President, Institute for Knowledge Mobilization

This year marks fifteen years of my work in Knowledge Mobilization. When people ask me why I do this work, I have a simple statement that is grounded in a complex framework. It is fight for human rights.

As a Canadian, my family and I have benefitted profoundly from the framework provided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 in Paris. I am deeply grateful for the fortune to live in a beautiful and peaceful country. However, in the words Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, "no one is free until we are all free."

Arising from the atrocities of the Second World War, the declaration represents the first global expression of fundamental human rights to be universally protected. There are generally well known articles of the declaration - Right to Equality; Freedom from Discrimination; Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security; Freedom from Slavery. Others are not quite as well known - Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change It; Right to Marriage and Family; Right to own Property.

It was one of these lesser known articles that triggered my understanding of knowledge mobilization as part of the fight for human rights. The conditions that support and sustain these fundamental rights are built. They can be built with the use of evidence. Evidence to demonstrate injustice. Evidence to demonstrate barriers to attaining each of the articles. Evidence to make evident systemic denial of human rights.

Article 27 states: (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author (emphasis is mine).

My entry to the profession of knowledge mobilization began officially in 2001 with the creation of the Office of Knowledge Products and Mobilization at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Following the successful piloting and evaluation of the Community University Research Alliances (CURA) programme, knowledge mobilization was coined as a term to describe the umbrella of activities and practices that supported civil society organization participation in research and the conditions that enabled enhanced uptake of findings into policy, programs, and practice. It was my privilege to help write and then act as Programme Officer for the CURA programme. It followed that I was a suitable candidate to help pilot the programme of activities in the new office dedicated to knowledge mobilization.

Much of the early work was an exercise that was equal parts framing and frustration – what is this new “thing” we have created. What to include or exclude? What can we support or not? How does this fit with community-based research, technology transfer, action research, or lobbying? Some of these questions are still part of the conversation.

It was one such conversation, with Dr. Henk Mulder, a chemist and Science Shop (Wetenschapswinkels) leader at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, that introduced me to the human rights framework as a way of thinking about knowledge mobilization.

The participation of the community in the research process is connected to Article 27. The exchange, translation, and exchange processes and actions of knowledge mobilization connect to the “shared benefits” statement in Article 27. When you plunge in, the work of knowledge mobilization professionals connects to all the Articles – research on law and governance (Article 6 - Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.); research on housing (Article 25); Research on access to education (Article 26); research on health (Article 3); and onwards. Research is not enough. We need to mobilize this research to help inform the construction of the conditions for human rights.

This realization changed my life. It changed the narrative I used when talking about knowledge mobilization. It changed the way I related to institutions, governments, disciplines, and other organizing systems we use to define our connections and activities.

I remain interested in research. I remain interested in methods and techniques of analysis. What interests me most, is how we make the world a better place. My interest in your research is how it helps build the conditions where I am free – because you are free. A world where you have housing, food, love, community, education, water, security, and health – supported by evidence of what works and what does not work.

This is the spirit in which the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum was created. A space where we come together, across the broad diversity of expertise, issues and methods, to learn from each other and co-create the world in which we all live with the rights that are unalienably ours. The full realization of the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a complex and emergent process. A process that is only possible if we use the best of what we know – together we are mobilizers of this better world.