 
Rob de Loë, CWN-funded researcher

What is CWN’s approach to knowledge mobilization? 

Canadian Water Network recognizes that knowledge mobilization can occur within CWN research programs and research consortia (see Focus Areas), as well as within individual research projects (see Project Library).

At the research program/consortium level
We bring together water management decision makers to discuss national and regional issues, and identify shared needs that can be addressed through research (see Focus Areas). We then find the best research teams to address the shared decision needs, while ensuring that end users are active participants in the research process.

At the research project level
We strongly encourage researchers to adopt a knowledge mobilization framework within their own projects (CWN-funded or otherwise), and are currently developing tools to assist researchers who wish to develop a knowledge mobilization plan (Coming soon). 

Who is involved in knowledge mobilization?

Whether knowledge mobilization occurs at the research program/consortium level or at the project level, researchers and end users work together collaboratively to design, conduct and share research knowledge for mutual benefit. Additionally, students exposed to knowledge mobilization are offered a unique opportunity to witness the application of their work, an experience that can represent a turning point in their careers.

Should every research project involve knowledge mobilization? 

No. Canadian Water Network recognizes the value and fundamental importance of curiosity-driven research. However, if you want to directly inform practice and policy decisions, knowledge mobilization is the most effective way to accomplish this goal. 

Is knowledge mobilization worth the effort?

Canadian Water Network acknowledges that knowledge mobilization requires extra effort from researchers. Here are some ways that CWN helps researchers minimize costs and maximize benefits of involvement in knowledge mobilization: 

Cost: Identifying end users

Identifying and involving the right end users can be difficult for researchers whose professional networks may not extend deeply into the end user community.

CWN support:

At the program/consortium level, CWN identifies and forges relationships with relevant end users. At the research project level, CWN opens doors for researchers to expand their professional networks and attract the attention of end users.

Cost: Time and budget

Knowledge mobilization requires additional time and budget to interact with end users and develop materials targeted for end user audiences.

CWN support:

At the program/consortium level, CWN convenes end users and facilitates their active involvement in the research process. At the research project level, CWN provides project funding for meetings with end users, and offers guidance and funding for developing effective end user oriented materials.

Cost: Researcher/end-user culture differences

Time and effort may be required to overcome cultural differences between researchers and end users who speak different technical languages, have different priorities and operate according to different timelines.

CWN support:

CWN bridges these cultural gaps by working with end users to identify priority needs that can benefit from research knowledge and that can be addressed in a timely manner through a consortium approach. We then translate these priorities into research competitions and invite the researcher community to respond to the identified end user priorities, offering CWN funding leveraged by consortium and individual project partners.

Cost: Lack of rewards/recognition 

Time and effort spent by researchers on knowledge mobilization initiatives have not traditionally been recognized or rewarded as part of the academic tenure and promotion system.

CWN support:

We are witnessing a gradual shift toward increased recognition and rewards for knowledge mobilization efforts by researchers at Canadian universities. As this shift continues, CWN’s approach to knowledge mobilization enhances benefits for researchers who wish to take the time to adopt a knowledge mobilization framework within their own projects. Other researchers will benefit from involvement in knowledge mobilization at the research program/consortium level, where costs to researchers are reduced by CWN’s role in convening end users and facilitating their involvement in the research process.

Cost: Skills gap

Skills required for successful knowledge mobilization — including plain language writing, communications and marketing skills — are not emphasized in academia and may require additional training.

CWN support:

At the program/consortium level, CWN facilitates discussions between leading researchers and end users to ensure clearer understanding of the science and its relevance for decision making. At the research project level, we offer guidance and funding for developing effective end user oriented materials, and host student workshops fostering knowledge mobilization-related skills (see Students and Young Professionals).

What are the benefits for researchers who engage in knowledge mobilization?

CWN researchers have enjoyed many rewards resulting from their knowledge mobilization work, including:

  • Enhanced ability to secure research funding. 
  • Ability to attract high quality students, who are increasingly seeking opportunities to be involved in research with practical applications.
  • Personal accomplishment and satisfaction in knowing their research has directly informed practice and policy decisions.
  • Fulfillment in knowing their publically funded research is directly contributing to the public good. 


I don’t think research has any impact unless we incorporate knowledge mobilization. It has changed my research from something that was interesting and academically stimulating to something that has had significant impact. For me, it has brought nothing but success. It has enhanced my ability to secure funding, bring in partners, and it’s a great way of attracting really high quality students. So go for it… make sure your research has practical application today. 
Khosrow Farahbakhsh, CWN-funded researcher

Knowledge mobilization is incredibly beneficial because you feel that you are helping to change the world. You can see that your work is actually being applied, whereas in many cases, I have published academic papers and nothing has ever happened. So it really made my job more exciting, and made the job of my students more exciting. Many of them want to do something; they want to change the world. 
Hans Schreier, CWN-funded researcher