The world beyond 2015

Moving from community engagement to community partnership

Mr David Phipps, York University, Canada
Posted on 08/10/2013

Heat is North America’s primary weather related killer of vulnerable citizens. To address this concern, York University (Toronto, Canada) supported a research collaboration between a York graduate student and a community centre in a low-income Toronto neighbourhood, who was hired to collaborate with the community centre in 2007.

Through this research collaboration, Canada’s first heat registry was created in 2007 and in 2012 the City of Toronto released its Heat Registry Guide benefitting more than 2.5 million citizens by making it easier for neighbourhoods to track and provide services to vulnerable citizens on the hottest days of the year and lessening the burden on Canada’s healthcare system through prevention of heat-related emergencies.

That is the impact that university research can have when the university becomes more accessible and responsive to community partners. Academic impact continues to be important, however, there is an emerging trend towards measuring the impact of research on the policies, products, programs and services of partners. Partnering academic expertise (faculty and students) with expertise from partners helps research to inform the policies, products, programs and services that benefit the lives of citizens leading to a process called knowledge mobilization.

Knowledge mobilization helps make research useful to society. Knowledge mobilization is the mechanism that supported the student/community collaboration. The City of Toronto Heat Registry was a social innovation arising from this collaboration. Social innovation is a new way to meet an unmet social need that can produce economic, social and/or environmental benefits.

Many universities are promoting community engagement: how they engage local and global communities in research, learning and the student experience. Knowledge mobilization moves from engagement to a partnership between equals to help address mutual goals. York University has been supporting an institutional capacity for knowledge mobilization for seven years. In that time we have learned:

1. Knowledge mobilization is a social process. Packaging and disseminating even uncontested evidence (knowledge transfer) is necessary but not sufficient to effect change. Knowledge brokers actively facilitate knowledge mobilization in an iterative fashion.

2. Co-production of evidence developed through research collaborations is the most robust form of knowledge mobilization. Knowledge mobilization supports collaborations that enable social innovations and help address mutual goals.

3. Impact is measured at the level of the user. Impact occurs when a research partner uses research and expertise to inform a new policy, social service or a product that can make a positive difference in the lives of citizens. Therefore, universities need to ask their partners about the impact of the collaborations on their partner’s policies, products, programs and services.

4. Impact takes time. Since research evidence needs to be taken up by non-academic partner organizations through implementation into their new policies, products, programs and services and then launched, it can take 3-5 years after the research collaboration for impacts to be manifested. Academic institutions need to communicate with their non-academic partners to understand the impacts of research on the lives of citizens.

5. Impact is built on a foundation of scholarship. Knowledge mobilization for social innovation complements, but does not replace, traditional scholarship. Evidence to inform decisions about new policies, products, programs and services must meet high academic standards as well as ensuring it is relevant to the community.

Being accessible and responsive to communities helps universities to excel in measuring the impact of research on the policies, products, programs and services of partners, as seen through activities like the UK’s Research Excellence Framework 2014. More importantly, being accessible and responsive to community partners enables universities to plan mechanisms, incentives and rewards for faculty and students to help research partners address community opportunities.

As one of Canada’s leading knowledge-mobilization universities, York University is working with partners from community, government and industry sectors to advance social innovation through engaged scholarship and help address society’s most persistent social, environmental and economic challenges.

In its Strategic Research Plan, Building on Strength 2013-2018, York University recently recognized the “Scholarship of Socially Engaged Research” as an area of strategic opportunity for the development of research and highlighted its initiatives for “Enabling the Social Entrepreneur,” where York will create a hybrid space where innovation in technology and management combines social innovation to facilitate the creation of social enterprises. These activities need to be integrated as part of academic planning to drive the allocation of resources, rather than being used solely as - marketing messages about community engagement.

Another example of how knowledge mobilization has turned research into action is through York’s award-winning Knowledge Mobilization Unit’s collaboration with the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough. The common cycle in youth shelters is that youth enter into crisis, become stabilized and return to the community, only to return again in crisis. This cycle has created a strain on already limited resources.

A community-campus collaboration between York University and the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough developed a Life Skills Mentoring program to address this challenge. The program enables social work students from a local college to deliver one-on-one life skills mentoring to youth at the shelter. This mentoring program has reduced the length of stays of youth in crisis and thus reduced the strain on resources.

The Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough became a social enterprise when it began earning revenue by delivering the program to other agencies, including the Children’s Aid Society and the John Howard Society. The Life Skills Mentoring program also receives over $60,000 per year from the government in funding.

Tags: Research, Civil society, Social engagement, Innovation cycle, Canada, Collaboration

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K* . In the world of getting research into use for the benefit of communities and polity-makers a plethora of terms have been coined. For the DRUSSA Programme, one of the ACU's Research Management Capacity Building initiatives, 'knowledge mobilisation' = 'research uptake'. Go to to see how York University's 'knowlege mobilisation is featured on
by Diana Coates
on 25/11/2013 18:02
DRUSSA is building capacity for research uptake in Africa. Research Uptake = knowledge mobilization = engaged scholarship = K*: whatever you call we are seeking to move research into active benefit for society
by David Phipps
on 25/11/2013 18:58