All you need is (the language of) love

Charlotte Morris attended the 2015 UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum. She shares her thoughts on two days of inspiration, emotion and meditation.

An abundance of flowers, glittering chandeliers and a sweeping marble staircase …truly, the mood was ripe for love.

That is, the language of love, which became the unofficial theme of the UK’s second UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum, held in Edinburgh this month. And conference surroundings don’t get more beautiful than the city’s Royal College of Physicians. Against this splendiferous backdrop, knowledge mobilisation ‘movers and shakers’ from across the UK and beyond came together for learning, networking, sharing – and even a spot of meditation.

The forum followed on from the success of the first UK forum, held in London last year. The inspiration for this came all the way from Canada, a country that has been leading on the knowledge mobilisation agenda for well over a decade.

Knowledge exchange (or brokerage) as a term was coined by universities in an aim to dispel the ‘ivory tower’ label (in other words, not having an understanding of what is important for people out with the academic environment). To ensure that the wealth of knowledge created by research was having an impact where it should – on people’s lives – knowledge broker roles were created, to work between the ‘two worlds’ of academia and day to day life. However, the use of ‘knowledge exchange’ as a concept has broadened in recent years, to encompass a wide variety of sectors and industries.

The idea behind the forum was to bring together ‘frustrated’ knowledge mobilisers everywhere – those whose work is hampered by targets, a lack of funding and lack of understanding about their role. These are people with similar interests yet from very different backgrounds, all sharing one passion: to ensure that knowledge has a lasting impact on people’s lives.

During the London forum, many initial questions were asked – most notably, what actually is knowledge mobilisation? If last year’s forum was about scene setting, this year was the main act, with a more established programme and atmosphere (or perhaps that was due to the forbidding portraits of male physicians watching over us disapprovingly). Yet the sense of fun and spontaneity that was a highlight of last year’s forum was still present. In addition to formal talks, much of the two days was spent in open discussion, chaired poster walks and networking. This  created a friendly and buzzy space in which to share ideas and energy with likeminded people. Couldn’t make it in person? Simply send your avatar in Second Life – last year and this year the virtual world site played a major part in proceedings.

Duncan Dunlop, CEO of Who Cares? Scotland, kicked off Day 1 with an emotional talk on Scotland’s care leavers. ‘Love not Labels’ considered the power of the ‘care experienced voice’. This was particularly relevant to the work we do here at CYCJ, supporting the sharing and dissemination of knowledge to make things better for Scotland’s children and young people. Through sharing their life-stories and reflecting on their needs, Scottish care leavers have used this knowledge to succeed in increasing the care leaving age to 21 – a real success that will improve the life chances of future care generations.

This message was reinforced by the young care leavers who shared what ‘knowledge’ means to them. “Knowledge, for me, is about understanding who you are, before understanding the things that surround you,” explained Shilla. “It’s amazing you guys came to listen to us. It’s a good way of sharing what actually happens.” I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one in the room surreptitiously scrabbling for a hankie to dab at my eyes as the words of care leavers were displayed against a background track of ‘All you need is love’.

Other features of Day 1 included an excellent talk on knowledge mobilisation, policy and practice by Alison Petch, Director of IRISS, who shared IRISS’s innovative approach to the sharing and production of knowledge. With an emphasis on creativity and a belief that working together has to involve the end users and not just the professionals, IRISS are leading on a new way of sharing and mobilising knowledge that serves as an inspiration to us all.

Day 2 was equally inspiring, with the Canadian perspective delivered by the personable Peter Levesque, President of the Institute for Knowledge Mobilization. Earlier, I’d enjoyed hearing from Peter during his professional development session on entrepreneurship, which offered valuable advice, whether you’re a Dragon’s Den wannabe (not me) or just wanted some tips to be inspired by (me). He stressed that the best thing you can do is learn and listen: “My grandmother always said God gave us two ears and one mouth for a good reason.”

Speakers covering the last hour of a two day conference can struggle to hold their audience’s attention, but this wasn’t a problem for Jack Black. No, not the chubby actor/rocker but the Glaswegian meditation guru and Mindstore founder – who is every bit as entertaining (if not more) as his Hollywood counterpart. As a social worker in Glasgow’s east end, Jack realised what stress was doing to him and his friends – three of whom died of stress related conditions before they reached 40. It was a wakeup call for Jack, who, after collapsing himself, dedicated his life to discovering how stress can be managed, and personal development harnessed, to allow people to fulfil their potential.

Jack now works with global business leaders to boost their confidence and self-belief. His approach is one that goes against the Glasgow – and UK – grain, though. ‘In the UK we moan our faces off, we’re world class in negativity” claimed Jack, reprimanding us for giving the standard Brit response of ‘not bad/fine’ in response to enquiries about our wellbeing. “Delete the programme that prompts you to say ‘not bad’ and say FANTASTIC!!” he shouted.

Jack’s message was spot on with the mood of the room: “The art of knowledge mobilisation is in listening, that’s what I learned today.” We got the time to reflect on his words during a guided meditation session, which I managed not to fall sleep during…just.

Other excellent speakers included Shona Cowan of the Scottish Government, who discussed the QuEST approach to increasing quality and value across NHS Scotland, and Sandra Nutley, of the University of St Andrews, on improving knowledge mobilisation in public service organisations. David Phipps, Sarah Morton, Ann Wales and Karen Ritchie all gave fascinating perspectives on how they approach frameworks for impact.

So what did I take away from these two action-packed days? I began with a reference to the ‘language of love’ (a jokey title for a discussion group that stuck), but it is so important that this is one language that we as knowledge mobilisers are universally fluent in. It means we’re focusing on the most important thing – the people that our knowledge affects. At CYCJ, we’re already working with young people who are playing an active role in improving life for generations to come, and this event has inspired me to see how we can take that further and really bring about lasting change that’s informed by the people who know best.

Perhaps it’s best summed up by the lyrics of the Beatles: “There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known. Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.” Or, maybe by the words of Peter Levesque, and his claim that the best outcome for knowledge mobilisers is “I win, you win, and society wins.” As long as we’re listening to each other, then we’re winning.

Photo: Care leavers and Who Cares? Scotland ambassadors at the UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum. Photo credit: Who Cares? Scotland.

About our blogger

As Knowledge Exchange Officer for CYCJ, Charlotte leads on capturing and sharing knowledge. Read more. 

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