What is KStar Initiative and why do we need it?

By Alex. T Bielak, Senior Fellow and Knowledge Broker, United Nations University – Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH)

Next week, practitioners working across the knowledge-policy interface will gather in Hamilton, Canada for the 2012 K* Conference to foster connections between knowledge intermediaries and advance K* theory and practice. In this blog, Alex. T Bielak outlines what K* is, why it is important and what he, as chair of the conference, hopes discussion will achieve.

Before I get to why the KStar concept cuts to the core of the knowledge field and what we hope to achieve with the K* Conference and associated activities, I’ll share a little personal history, and a confession.

I came upon the terms Knowledge Translation and Brokering about seven years ago after a few years of trying to define the work my Science Liaison group at Environment Canada (EC) was doing in terms of what we were not.

I knew we were definitely not Big-C communications, pushing corporate messaging about EC’s science out to the public and the media. Our mandate was largely about getting science to policy and decision makers in government and industry, and when I came across them in the Health literature, the terms KT and KB fitted the two facets of what we were actually doing like a glove.

We had found our happy place and eventually became evangelists for KT/KB within the federal government, and achieved considerable buy-in, including seeing our tools adopted across the federal science community. (An aside: it is more than ironic that I write this just as Environment Canada has announced program cuts that include “streamlin(ing) of … knowledge translation functions.”)

That confession? I’ve never really been much good at theory, templates, frameworks and toolkits, which is why I’ve allied myself with real thinkers in the field like K* Conference Vice-Chair, Louise Shaxson, and others who will be attending the conference.  I’m a pragmatist, interested in moving initiatives forward in a practical way and in making sure research is useful by being used: in finding practical and effective ways of ensuring that research influences policy and policy gets to influence research directions.

Staff at UNU-INWEH, which I joined a year and a half ago, used the term Knowledge Management to describe their activities linking research and policy. I felt unsettled by its use, as I understood it differently from my days with EC, considering it to be more akin to Data Management.  As I learned more about what my new colleagues meant, I came to appreciate it actually was much the same, just with an explicit data management underpinning.

About three years ago, I found kinship with David Phipps who was working in a very different sector to my own at York University. David, (a member of the Conference Steering Committee), used the term Knowledge Mobilization to describe his group’s activities. As in my own case he had come across the term in the course of his work, felt it fitted well, and adopted it. He too became an evangelist, for the value of KMb.

In conversations we both agreed that we could have as easily adopted the alternate terminology had we come across it first. What was important to us was “getting on with it”, and not letting the terminology – important as it might be – get in the way. Parenthetically, there has recently been a bit of a debate on the KB Forum as to whether the terms relate to the same activity or to something different. Opinion seemed split evenly and Laurens Klerkx (a member of the Conference International Advisory Committee member) capped off the discussion a couple of days ago by saying “… this needs to be accepted as a fact of life, or we should really aim to merge terms and get rid of some. I think that the first option is the most realistic and feasible one, but the second one would be a challenging exercise.”

It is exactly to help bridge such gaps that I coined the shorthand of KStar. I’ve tried to illustrate the spectrum of terms and activities in the attached diagram that I’ve developed as a conversation starter. I’ve even included two new terms (Knowledge Purveyors and Curators) I came across recently through another active network that I did not know existed (the Intermediary Organizations –I/O initiative that arose via the Global Implementation Conference), though I don’t yet entirely know yet exactly where they fit.

Example of the K* Spectrum

Ultimately I don’t think we should be spending a lot of time debating what we call specific elements. We SHOULD be talking about what I see as the substantive issues facing the field: how there can be cross-sectoral learning;  how to stop re-inventing wheels; how to stop it Balkanising further; how to recognise the value of intermediaries; and perhaps most importantly helping practitioners have an impact and ways to demonstrate that impact.

And that IS what we will be doing at the upcoming K* Conference, as we develop the Green Paper and follow on activities. The will be a terrific mix of panels that have been carefully conceived and structured to feed into the “Green Paper” that we are developing to describe the global K* landscape. (We’ll be seeking input to the Green Paper via a wiki after the conference). Of course our ultimate goal is not just a document that can be widely used to make the case for the importance of K*, but to help us add demonstrable value to various initiatives we are involved in, ultimately resulting in improved efficiency and accelerating their impact.

If you can’t make the conference, you don’t have to miss out. With full social media reporting, including blogs, video interviews, live tweets and much more, we are mobilising the power of social media so you can contribute to the conference anywhere, anytime!  Subscribe to GDNet blog feed for a daily digest of conference news, follow @Connect2GDNet and #Kstar2012 for live updates and comments on discussion, and watch the live Webcast with 120 lines available for login globally.


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2 Responses to What is KStar Initiative and why do we need it?

  1. Pingback: Making K* work for your research findings

  2. Pingback: Green Conduct News | Making K* work for your research findings » Green Conduct News

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