Within academia, knowledge is mostly mobilized to other academics through a few traditional mechanisms: publications, conference presentations, and student training, for example. Data is often generated and kept within the lab or labs of the researcher. There are a number of challenges that make it difficult to share knowledge with non-academic audiences, including:
- Language: The terminology used in academia can often be difficult for non-academics to understand. Both academic jargon and the complex writing structure used in academic publications can be barriers to the understanding and use of research by non-academics, some of whom may come from different sectors and backgrounds.
- Access: The cost of accessing journal publications is often tremendous for those who do not belong to an institution or organization that maintains journal subscriptions. Additionally, end users may not hear about emerging research or know where to look for publications, which means that simply making research open access may not solve the access issue.
- Time and capacity: The large volume of published research can present a barrier to end users who may be pressed for time and juggling multiple competing priorities. Furthermore, they may have difficulty identifying high-quality, relevant research or interpreting conflicting findings.
- Relevance: The possible application of research knowledge and products is not always clear; messages may not be specifically actionable or tailored to target audiences, and the relevance of knowledge to their context may not be well understood or articulated.
We know from end users that they may have difficulty accessing, understanding, interpreting and applying research knowledge. These challenges often result in a significant gap between the current science and policy or practice decisions. This discrepancy – termed the knowledge to action gap – can be significant. For example, estimates suggest that in a public health context, it can take 17 years for new evidence to reach clinicians.5
Knowledge mobilization is a process that is meant to ‘bridge the gap’ – creating connections between those who produce research and those who could use it, and sometimes breaking down these silos to encourage co-production of mutually beneficial knowledge. By connecting researchers and end users, we can encourage two-way flow of information – encouraging evidence-informed decisions and policy- or practice-informed research.