Knowledge Mobilisation

There is a new phrase in town. ’Knowledge mobilisation’ – gradually sneaking into the education lexicon as the jargon de jour. At first glance there is nothing new to the concept which broadly translates into normal speak as the sharing of information around those who may be interested in it……

However, the introduction of new words reflects broader interest both in how we share ‘what works’ across the million strong education workforce; between charities and schools and to our users.

So before we dismiss the term what does it really mean?

In this phrase ‘knowledge’ has a value. Knowledge mobilisation is of value only if the knowledge is of value – both in its usefulness to the recipient and in its quality. The term has a longer history in both academia and medicine where the concepts of robust evidence and effective research are long established. Any programme of knowledge mobilisation should be built upon principles of how we validate knowledge. What constitutes good evidence? Who is expert? How do we test what we think we know?

Mobilisation suggests movement. Traditional models of mobilisation move from experts outwards (think university researchers sharing academic papers). However more contemporary thinking understands that knowledge moves through a system. London Leadership Strategy – which Not Dead Fish supports –have created an organisational structure that identifies and captures knowledge in the London education system and trained people to share knowledge within and between schools. This is a mature knowledge mobilisation network using multiple approaches with evidence of impact at both individual and school level.

And this evidence of impact is vital – because mobilisation also implies action. Knowledge sharing is successful first if it improves awareness; second if the knowledge is put into use and third if the knowledge is applied effectively to achieve the desired impact. Organisations such as The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) are now investing in approaches to knowledge mobilisation to take their excellent programmes of ‘what works’ into the field with a stated desire to change practice and, ultimately, improve outcomes for children and young people.

Knowledge mobilisation may be jargon but it draws on the best of well tested disciplines within the fields of organisational behaviour and development; public relations; marketing and psychology. Within industry –while the words may be different – multi millions are spent on how to move best thinking around organisations. Cutting edge education organisations such as Not Dead Fish’s client Whole Education are learning from these commercial companies and establishing approaches that both draw well on new tech but that also focus on what works for people. Communities of practice are a particular approach to knowledge mobilisation that we can expect to see more of across education.

So why does it matter? Why now?

As the monoliths of education have been torn down and the alphabet soup of TDA, CWDCC, GTC etc. disappear into memory the education workforce has been quietly getting on with filling the gap with professional led content shared school to school; teacher to teacher; head to head.

Alongside this third sector bodies and organisations like EEF are developing the best of what works for their user groups spending millions of pounds on the best in research and development and are looking for routes to take to scale.

There is therefore a growing interest in, and a desire to create, the best evidenced approaches to knowledge mobilisation and to ensure that the emerging approaches to sharing what works are strengthened and supported. This is likely to be something between the monolithic and bureaucratic organisations of the past and the ‘thousand flowers bloom’/’you’re ok if you know someone’ approach that exists today.

As one of NotDeadFish particular skills sets is in bridging third sector and education sectors we will be focusing on how to support effective knowledge mobilisation between schools, between charities and across sectors and professional disciplines. We are supporting as part of our pro bono work a new conference being developed by the Coalition for Evidence Based Education on the role of networks in knowledge mobilisation. More to follow.

In practice why should this matter immediately to charities?

Firstly because of the millions of pounds worth of programmes that are developed to take best information to user groups. Half of the Department for Education’s £60million Voluntary and Communication Services  current grant programmes are about taking expert information to service users – knowledge mobilisation in practice. That DfE continue to bar spend on marketing, PR, web and communications for even information into action campaigns is an ongoing challenge. Moreover many of these organisations are struggling to reach their target audiences effectively.

Secondly charities know stuff. They should be sharing this effectively with schools, with policy makers and – more controversially – with each other. Knowledge sharing between organisations – even arch competitors – improves outcomes. If it’s good enough for Microsoft and Apple …..

Lastly. Knowledge mobilisation is not a one way process. Many organisations struggle with getting their information ‘out’ – but few stop to think about how they get their information in. Ensuring that your organisation is in the right knowledge loops is a strategy in its own right.

Knowledge mobilisation will be an ongoing theme for NotDeadFish blogs and programmes – both in its own right and as it ties to important concepts such as communities of practice, the role of research, the nature of ‘expert’ and the notion of co-production.

So ‘knowledge mobilisation’-jargon? For sure. Important – absolutely. Because ‘scientia potentia est’ – knowledge is power.