Mobilizing Knowledge, Bridging Communities, Accelerating Impact


Heat is North America’s primary weather related killer of vulnerable citizens. To address this concern, York University supported a research collaboration between a York graduate student and a community centre in a low-income Toronto neighbourhood.

Through this Canada’s first heat registry was created in 2007 and in 2012 the City of Toronto released its Heat Registry Guide benefitting more than 2.5 million citizens by making it easier for neighbourhoods to track and provide services to vulnerable citizens on the hottest days of the year and lessening the burden on Canada’s health-care system through prevention of heat-related emergencies.

That is the impact that university research can have when the university becomes more accessible and responsive to community partners. Partnering academic expertise (faculty and students) with knowledge from community organizations helps research effectively inform the policies, products, programs and services that benefit the lives of citizens leading to a process called knowledge mobilization.



Knowledge mobilization helps make research useful to society. It is the mechanism that informed the collaboration which led to the socially innovative City of Toronto Heat Registry




Knowledge mobilization moves from engagement to a partnership between equals to help address mutual goals. York University has been supporting an institutional capacity for knowledge mobilization for seven years. In that time we have learned:

  1. Knowledge mobilization is a social process. Packaging and disseminating even uncontested evidence (knowledge transfer) is necessary but not sufficient to effect change. Knowledge brokers actively use research and facilitate knowledge mobilization in an iterative fashion.
  2. Co-production of evidence developed through research collaborations is the most robust form of knowledge mobilization. Co-production involves the collaboration between academic and non-academic researchers, where the research is informed by the needs of the partner. The collaboration complements the expertise of both researchers. Knowledge mobilization supports collaborations that enable social innovations and help address mutual goals.
  3. Impact is measured at the level of the user. Impact occurs when a research partner uses their expertise to inform a new policy, social service or a product that can make a positive difference in the lives of citizens.  Therefore, universities need to ask their partners about the impact of the collaboration on the community.
  4. Impact takes time.  Since research evidence needs to be taken up and implemented by non-academic partner organizations, it can take 3-5 years after the research collaboration for impacts to be manifested.
  5. Impact is built on a foundation of scholarship. Knowledge mobilization for social innovation complements, but does not replace, traditional scholarship. Evidence to inform decisions must meet high academic standards as well as be relevant to the community.

Being accessible and responsive to communities helps universities to excel in measuring the impact of research on the community, as seen through activities like the UK’s Research Excellence Framework 2014. More importantly, being accessible and responsive to community partners enables universities to plan mechanisms, incentives and rewards for faculty and students to help research partners address community opportunities.

Another example of how knowledge mobilization has turned research into action is through York’s award-winning Knowledge Mobilization Unit’s collaboration with the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough.  The common cycle in youth shelters is that youth enter in crisis, become stabilized and return to the community, only to return again in crisis. This cycle has created a strain on already limited resources.

A community-campus collaboration between York University and the Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough developed a Life Skills Mentoring program to address this challenge. The program enables social work students from a local college to deliver one-on-one life skills mentoring to youth at the shelter. This mentoring program has reduced the length of stays of youth in crisis and thus reduced the strain on resources.

The Youth Emergency Shelter of Peterborough became a social enterprise when it began earning revenue by delivering the program to other agencies, including the Children’s Aid Society and the John Howard Society. The Life Skills Mentoring program also receives over $60,000 per year from the government in funding. Watch the video below for more:


Through forging community-university partnerships, knowledge mobilization can make a greater impact in the lives of citizens and the quality of academic research.

Further reading on knowledge mobilization:


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Avatar About David Phipps

David Phipps is the Executive Director of Research and Innovation Services at York University.


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