Duelling narratives: historical knowledge mobilisation in the United States

Joel Malin and Dustin Hornbeck

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Historical knowledge mobilisation in a post-factual era in the United States

Public debates about history are nothing new, but in recent years – with the convergence of new media platforms and a tumultuous political atmosphere – we have noticed debates centred on duelling historical interpretations are becoming increasingly conspicuous and are engaging the public. In fact, both evidence-based and false, or misleading, historical claims are being brought forth all the time, apparently in efforts to influence key decisions and/or pushing for social change. This drive to mobilise historical knowledge, we also assume, reflects a shared understanding that our history and how we think about it matters – i.e. that different understandings of the past can help us navigate the present, pointing the way to different policies and, perhaps, a more just future.

We understand this strengthening phenomenon as historical knowledge mobilisation, and we set out to better understand its underpinnings, nature and impacts. We drew upon Ward’s (2017) ‘framework for knowledge mobilisers’ to analyse what and whose knowledge is being shared and how and why this is happening. Though we focused primarily on university-based mobilisers (academic historians and history-adjacent scholars), we also observed how non-academics actively inhabit this territory. Indeed, as we revealed, historians and non-historians alike are acting to mobilise the usable past in service of the present. Further, and on a partisan basis, we detect duelling preferences for ‘historical memories’ that either motivate progressive social change or favour policy inaction/reversal.

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Embedding researchers in service organisations: what do initiatives look like and how can they be cultivated?

Dr Vicky Ward

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy articles ‘Embedding researchers into organisations: a study of the features of embedded research initiatives‘ and ‘A framework to support the design and cultivation of embedded research initiatives‘.

Embedding researchers in service organisations is the latest in a long line of approaches to better link the worlds of research and practice. Embedded researchers have become particularly popular in the field of healthcare, but can also be found in education and local government. As with any new initiative, one of the big questions on people’s minds is ‘does it work’? The problem, though, is that until now we haven’t had a clear picture of what ‘it’ (i.e. embedded research) is and how those interested in the approach might design an initiative.

To address this, our research team (a diverse group including researchers and healthcare managers) set out to better understand what embedded research initiatives look like in practice and produce a practical framework for anyone involved in designing or cultivating an initiative.

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Lone cowboys need a posse (and knowledge brokers need to work in teams!)

Lesley Wye

You know the story. A lone cowboy (unfortunately never a cowgirl) rides away into the sunset having saved the day. The same expectations are often placed on knowledge brokers who bring together different communities to share knowledge and catalyse change. The lone knowledge broker is supposed to be a hero. But speaking from decades of experience, you just can’t do it alone. A single person does not have all the necessary networks, knowledge, understanding, skills or credibility. To be effective, knowledge brokers need teams.

In a unique experiment from 2013–2016, we set up the Bristol Knowledge Mobilisation team. This was made up of four local healthcare policymakers (called ‘commissioners’) and three primary care academics; all of whom had part-time contracts with both the university and in healthcare commissioning. Our aim was for both communities to draw on each other’s knowledge to create ‘research-informed commissioning’ and ‘commissioning-informed research’ (i.e. research of genuine relevance).

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Policy impact is the result of networked approaches to knowledge exchange

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Naomi Nichols, Kaitlin Schwan and Jayne Malenfant

We have spent much of our academic and professional careers participating in and leading initiatives that are trying to change how organisations, institutions and systems function. The relentless demands of this work mean there is often little opportunity to reflect on the efficacy of our efforts. To address this gap, we conducted more than two years of ethnographic research to learn how community-university-policy partnerships use research and strategic communication to change how youth homelessness is addressed on a pan-Canadian scale. Our intention was to improve our own tactical efforts to ensure our research contributes to the types of changes we want to see (e.g. an end to youth poverty and homelessness).

We learned that networked knowledge exchange is central to ensuring research-to-policy impact.

In this blog post, we suggest three things researchers can do to produce research that addresses persistent social problems.

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