4 knowledge mobilization lessons from the “Re-Imagine Aging: Adding Life to Years Roundtable”

4 knowledge mobilization lessons from the “Re-Imagine Aging: Adding Life to Years Roundtable”

Academia often moves forward at a quick pace. Re-Imagine Aging: Adding Life to Years offered a welcome reprieve to step away from the usual ‘day-to-day,' and reflect on the deeper meanings and context that underpins my team’s work in aging research.

The four-day, Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies-funded event brought together 30 academics and non-academics, from 14 different disciplines. Their expertise spanned the arts, social and biomedical sciences, and communications. Attendees discussed core concepts, assumptions, and ideas in relation to societal-norms and research practices broadly related to aging.

What Stood Out

And the gathering had no prescribed deliverables-- *gasp*.

As a knowledge translation and exchange practitioner, I noted parts of the program that offer insights for the field of knowledge mobilization.

For those not to familiar with the concept, “knowledge mobilization” refers to moving information generated through research into action to improve health and/or social outcomes. It often involves making connections across organizations and sectors.

Central questions to the practice of knowledge mobilization are:

How do we more effectively use different types of information to engage others? How do we then take this one step further to inspire action?

I considered these questions as I reflected on the Roundtable. Here are four take-home messages:

1. Insights take time to develop: create space for interactive dialogue

Lead organizer Sarah Lusina-Furst along with facilitator Aftab Erfan did a fantastic job of engaging participants outside of traditional academic panel formats. From ‘open space’ break-out sessions to ‘modified fish bowl’ discussions – participants had plenty of opportunity to share their perspectives, listen to others, and generate new ideas. 


2. Embrace the arts: people respond to visual mediums and emotions

Music, video, poetry and dance peppered the Roundtable program. These artistic mediums integrated emotional, intuitive, embodied, and sensory “ways of knowing” into the otherwise theoretically and empirically dominated academic discussions. After Action at a Distance’s contemporary dance performance, participant Stephen Katz remarked that the historical roots of aging studies were in the humanities (dating back to 44 BC with Cicero’s narrative “On Old Age”); the late 19th and early 20th century development of ‘Gerontology’ as a medical and scientific discipline, is a relatively new shift away from its “historical interdisciplinary imagination.” 

3. Personal narratives offer a springboard for discussion

Personal narratives expose audiences to the complex nature of many social and health issues. From a knowledge mobilization perspective, they are an effective way to both learn from  ‘stakeholders’ (a.k.a individuals, community or government groups related to a research area) and communicate research findings.

The Roundtable organizers dynamically incorporated stories and the lived experiences of older adults into the program. This approach fueled conversations, and integrated theoretical with practical examples.

Performing Arts Lodge Panel

The Performing Arts Lodge, Vancouver (PAL) members shared passionate stories about living at PAL. They told stories about feeling vulnerable before moving into PAL, and then finding community and renewed purpose. They injected energy into the afternoon and offered a unique and inspiring example of a ‘re-imagined age supportive community.’

Gillian, a PAL resident, performs and shares her story.

After lunch each day, I shared two (out of a series of eight) short documentary videos of older adults (65-93 years) who live in Central and Northern BC. The vignettes illustrate the diversity of what it means to be ‘active’ and ‘engaged’ in later life (think far beyond spandex running shorts). The series is part a larger provincial research program of choice based physical activity. I directed and edited the films under the guidance of ‘Executive Producers’ Heather McKay and Joanie Sims-Gould.

(The videos will be online soon check back here for a link.)

Active Aging BC Documentary video vignettes

Bring your Boomers 6: Who Cares? Re-Imagine A Culture of Care for an Aging Society 

CHHM partnered with Gen Why Media to host a hugely successful event that brought topics from the Roundtable into the public realm. Gen Why Media, led by Tara Mahoney and Fiona Rayher, curated ‘Bring your Boomers,’ as an intergenerational dialogue series to create an “informal but important space for the public to re-evaluate their opinions, assumptions, values and beliefs while connecting with members of their community.”    

The focus of “BYB 6: Who Cares?” was caregiving. The sold-out audience of over 200 people listened to what caregiving for an aging society means from: two heartfelt storytellers, three short documentary videos, one comedian and the soulful music of the Sojourners.

The evening closed with a ‘reverse Q & A,’ in which the audience was asked to respond to questions. They surfaced thoughtful comments about the benefits of technology, non-traditional caregiving families, and the need for care of the caregivers. The also event raised $1300 for Paul’s Club, a social enterprise to support people with early onset dementia.

4. For knowledge to have even more impact, think like a movement

“A movement is composed of a million small acts” - Al Etmanski, Co-founder of Social innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact; Author of Impact: Six patterns to spread your social innovation

Vicky Cammack and Al Etmanski, experts in community organization, brought fresh ideas from the world of social innovation. In their Roundtable presentation, they suggested that if you really want your ideas to have traction, you need to “think like a social movement.” They illustrated examples from the abolition of slavery, to the slow food movement. ‘Thinking like a movement’ involves re-framing problems as opportunities, a deep consideration of how broader socio-cultural contexts influence decisions, and collaborative and cooperative relationship building to ‘paddle together’ in the same direction, without necessarily having 100% agreement.

Dr. Karim Khan captured this concept with a tweet of Al and Vicky’s presentation slides:

To turn ideas into action, bring together “passionate amateurs”, and “disruptive, bridging, and receptive innovators” to, more or less, move in the same direction – this is fascinating to consider in relation to knowledge mobilization. Small collaborations, inter-sectorial partnerships, and opportunities for knowledge sharing, can lead to big impact.