drawing insights from Canada’s experience – Evidence & Policy Blog

Bernadine Sengalrayan and Blane Harvey

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Engaging knowledge users in Canadian knowledge mobilisation research: a scoping review of research in education.

In the ever-evolving landscape of education policy and practice, research has a critical role to play in informing planning and action. However, in many countries, the link between education research conducted by academics and the potential users of that research in schools and other educational settings is not robust. Knowledge mobilisation (KMb) approaches are seen as an important way to bridge the gap between research production and its practical application in any number of settings, including education.

To better understand if KMB practices are helping to inform educational policy and practice, we explored the changing dynamics of research producer-user connections in Canadian K-12 teaching and education policy. Here are some of the highlights from our findings.

What did we find?

Diverse knowledge user groups: Education research involves a multitude of knowledge user groups, including policymakers, educators, parents and community organisations. Engaging with these diverse stakeholders is essential for effective KMb.

Interdisciplinary engagement: The dataset was rich and diverse, as it covered a wide range of research topics, methods, and disciplines, reflecting the complexity and interdisciplinarity of education research. This underscores the interdisciplinary nature of KMb.

Varied engagement across phases: Our data set revealed that knowledge users actively participated across the four main phases of the research process. Notably, engagement peaked during the search and data collection phase. However, the relative dearth of engagement during knowledge dissemination and application warrants attention. Perhaps, researchers often overlook reporting these crucial stages in academic journals, assuming they occur post-research completion.

Intent matters: While frequency of engagement is crucial, the intent behind it matters equally. Successful KMb partnerships often stem from genuine interest and emphasis in fostering open and collaborative relationships.

Persistent barriers: KMb demands sustained effort, resources and infrastructure. Yet, limitations persist. Both knowledge producers and users grapple with time constraints, resource scarcity and linkage gaps.

Why does it matter?

We think that engaging knowledge users in KMb research in education matters for several reasons. First, it can help to bridge the gap between research and practice, and to ensure that education research is useful and usable for the end-users. Second, it can help to enhance the quality and impact of education research, and to ensure that it addresses the needs, priorities and preferences of the stakeholders. Third, it can help to foster a culture of evidence-informed decision-making and action, and to ensure that the best available knowledge is used to improve the educational outcomes and experiences of all learners and educators.

What can we do about it?

Based on our findings, we have some suggestions for what we can do to support and to promote the engagement of knowledge users in KMb research in education.

1. Beyond producers and users: building trusted networks

KMb is about relationships. Schedule face-to-face chats, set up regular Q&As, share goals, be open to give and received feedback. As we create sustained social interactivity, we reshape disconnected groups into cohesive networks.

2. Leadership matters

Universities, ministries of education, school leadership and administration play a pivotal role. They set the tone for research-positive environments. Leaders champion engagement, ensuring research isn’t confined to academic journals. By encouraging dialogue, idea exchange and collaboration, we normalize the process of knowledge exchange beyond academic silos.

3. Budgetary provisions for teaching buy-outs

Imagine a world where researchers collaborate seamlessly with schools and educators. To make this a reality, consider allocating resources within research budgets specifically for teaching buy-outs. This strategic move allows educators to actively engage in research without compromising their teaching responsibilities. Let’s formalise this practice by incorporating it into KMb plans for research grant proposals.

4. Synergy between educators and researchers

Get seasoned educators teaming up with experienced academics in fellowship programs. By co-researching and sharing insights, these dynamic pairs enrich KMb. Additionally, consider secondments — where researchers temporarily join education district research staff. It’s a win-win, amplifying the impact of research.

5. Federal funding for national KMb collaboration

Allocate federal funds specifically for interprovincial collaboration. Research Impact Canada (RIC) or Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER-RECRAE) serve as laudable models for effective KMb. By strategically coordinating these efforts, Canada can propel a distinctive ‘Canadian’ education research agenda.

By implementing these strategies, we can reshape disconnected groups into cohesive networks, normalise the process of knowledge exchange between research and practice, and enrich KMb practices.

Image credit: Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

Bernadine Sengalrayan is currently the lab manager for the Lifespan Cognition Lab at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She holds a Master’s degree in Education & Society from McGill University. Her research primarily revolves around knowledge mobilisation, with a specific interest in the relationship between knowledge producers and knowledge users. She strives to facilitate the translation and sharing of research knowledge in a way that is accessible and beneficial to a wide range of audiences. 

Blane Harvey is an Assistant Professor and William Dawson Scholar at McGill University’s Department for Integrated Studies in Education (Canada) where he leads the Leadership and Learning for Sustainability Lab. His research examines how knowledge on climate change and sustainability is produced, validated, and communicated, and how facilitated learning and knowledge sharing can support collective action on these global challenges. 

Read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

Sengalrayan, B. & Harvey, B. (2023). Engaging knowledge users in Canadian knowledge mobilisation research: a scoping review of research in education. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/17442648Y2023D000000014.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested in reading:

Obstacles to co-producing evaluation knowledge: power, control and voluntary sector dynamics

Learning from failures in knowledge exchange and turning them into successes

Practical points of failure in police-university collaboration: reconceiving knowledge exchange

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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