BY KATINA POLLOCK, CAROL CAMPBELL, KELLY BAIROS, AND SHASTA CARR-HARRIS

 
In July 2016, Sandra Nutley wrote a blog for KNAER entitled, Using research to shape knowledge mobilisation practice. Nutley commented in this blog that while there is a growing number of knowledge mobilization initiatives dedicated to facilitating and enhancing research use, she noted an irony that “many of these initiatives struggle to demonstrate that their own knowledge mobilisation practice are themselves not research-informed and in line with the best available research on how to enhance research use”. Nutley was referring to several tenets that emerged from a literature review (2016) that she, Huw Davies and Alison Powell did that explored the latest thinking and empirical evidence on best practices. Even though Nutley indicated that KNAER was the exception to the current practice, we, the KNAER Secretariat, reflected on this irony and asked ourselves, can we demonstrate that we followed these tenets from the Nutley and colleagues’ literature review? Can we demonstrate that our own decisions surrounding the original KNAER were evidence-informed and have we continued to do so for the renewed KNAER? Essentially, have we “practiced what we’ve preached” about using research to inform practice?  
 

Tenet #1 Bringing Researchers and Research Users Together

The original KNAER was active between 2010-2014 with 44 knowledge mobilization projects. Each project was selected through an adjudication process that included a call for proposals that included specific application guidelines. Within these guidelines each project was expected to include several partners or partnerships. Of these partnerships, projects were expected to collaborate with at least one academic researcher. Analysis of our final reports indicated that the majority of projects were somehow connected to researchers either through universities, colleges, health organizations, and/or research departments at school boards. These projects were also expected to connect to practitioners: many demonstrated this by working with school boards and teacher and principal associations as brokers to educators in the field.

 

KNAERupdatedNov2016
 

Tenet #2 Acknowledge the Importance of Context

We understood context in this case to mean the context of the Ontario public education sector. KNAER acknowledged the importance of the Ontario public education context in a number of ways. The original KNAER initiative selected knowledge mobilization projects that focused on the (then) four ministry priority areas: teaching and learning, transitioning, equity, and engagement. This was specifically one of the criteria used in adjudicating the more than 100 proposals submissions. As is evident in Tenet One, all knowledge mobilization projects included partnerships with some combination of provincial and local intermediaries such as the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario and Peel District School Board. These intermediaries work closely with educators in the field and are aware of the current educational trends and challenges in that particular area. Lastly, even though all projects fell within at least one of the then four priority areas, the actual educational issue being addressed varied considerably. This diverse range of topics (see below) was driven by local concerns and needs.

 

  • Aboriginal Education
  • Arts Education
  • Classroom Management
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Education in the North
  • English Language Learners
  • Equity and Inclusion
  • French-language Education
  • Knowledge Mobilization
  • Leadership
  • Mathematics Education
  • Mental Health
  • Multi-modal learning
  • Physical Health
  • Science Education
  • Special Education
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Student Identity

 

Tenet #3 Being aware of the needs of research users

During the two years of KNAER (2010-2012), further consultation was done with educators, researchers, intermediary groups, and parents and it became clear that while the successful project leads were well-versed in knowledge mobilization, knowledge mobilization overall was not well understood throughout the education sector. For this reason, the KNAER began supporting professional learning around knowledge mobilization. Specifically, we created resources about how to create an effective knowledge mobilization plan such as tips for Knowledge mobilization planning and write a short research summary for your primary audience. We also repurposed the KNAER website and created a toolkit that compiled the resources generated from the KNAER. This toolkit mainly concentrated on resources applicable to the content focus of the various knowledge mobilization projects. For example, a mathematics-focused project by Shelley Yearley, Trish Steele, and Cathy Bruce and their partners, entitled Exploring Learning and Differentiated Instruction for the Difficult to Learn Topic of Grade 6 Fractions Using Teacher-Coach-Research-Developer Networking, have several useful resources in the toolkit, including a literature review, an information sheet, and their own toolkit.

 

Another example is the Our Kids Network: Taking Research to Practice project, which included a university partner (Charles Sturt University), a provincial network (Our Kids Network), a school board (Halton District School Board), several health agencies (Halton Region Children’s Services and Department of Health, ErinOakKids Centre for Treatment and Development), the Halton Police, and several community partners (Halton Children’s Aid Society, ROCK Reach Out Centre for Kids, Halton Multicultural Council). The OKN project focused on building capacity to utilize research, strengthen cross-sector partnering in taking research to practice, sustain engagement with internal and external stakeholders, and more effectively responding to issues facing children, youth and their families in the Halton region and used the strength, resources, and knowledge of their network and partners to accomplish this. Their resources in the KNAER toolkit include a report, online video, toolkit and virtual community of practice, and website.

 

Tenet #4 Drawing on a range of types of knowledge, not just research-based knowledge

A number of different types of knowledge can be found within the 44 KNAER projects. Because the majority of project topics were driven by local practitioners and communities connected with the education sector, practitioner and community knowledge was used substantially in efforts to inform practice. An example of a community-based project is the Kimaaciihtoomin E-Anishinaabe-Kikinoo’amaageyak (Beginning To Teach In An Indigenous Way) project by Jean-Paul Restoule and his partners, including the Toronto District School Board and its Aboriginal Education Center. This project focused on integrating Aboriginal perspectives into the classroom and has many resources available in the toolkit, including several presentations, articles, a toolkit, online videos, and website.
 

Tenet #5 Testing and evaluating interventions

We interpret this tenet, testing and evaluating interventions, to mean did our efforts produce any of our intended outcomes. It was difficult to determine any type of systematic evaluation of the full KNAER initiative because each KNAER knowledge mobilization project focused on a different educational issue and approached each issue in a different manner and included different partners. However, each project did attempt to report impact, degree of influence, record outputs and outcomes and we tried to provide a transparent narrative of the full initiative in the final report. An external evaluator evaluated the full initiative and concluded that KNAER was a “trailblazing” initiative (McGuire, Zorie, & Frank, 2014, p. 9). In addition, we conducted a review of the utility of KNAER, a literature review, interviews with knowledge mobilization experts and conducted planning sessions with various stakeholders to create our final report. The KNAER final report is our culminating internal evaluation and lessons learned about KNAER (2010-2014). This final report was (and is) the basis for the renewed KNAER initiative.
 

Tenet #6 Feeding knowledge from evaluation back into future practice

Last, but certainly not least, Nutley stated that another effective practice reported in the literature was to utilize knowledge gleaned from evaluations to inform future practice. As mentioned in Tenet Six, we conducted an extensive final report of the original KNAER (2010-2014) where we considered the findings from the external evaluation, our own literature review, expert interviews, virtual discussions, and planning sessions to develop a systems approach model that was proposed to the Ontario Ministry of Education for consideration in redesigning KNAER. The Ontario Ministry of Education accepted this model and has utilized it as the framework for the renewed KNAER that was launched in fall 2016. To read more about our lessons learned and recommendations for the renewed KNAER please see our final report
KNAER II Model 2016-11-15

 

Let’s return to the question we asked ourselves earlier in the blog: Did we practice what we preached? As demonstrated in this blog we do think that to varying degrees we have practiced what we’ve preached. Perhaps the more relevant question is how will we continue to take our lessons learned and apply them to new challenges that arise with the revised systems model as we move forward? How will we know the outcome from applying this new knowledge and understanding?