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Knowledge Mobilizers: Partnerships key to project helping businesses put sustainability into practice

August 19, 2021

Striking functional design is what first drew me to Stephanie Bertels’, work on the Embedding Project. As a professor at SFU’s Beedie School of Business, Bertels is the founder and executive director of the Embedding Project, a global public-benefit research project that helps companies embed social and environmental factors across their operations and decision-making.

The rich trove of resources in the Embedding Project are visually represented with a circle of topics organized on the basis of a systematic review and a decade of additional research.  Visitors can drill down to find resources researched and developed by the Embedding Project along with other curated content. I keep returning to this page as an exemplar means of organizing and sharing information.

Stephanie Bertels, professor at SFU's Beedie School of Business.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Bertels. Like the visual representation of resources in the Embedding Project, she is brilliant and focused. As we spoke, I realized that Bertels’ Embedding Project exemplifies key knowledge mobilization strategies.

First, she establishes and maintains strong, collaborative, and ongoing partnerships, with a wide range of stakeholders. The knowledge mobilization literature emphasizes that strong partnerships built on reciprocal benefit, respect, and trust are key to generating positive real-world impact.

This can be developed, as Bertels explained, by partnering early in the research process, listening to the needs of your community, and then engaging them frequently throughout the research life cycle including during the development, refinement, and dissemination of research outputs.

Bertels built these strong partnerships by listening first, she notes, to identify what industry partners need. Then, project research, outputs and tools are iterated on based on partners’ feedback and disseminated in a format that meets their needs. Because she says “if I’m doing research to support practice, I need to share it in a practical way.”

Another key knowledge mobilization strategy is to evaluate the impact of your activities. Through these close and ongoing partnerships Bertels sees firsthand the impact the Embedding Project has.

Her contributions have led businesses across the globe to set new ambitious strategic plans, change their procurement strategies, shift their culture, and even shift their entire investment portfolios - all in support of environmental and social sustainability. Along the way, her students have benefitted from research and learning opportunities that would not be possible without this network of partners.

However, Bertels warns, there are challenges that come with deeply engaged (award winning) research and knowledge mobilization practice. Building and maintaining longstanding partnerships requires a substantial time commitment to negotiate and maintain access but also in staying up to date and active in the language of the community. There is also all the time that goes into presenting at practitioner conferences and events and building the skills needed to create outputs that are relevant and engaging for practitioners, not to mention the time spent promoting them. All of this competes with traditional academic productivity and is still not well reflected in tenure and promotion processes. These issues are seen in the literature and discussions about knowledge mobilization and research impact across the country and beyond.

The SFU Knowledge Mobilization Hub is here to support you with your knowledge mobilization planning and implementation including identifying other resources and opportunities. The Hub is involved in several projects and committees that are working toward better recognition for knowledge mobilization activities, including partnership building. Stay tuned!

Until then, consider building your knowledge mobilization capacity by attending one or all of our workshops or lunch and learn webinars. See the Library Research Commons for details.