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Knowledge Mobilizers: Mapping out mobilization success and pandemic management

June 30, 2021

Knowledge Mobilizers is a story series from the Knowledge Mobilization Hub that highlights knowledge mobilization (KM) projects around the university. At SFU, KM is about collaborating on, and exchanging, research discoveries to create a positive impact in our far-reaching communities.

By Lupin Battersby

As with all of us, the COVID-19 pandemic caught Valorie Crooks, SFU geography professor, off guard. But when she saw a call for proposals related to COVID-19 in her area of focus, health geography, she knew she could make a significant contribution with her expertise. In the whirl wind of a rapid funding call and the ever changing understanding and context of the pandemic, Crooks and her colleague Nadine Schuurman, SFU geography professor, responded with compelling science in a usable format — interactive visual maps.

“Maps are a very powerful communication tool,” says Crooks. “People understand maps, they intuitively orient themselves in the map and then explore.”

Crooks and Shuurman’s first interactive map depicts neighbourhood level risk for COVID-19 exposure. The map was announced through a press release on December 24th, 2020, and Crooks’ winter vacation was spent responding to media requests, taking calls from various ministries and community organizations, and addressing feedback from map users on how to make it more user friendly. The second map, released in May 2021, presents community level risk for longer term health impacts of COVID-19 due to the (needed) interventions to manage the pandemic.

The research team includes patient partners supported through the BC SUPPORT Unit. These team members provided a public perspective and informed the knowledge mobilization strategies, including guidance on the information to include on the map pages and the public promotion of them. Limited technical information is provided on the maps, but viewers are invited to contact the research team with their questions.

“Public demand for information in this area is so high, we decided to share the work via press release,” Crooks comments, noting that the success of the public promotion and accessibility of the interactive maps is clear from the public response to and use of the maps. She has fielded requests to support other groups and communities to create similar maps, as well as new opportunities and invitations to work with other researchers and ministries, a response that Crooks says “shows the power of the media to mobilize messages to policy too.” Together the result of the public and policy interest in the maps is that Crooks feels like she’s “doing something useful for the community.”

Being responsive to real world timelines and pressing issues is not without challenges. There is a balance to maintaining the rigour of the scientific process and keeping up with the pace of change. For example, the interactive maps are widely available, yet the team has not yet submitted a manuscript for peer review and publication. This was intentional, as they wanted to share the maps while they were relevant; but with all the media attention, there has been less time for academic writing.

Crooks has a few lessons to share with SFU faculty as a result of this experience. When doing a media release, be strategic about the timing so that you have the energy and availability to respond to queries, (e.g. not before you go into a day of meetings). Reach out to SFU Media Relations for help: they will assess if a release is the right strategy for you and assist with drafts. Finally, be sure to have clearly distilled talking points and stick to them.

Knowledge Mobilization Updates

The Knowledge Mobilization Hub is hosting Research Meets Policy @ SFU, a virtual summer institute SFU graduate students on communicating research to policy. Missed the application deadline? We will share learnings, tools, and tips through the SFU Knowledge Mobilization Hub mailing list, sign up now!

Want to learn more about creating your own web maps? Register now for the new Web GIS workshop series!