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An Ecosystem Approach to Mobilize Evidence and Knowledge

Tue, April 9, 12:20 to 1:50pm, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Mezzanine Level, Alberta


Objective: In this paper, we explore the roles of various components (or levels) of an eco-systems approach that can be used to mobilize multiple forms of evidence and ways of knowing to improve student learning in Ontario’s public education system.

Theoretical framework: This paper is framed around a systems-approach to knowledge mobilization. By system, we refer to a knowledge network that is made up of interrelated and interdependent parts (von Bertalanffy, 1968). In recognition of the limitations of more linear approaches for actively engaging educators, policy-makers, and other professionals in and with research, evidence, and knowledge, there has been a shift from the traditional linear relationship models toward new models that are more interactive and that value partnerships and networks (Authors, 2015, 2017; Best & Holmes, 2010; Godfrey, 2016, Godfrey & Brown, 2018).

Although this is a positive move, we argue that more attention must be given to the wider ecosystem. We begin with Bronfenbrenner’s 1979 eco-systems approach to consider knowledge mobilization processes (Authors, 2019). For this paper, we move beyond this approach to consider a systems-approach that considers ecological elements that are key to knowledge mobilization, one in which research, policy, and practice are part of a culture and infrastructure of co-development, critical inquiry, genuine collaboration, and attend to existing structural challenges in accessing, adapting, and applying evidence in and for education.

Modes of inquiry: Our unit of analysis is the Knowledge Network for Applied Educational Research. The Ontario Ministry of Education created KNAER as part of its larger provincial strategy to advance evidence-based and research-informed policies, programs, and practices across the education system. Within KNAER, we analyzed various types of qualitative evidence that take into account academic and practitioner perspectives and document analysis. We also engaged in analysis of website (Google Analytics) and social media (Twitter and Facebook) analytics to explore the knowledge mobilization reach and connectedness within and among the various ecosystem components.

Findings: An ecosystem approach to large-scale systems is complex, as each level is unique and distinct. In our findings, the complexity of the KNAER ecosystem does not necessarily stem from geographic size nor its structure of networks nested within networks. Rather, its complexity comes from divergent partnerships and different epistemological and ontological positions; the challenges of moving beyond traditional approaches to research and dissemination; breaking down silos in practice; and using multiple modalities to increasingly work with different but equally important audiences and stakeholders.

Significance of study or work: The KNAER initiative actualizes the AERA call to move beyond single studies by mobilizing bodies of knowledge from different disciplines that strengthen the research-policy-practice loop to address common educational challenges. KNAER concentrates on multiple modalities, from traditional research summaries to infographics to social media platforms to target multiple divergent groups.


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