Knowledge Mobilization for Policy Impact
Season: 5 Episode: 1
Petra Molnar is a lawyer and anthropologist, and co-director of York University’s Refugee Law Lab. This episode she and Elizabeth talk about how researchers get their expertise into the hands of people who shape the world we live in, like policymakers, politicians and journalists. They talk about what it means to know something, as well as different approaches to sharing knowledge, like co-production and co-learning. They also consider the power imbalances of knowledge and how to make sure that knowledge is being shared equitably, and inclusively.
One of the academic papers we used to prepare for this episode is Paul Cairney and Kathryn Oliver’s (2020). How Should Academics Engage in Policymaking to Achieve Impact? Check it out here.
Off the top, Elizabeth mentions SSHRC, which provides a bunch of information on knowledge mobilization (or KM) for researchers. Here’s what they say about effective KM.
Elizabeth also talks about the idea of co-production and Petra further mentions co-learning. This cool graphic from Michelle Lokot’s paper on research in humanitarian settings, shows a number of components that could be part of co-production (FYI there isn’t just one way!)
And Petra also mentions participatory action research, which is an approach for researchers and participants to work together to figure out a problem and then come up with solutions. Find out more here.
Elizabeth suggests that part of the work of knowledge mobilization is teaching people about knowledge itself, about how you know if knowledge is valid or if the evidence is reliable. This goes back to some deeper philosophical questions about the nature of knowledge. But if you’re feeling nerdy and want to know more, try this crash course on The Meaning of Knowledge.
Petra mentions that she takes a “transgressive approach” in her work. Take a look at this short video to find out.
Petra mentions that part of the work she does is related to the “de-centralization of knowledge.” What does that mean and why does it matter?
Petra mentions the EU’s current drafting of legislation to regulate AI, and her related work technology and border issues. Here’s more on that.
Petra mentions that she takes a trauma-informed perspective in her work. Wondering what that means and how to put that into practice? Take a look at this guide from Western University on Trauma- And Violence-Informed Research.
Episode Transcript: Knowledge Mobilization for Policy Impact
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Season 5 Episode 1 - Knowledge Mobilization for Policy Impact
Elizabeth: [00:00:05] Welcome to Wonks and War Rooms, where political communication theory meets on-the-ground strategy. I'm your host Elizabeth Dubois. I'm an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University. My pronouns are she/her.
Elizabeth: [00:00:18] Today we're talking about knowledge mobilization for policy impact with Petra. Petra, can you introduce yourself, please?
Petra: [00:00:26] Hi, everyone. My name is Petra Molnar. I'm a lawyer and an anthropologist. I run a research lab called the Refugee Law Lab at York University in Toronto. And I'm also a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard Law School this year.
Petra: [00:00:40] And the focus of my work for about five or six years now has been the intersection of technology and migration. So really trying to understand how people on the move themselves experience the ways that surveillance technology, AI, automation, and different types of experiments are playing out at the border. And, as part of this role, not only do I do it kind of from an anthropological perspective (being in places, spending time with people, and seeing what it feels like), I then also try and take some of these findings into different forums and talk to policymakers at local, regional, and international levels to really try and get them to understand what is happening on the ground.
Elizabeth: [00:01:22] Wonderful. Thank you. I am so excited to have you here.
Elizabeth: [00:01:26] Today we're talking about the idea of knowledge mobilization, and particularly knowledge mobilization when you want to have a policy impact, because obviously the role of technology in all different parts of society is evolving and cutting edge and new, which means that policy sometimes needs some time to adapt. And one of the roles that academics like you and I sometimes have is this kind of knowledge mobilization to try and improve policy.
Elizabeth: [00:01:52] So we'll start off with just a little bit of, kind of, definitional stuff. When we're talking about knowledge mobilization—it's been defined in a few different ways—but, the basic idea is trying to share information and knowledge that has been learned through academic study with outside practitioners. So that could be journalists or public policymakers or technologists or any number of others.
Elizabeth: [00:02:18] In Canada, we have SSHRC, which is the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and they talk a lot about who your audience is. So: Which of those kinds of outside-of-academic actors are you concerned with? And then: What are the outputs? What are the outcomes and what are the impacts? And what that basically means is "what are the things you are creating to share the information in that knowledge mobilization process and does it make any difference at all?"
Elizabeth: [00:02:46] So before we get into the rest of the interview, I want to put it back to you. Is that your understanding of knowledge mobilization? Would you complicate that in any other way? There's a bunch of other terms that sometimes get used—are there other terms you like to use?
Petra: [00:03:00] I think it's such an important topic, really, to talk about. And like you say, it is a complicated one too, because we really are dealing with super complex issues when it comes to technology and society and also power and privilege and the kind of systemic differentiation of experience that is inherent in human life. And then that, of course, plays into how policymakers understand what is happening and the kind of interventions that they can or should be making.
Petra: [00:03:26] And, you know, for me, as someone who really works kind of on the margins of a lot of different issues with groups that have been historically disenfranchised (people on the move, refugees, migrants, undocumented people), you know, oftentimes these groups are not even invited into conversations around knowledge and knowledge mobilization at all. Sometimes they are the subjects of certain things, but they're kind of relegated to the margins as well. So, a lot of the ethos of the work that I try and do from a knowledge mobilization perspective is to bring the perspectives of the affected communities front and centre and open up spaces—cede spaces as well—to people who have the lived experience of the issues that we're talking about.
Petra: [00:04:09] But I will also say, you know, it made me think of how sometimes opaque and difficult the space of technology and human rights, and all these issues we talk about, really is. And, for me, I'm not a tech person by training at all. I fell into this space quite accidentally myself about six years ago. I was doing more kind of, you could say, "traditional" work in refugee law, immigration detention, violence against women, things like this. Never even thought about tech. And then when I was trying to learn, like, what does AI mean, what do algorithms mean? It was so difficult and it felt quite exclusionary. You know?
Elizabeth: [00:04:43] Mm hmm.
Petra: [00:04:43] And I can imagine that for a policymaker too, as people are trying to move more towards different areas of understanding, and technology touches so many parts of life now, it is kind of difficult to penetrate the space, too. So I think it's incumbent upon us to work in it to try and make it as understandable and clear as possible. Like: What is it that we're talking about, what the problems are, and what the impacts are.
Elizabeth: [00:05:05] Yeah, I think you're right. And when you think about the messages that tech companies in particular need to tell when they're trying to get venture capital funding, when they're trying to get all of the media attention, they need to spin their thing as new and innovative and complex and difficult to understand because "we're so cool; we got all this information and nobody else has it." Right? Like there's that sort of vibe that gets more attention and more money. And maybe that's okay in that particular part of the system, but it's not okay when we're talking about human rights and when we're talking about day-to-day lived experience.
Elizabeth: [00:05:43] You know, we did a previous season on digital media literacy and how crucial it is to even just be able to understand why information shows up on your screen. And the incentive structures [to explain why you are seeing specific information] are not necessarily always there. And so I think you're right: as people within academia, we have this opportunity—and, I think, responsibility—to help bridge some of those gaps.
Elizabeth: [00:06:07] What you were talking about reminds me of the idea of co-production. So co-production is a process where it's not just the researcher who is producing the knowledge, but [instead] they're working with other individuals from the communities they're trying to understand and together they're producing that knowledge, which then can feed back into those communities or can feed out to, for example, policymakers who have impacts on those communities. Do you see your work as co-production?
Petra: [00:06:38] Absolutely. And, you know, I would actually even take it a step further. My team and I try and do sometimes what's called participatory action research, but also [we] really [try] to think about, "where do the communities affected fit into the research lifecycle?" And, "are we doing enough to actually (again) make space for people to tell their own stories and do their own work on this, almost independent of us?" Right? Or rather, kind of making spaces where work can live on its own that is guided and pushed forward by the community themselves. By that I mean, you know, even something as seemingly simple as defining the problem that we're looking at. Right? There's so much top-down "expertise" that decides what a particular problem is. But when you're actually on the ground, when you talk to people with lived experience of a lot of these human rights violations, they might feel differently. They might want to look at something completely different.
Petra: [00:07:30] And so for us, for example, we run this project called the Migration and Technology Monitor, which is a bit of an observatory for migration and surveillance tech, but it also has a fellowship program that we're starting this year for people on the move to themselves do work on border surveillance. And, again, they're the ones pitching the projects, they're the ones thinking through the problematics, and we're just there kind of as a scaffolding to be able to move funding into communities that don't otherwise have kind of legibility for for funding. And I think that's really important because otherwise we're just replicating these hierarchies of power and knowledge and expertise that are often grounded in the global north western normative framework that decides [that] these guys are the experts, not the people on the ground actually living this stuff.
Elizabeth: [00:08:15] Yeah, I think that is so interesting and so relevant. But, it makes me go back to my first year undergrad methods courses (and then all through grad school, honestly) where we spend all this time talking about how, you know, if what you're observing is reliable evidence—[how you know] if it is valid. How you tell stories without imposing unintentional bias upon it. Those kinds of things. And when we talk about doing things like flipping the script and thinking about, "We're not, as the academics who've been trained to do research, the ones who are going to plan out the project and collect the data and analyze it." How does that work? Do you share those kinds of methodological expertise with those folks who are the ones experiencing it day-to-day? Do they bring in their own methodological approaches? How do you fit it into like what academia thinks is good enough to be knowledge?
Petra: [00:09:13] That's such a good point. And maybe we can start at that last bit: I mean, yeah, what counts as knowledge and what counts as expertise? We really need to tease apart these terms.
Petra: [00:09:22] For me and my team, we're quite lucky because with the current kind of funder that we have and the way that the project is structured, we have a lot of flexibility. And also I think sometimes ethnographic methods do give you a little bit more leeway to say, "Okay, well, this is a snapshot of something. This is a deep grounded analysis or storytelling of a particular context, a particular snapshot of a memory or a story in time." But it you know, it can also then create pathways for further conversations.
Petra: [00:09:50] And, for us, we also sometimes try and challenge ourselves and ask like, "Well, what does success look like?" Right? Like oftentimes people will say, "How will you ensure that you have metrics and show that a particular person is producing good work?" I mean, that's in and of itself a very capitalist model of what knowledge production should be. I mean, if you think about it (and it's maybe perhaps a bit transgressive), even just moving money into an under-resourced community is success enough. And whether four out of five of our fellows produce kind of "nothing", that is kind of irrelevant. Right? Because, in and of itself, the decentralization of knowledge already is the successful outcome—for us, at least. And I know not every project and not every research centre runs like this, but we really try and tease apart some of these foundational kind of ideas around power, privilege, and expertise.
Petra: [00:10:41] But, of course, we also do recognize that there is learning among our team that is useful perhaps for people who are from within the community wanting to do this work. And so we are designing a co-learning curriculum. So, a community where we can all learn from each other based on the people that we work with and their lived experience and ideas, but then also the expertise and work that we have.
Petra: [00:11:05] I work closely, for example, with a lawyer turned filmmaker-photographer. She's a very multifaceted person that has a lot of expertise. We work closely with investigative journalists, [and] a designer. I mean, all of these ideas that are useful for people who are doing work "on the ground". And we also learn a lot from them. So it's very much a two way street.
Elizabeth: [00:11:24] That makes a lot of sense. And I think something that you're hitting on is the fact that often this work in academia ends up very, very siloed. And then, when we go to mobilize knowledge, it's only understood from within that silo, even if we're doing our best to make it understandable to policymakers or whoever else. The way we communicate *it* from our narrow little area might be different from the way somebody in another part of academia is communicating *it*. And so, you know, you've kind of touched on when you come from this ethnographic perspective versus maybe a more quantitative approach (you do survey work, for example, or you do analysis of tons and tons of data points because you've been on social media or something like that). Right? So I think that understanding that there's those silos and then finding ways to break them down and communicate across them is really helpful.
Petra: [00:12:18] Absolutely. And, you know, it also makes me think of this critique that ethnographers or really qualitative people [sometimes] get: "Oh my God, why are you going on the ground again? Like, you've already been to that refugee camp seven times." And then I say, "Yeah, and I'm going to go seven times more." I mean, it's like about the slow relationship building when it comes to the communities that you work with, and this weaving together of really complex stories.
Petra: [00:12:44] But I've definitely also felt [this resistance] sometimes when I then try and take it that step further and try and engage policymakers at different level. I'm thinking of a particular example at the EU level where some of my work was kind of looked down upon because they said, "Well, but this is just interviews with people and these are just people's opinions." And ethnographic work wasn't seen of as as rigorous, perhaps, as quantitative methodologies. And I always say to that, "We can we can disagree on analysis, but you cannot to my face straight-up tell me that the people I spent time with, and the people who are actually experiencing the effects of these European policies, are wrong or not grounded in some sort of understanding of reality. I mean, that is: a) incredibly disrespectful to [the] community, but also [b)] just not representative of reality—the fact that there are people experiencing this. And these methodologies are just as valid as any other. I think it's interesting that there is this strange idea sometimes in policy circles that ethnography is just something that some hippie weirdo researchers do. Like that's not it at all.
Elizabeth: [00:13:50] Yeah. Yeah, it's like some of the literacy around what qualifies as good academic research sort of stopped at, "Is your sample generalizable?" Like, everybody kind of got the idea that, if you're going to do a survey, it should be nationally representative or representative of whatever population you're looking at. And then we sort of stopped with the general education around what counts as good evidence. And so, it sounds to me like you're saying some of your work ends up being teaching the policymakers, and the other folks that you're trying to mobilize knowledge to, some basic understanding of how evidence comes about, and how to actually interpret it, and what is a fair critique and what isn't. Would you say that's accurate?
Petra: [00:14:34] Absolutely. And it also then rubs up against something else that I find quite disturbing. And I'm sure you see this in your own work, too—it's kind of like tokenization of the lived experience, too. Now people are like, "Oh, whoops! We forgot to talk to an affected community, so let's just pull someone out, plop them on a panel and be like, 'See, we talked to a refugee' or 'Oh, we talked to a victim of domestic violence' or, 'Oh, you know, like...'." This kind of cheapens people's lived experience because they're an afterthought. It's kind of a tokenizing involvement of somebody. Rather than actually thinking about, from [the] first day of designing a project or [knowledge mobilization effort], "How do we actually talk with people and how do we give them space to tell their own stories?" Right?
Elizabeth: [00:15:17] Totally.
Petra: [00:15:17] Like, not as an afterthought, but as a starting point.
Elizabeth: [00:15:20] Yeah. I think that idea of integration throughout the project is really essential and it also speaks to one of the most common critiques of doing more qualitative work, which is, well, you just can't talk to enough people to know if you actually see the trend. The thing is, if you're thinking about it as like the one token person explaining the experience of that particular group, then yeah, that is a massive problem. But if you're trying to deeply understand the experiences of people in those situations and you're doing the work not just to talk to them one time for 15 minutes, but to get to know them, to get to know their surroundings, to see all of the documents related to whatever place they're in, whatever they're doing to talk to other people they interact with, to get that deep ethnographic sense of what's going on. That's a very different approach to understanding the evidence.
Petra: [00:16:16] Absolutely. And it's not like one approach is better than the other, right? I think there's sometimes this strange kind of battle that goes on. But, really, I think we need to think about how can we work together across these different disciplinary divides to try and tell as fulsome of a story as possible.
Petra: [00:16:30] There are different instances in different contexts where, you know, just different lenses on the problem are important, but there's also space for this kind of slower, deeper, quieter methodology of sitting with with a person or a family over a prolonged period of time to really get to know them. And also, then, to shift that kind of power dynamic that is so inherent in this extractive way of working.
Elizabeth: [00:16:55] Mm hmm.
Petra: [00:16:55] Because that is really what we do right as academics. I mean, we go somewhere, we extract knowledge, we write papers about it, we talk to policymakers about it, we get grants, we write fancy books. We benefit to like we are. We are part of that cog and the power hierarchy to.
Elizabeth: [00:17:10] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I want to go back to the policy impacts. Let's say the the research is done. You've got your information. You want to have a policy impact. You mentioned the EU already, but I know that you interact with policymakers that at a variety of different levels, different jurisdictions. Does your approach change depending on what kind of level of policymaker you're talking to?
Petra: [00:17:35] It does, it does. And I think it also then depends on the particular context of what we're talking about. I mean, I think when it comes to in particular artificial intelligence and different tools that are used for border enforcement, it's become kind of a hot topic over the last few years. But let's say five, six years ago, a lot of governments were just kind of either learning about it or doing it behind closed doors. And it wasn't just as part of like the public kind of discourse as it is now, perhaps.
Petra: [00:18:02] And even now I think it's kind of like a fringe issue still. So a lot of it back then was about like sharing information, thinking through the problematic, really trying to remind governments to think about kind of established human rights frameworks and things like that. Now, I think the conversation has shifted a little bit more towards regulation and oversight and thinking about what we can do when it comes to the use of this technology. I mean, some of us argue for for abolition or redlining, but there's also conversations on the regional and international level about how to be strategic in terms of what what to get policymakers to think about. And so, of course, when you look at something like the European Union and talking to policymakers there, politically speaking, migration and border enforcement is a very fraught issue. I mean, it is everywhere, but in particularly in the EU, I would say there's been a sharpening of borders and and border enforcement.
Elizabeth: [00:18:52] Mm hmm.
Petra: [00:18:53] So you take a particular, I think, turn on on the on the issue and talk, perhaps, more about the human impact and then trying to get people again to think beyond numbers and beyond the policies, but really bring it to the kind of lived reality. But then at the international level, for example, when I'm doing work with the UN, it's interesting there because I think there's it's become a bit of like a sexy topic, I think tech and human rights generally, right? And all these entities are clamouring for influence in terms of like "We're going to be the entity to put out a set of frameworks" or maybe push for another convention and all this kind of stuff. But we have to then think about, what is it actually doing in terms of the kind of global conversation? And we are, I think, at an interesting inflection point when it comes to just tech regulation generally. So I'm curious to see how all these different levels of policymakers are going to think about it.
Petra: [00:19:45] Because the last thing I'll say, I mean, yeah, when it comes to tech regulation and and just even policy conversations, oftentimes I think it gets so siloed and people think of it from like a national perspective. But technology inherently is so international and it cross-cuts so many different jurisdictions just even in the way that it's developed and then resold to a second country, repurposed in a third country. So you do need to think about it from at least a regional, if not an international perspective. So it'll be curious to see what happens, I think, in the next five years.
Elizabeth: [00:20:15] Absolutely. And that sort of painting of the picture across how it's playing out in these different levels is really interesting. It makes me think of this idea that using academic knowledge for these political purposes to impose ideology or to get elected or to get the other guy not elected, whatever it is, right. And I'm wondering if you have observed that related to your own work. Do you see the knowledge mobilization work that you're doing being kind of taken up for these political purposes?
Petra: [00:20:49] Yes and no. I mean, I think, again, because border issues are so contentious, I think border and migration issues themselves are always a political hot potato. We're definitely going to see that in 2024 in the US election. Absolutely. We're all kind of bracing ourselves for that.
Elizabeth: [00:21:06] Yeah.
Petra: [00:21:06] Yeah, the border is always a hot topic. I think what's been interesting for us, because, we take such a kind of grounded approach, and also, you know, you could say a transgressive approach in terms of like really saying "let's put a moratorium on border technologies", "let's think about red lines", "let's think about abolition of some of this really violent tech". It's been taken up by, I would say, like NGOs or non-governmental organizations and smaller entities and sometimes left parties in the European Parliament, for example, or some some parties in Canada, too. But in terms of like, you know, the the uptake on the regional and international level, it's more like, you know, we get pulled in for, kind of like, evidence gathering conversations or like, "oh, look what's actually happening on the ground".
Petra: [00:21:53] But when it comes to actually shifting the dial on issues, I'm not as optimistic because I think the kind of techno solution is bend to life in general and border enforcement in particular is there, and it's very, very difficult to dislodge. So it feels like very much an uphill battle or just, like, kind of David and Goliath situation. But, you know, it's all we can do is put this kind of on the public record. And I have conversations like this with my colleagues a lot. Sometimes it feels very futile. You know, like, for example, the European Union is currently undergoing a process where they're putting together an act to regulate artificial intelligence, which in and of itself is like a huge project because, how do you define AI?
Elizabeth: [00:22:33] Mm hmm.
Petra: [00:22:33] What is it going to do? You know, regionally, internationally, all of this. And we're trying to really get the policymakers to move the dial on border and migration issues, include more of it in the prohibitions. You know, talk about what what some of the impacts of the really egregious tech like A.I lie detectors and robodogs and drones and drone surveillance is. But you know we're not super hopeful that it will necessarily make it into the act. We're hoping! Because then that can set off a whole sorts of other processes that will be very helpful to to get the conversation going. But, you know, even if it doesn't, I think there's a lot to be said about putting something on the public record into the archive of, kind of, human storytelling and see where it can be picked up, whether by us in a decade or two or whether by people who come after us. I think there is something to be said about having these conversations, regardless of the kind of political outcome.
Elizabeth: [00:23:26] I think that's a really helpful framing there, because, you know, I started off the episode talking a little bit about how SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council), our funding agency in Canada that that I deal with. But many funding agencies have the same sort of idea of like, "Show me the impact, what's the impact?" And it's like, did you change the law? Right? Like, that's a massive undertaking. And anybody who can directly claim that they did it on their own probably is not really paying attention. So I really like that you have described how there is a meaningful outcome here and and even impact that we might not see for many, many years to come just by getting something on the record, just by getting it to be part of the conversation, regardless of whether or not the decision at the end of it changes.
Petra: [00:24:13] Exactly. And I think that's it's not very sexy, right? It's not sexy for, like funders and academics who are building their careers or activists. Like, people want to see results. Right. And again, that goes back to what we were talking about. What counts as success? What are your metrics like? What are you really doing? But I think we need to strip all that away and like really ask some of the broader questions, right? Like "How do we relate to each other?", "How can we make these processes more dignified?" "How do we just hold space for someone's experience?" You know, maybe that doesn't make it into the Hansard or the, or the the policy conversations. But I think that's the reverberations of those acts and those effects go much further than we realize. And that really gives me hope too.
Petra: [00:24:53] I think I've also, just in the place that I am, at with my work, I think it's okay to scale down the kind of "quote unquote" impact. And of course, I realize that, not everyone can do that because you do have certain strictures in terms of what the funder expects, what your boss expects. I mean, I don't really have a boss, so that helps, you know, But like, I mean, it's just it's also about like thinking strategically, like what is it that we want to accomplish? And, you know, for us, again, I'll go back to our fellowship example. We're funding five or six people from the mobile community and we could probably fund 20 and give them like a smattering of of the resources, but we would rather just focus on five people.
Petra: [00:25:28] I mean, the impact is small, but it's huge for the five people that we're talking about, right? And same with a policy conversation that you might have behind closed doors that maybe never makes it on the record, but someone might think about it over dinner with their family or next time they're making submissions before the parliament. Right. Like, you never know the kind of reverberations that these kind of conversations can have.
Elizabeth: [00:25:49] I completely agree with you. And in my own experience, I've definitely seen little conversations spark bigger things. And, you know, sometimes years later it comes back and you're like, Oh, there's a line that I can draw there. But I would imagine more often you never even know that there is a line to draw there because it's so hard to be able to track those kinds of reverberations that you're talking about. Are there ways that you have developed to communicate the policy impacts of your work and your center's work to those funders, to the people that are expecting metrics?
Petra: [00:26:28] I think, again, we're lucky because our funder, our current funder, is very, very amenable to very little reporting. They just understand, I think, in a way that I've never really experienced before, that a lot of the work is slow, it's quiet, it doesn't fit the kind of traditional metrics and must-do all sorts of heavy reporting, you know, And but that also, I think, is a relationship building that we've been able to do together. And they know what we're doing. We keep them updated regularly, you know, and I think we also really try and think about the kind of public facing distillation of some of the work.
Petra: [00:27:02] We have this observatory platform that's available in four languages, which is based mostly towards the community itself. It's very plain language. It's there for people on the move themselves to learn, but it's also, I think, a nice thing to be able to show a funder and say, okay, this is where some of the work lives. And doing also some media work too, I think can be quite helpful, like really trying to think through instead of doing another peer reviewed paper that no one read, you know how it is. Why not do an op ed in addition to that? Right
Elizabeth: [00:27:32] Mm hmm.
Petra: [00:27:32] Or If you're publishing something, maybe publish if you can in a trade publication as opposed to an academic press. All of these things, I think, again, are ways to to try and get the work out there and and think about the potential impact of it to.
Elizabeth: [00:27:45] Yeah, that all makes a lot of sense. And something that I have noticed in my own work and my own experience trying to have policy impacts is that it's the culmination of a lot of these things to the point where you are seen as somebody who has an opinion on this, who should be listened to on this, who you want to go to. Well, it used to be their Twitter feed. But Elon. Wherever, you know, seen as somebody whose opinion is worth paying attention to. And so, you know, from the academic perspective, there's conversations about like, well, how do you strategically build that for yourself if you want to have policy impacts? And I think that's a whole other podcast. But it also leads back to what voices count and who gets to participate in all of this. Is that something that you have encountered in your own work and how did you deal with it?
Petra: [00:28:38] I'm smiling because I'm thinking of a particular anecdote that comes to mind immediately. And I think this is also a little bit regional because I do find academics in North America and I'm totally generalizing, but I think there is this understanding that whether we like the term public, intellectual or not, there is this idea and understanding that like an academic has an opinion, right? That is part of your job. You develop expertise and then you talk about it from a an opinionated perspective. Objectivity, you know, is a is a farce in so many ways. But then I remember I was on the panel in Europe on border issues, and there were some people from the European Commission and in other entities and I forget who exactly brought this point up, but I was doing the keynote or whatever, and I take a very particular stance on on border tech because I think you're probably getting right.
Petra: [00:29:22] And then they were like, wow, you know, I thought this was going to be an objective academic discussion. And I was like, well, you know, "Yes, I am an academic. I have one foot in academia for sure, but I'm not objective" because I think, again, "objectivity in these kind of instances is is a fallacy". I mean, and the fact that we even have to say that, right, is very, very interesting, that the expectation again, was that this is going to be some sort of discussion divorced from reality and an opinion. I mean, of course, you have to modulate the way that you talk about certain things and, you know, you have to be strategic in terms of the kind of forum that you're in.
Petra: [00:29:58] You know, for example, I engage a lot with ideas on open borders and things like that. I wouldn't necessarily say that in certain policy conversations because that would get the door shut on on you immediately. And that that's also where our positionality comes in. You know, I operate in multiple different kind of frameworks in terms of my identity. And I have to think about how to position myself, I think in certain spaces, right? And also as a woman and, you know, like it's it's difficult still very much, I think. And for me, what's been what's been helpful is like oftentimes I bring in the kind of grounded perspective that still is, I would say, not as explored as it needs to be in the policy space.
Petra: [00:30:47] And so it gives it that sense of kind of novelty. And people oftentimes still, I would say, like policy makers hear some of these stories for the first time. And so that does then open up different conversations, I would say. But still, it's a very exclusionary space and then it's explicitly, so whether it comes across like ethnic lines, gender lines, methodology lines. I mean, yeah, that's definitely there. They expect a very particular expert to show up and sometimes they're surprised. But I like that.
Elizabeth: [00:31:17] Yeah. In what you were describing, the idea of framing came to mind. The idea of any information that we're going to share. The way you share it, the context in which you share it, the added information you provide around it that all frames how it's going to be understood and and taken on board or not. And so one of the things in knowledge mobilization that I talk about to my students is the ethics of when you should share information, who you should share it to, how you should present it. I imagine in the context of human rights broadly, but then in your particular work, where you are on the ground, interacting with people who are on the move, who are in these very vulnerable positions. You must kind of come up against this ethical dilemma very frequently about what to share, what not to share, and how to share it. Can you talk a little bit about navigating that?
Petra: [00:32:14] Yeah, that's a hard one. And, you know, it's very easy to kind of get it wrong, so to speak. And I definitely have. We all have. I mean, I think it's a very humbling experience, often, when you have to think strategically. Yeah. Like what you even ask about, right? And like how much space to give to a particular conversation or because ,yeah, we often talk about some very, very heavy things and the last thing you want to do is also retraumatize the person. I work from a trauma informed perspective. That's what I was trained in as a lawyer, and I take that very, very seriously.
Petra: [00:32:45] And even when you're on the ground, but then the next step is like then then what you do with with the information that you were entrusted with, because it is a relationship of trust. You know, I like the idea of story stewardship. You know, it's something that you have to take responsibility over the kind of evidence that you collect, the story, you collect the trauma that you also collect and then subsequently carry with you. I mean, it's something, that there's a huge level of responsibility. I mean, I'm always very open with the people that I work with and I often, you know, I think what helps me is I have ongoing relationships with with the people that I work with, not always, right?
Petra: [00:33:18] Sometimes I do more kind of responsive human rights monitoring work to where you will meet someone that you'll likely not speak to again. So you have to be very open about what is it that you're doing, where this might end up. I take anonymization very seriously. Very, very rarely will a person, for example, like their name and identifying characteristics, kind of stay in the story unless they really, really want to. For example, in my book that's coming out, the afterword is written by a friend of mine who's a Syrian refugee in Greece. Well, now in Germany, and he really wants his name there. Normally, I would push for a different name because I think, again, it's just you never know what this information might be used for. But also people have their own agency, right? They sometimes want to be part of these processes in that agentic way, especially when it's your project that you're kind of pulling them into, not their own project. That's a whole different conversation because then that's really up to them how they want to position themselves.
Petra: [00:34:12] But yeah, it's all these kind of ongoing conversations. And then taking it a step further, when you then start, kind of, thinking about how to put this information into a policy brief, or a presentation, or a set of submissions to the UN, you know, how do you not tokenize a person? How do you take a story and put it in there and in appropriate way? You know, I tend to reuse a few stories that I have permission to share that way, and that's deliberate because the person knew that this is, you know, and then they wanted this to to be out there. Right. But I wouldn't go, and just like, "oh, okay, great. This trauma tidbit is going to go in there", right? It is constantly a set of reflective practices too, and it's also very easy to get it wrong. And it does feel sometimes very exploitative, like even something like an article title, you know, like I use a particular quote here and there and sometimes it makes me uncomfortable. And that's okay, too, because like, you have to be uncomfortable in this work in order, I think, to do it right.
Elizabeth: [00:35:07] That's really interesting. We could talk for so much longer, but unfortunately we're coming up to time. So I'm going to give you your final question, which is the little pop quiz.
Petra: [00:35:18] I'm nervous.
Elizabeth: [00:35:21] Oh, don't be. I'm sure you're going to do brilliantly. All right. Imagine you have a midterm exam in my class. Short answer question. The question is, what is knowledge mobilization for policy impact?
Petra: [00:35:36] Ooof. Okay. All right. Back to grad school days. Yeah. I mean, I think for me, knowledge, mobilization for policy impact is really thinking strategically about what stories to tell and how to translate what's going on on the ground, in my case, to these echelons of power that are so removed from the daily reality of of the people who are most affected by the policies that are being made.
Elizabeth: [00:36:01] So eloquent. That was fantastic. Thank you.
Petra: [00:36:04] Thank you so much. This is a really great conversation.
Elizabeth: [00:36:10] All right. That was our episode on Knowledge Mobilization for Policy Impact. I hope you found it interesting. If you'd like to learn more about any of the theories or concepts we talked about today, you can check the show notes or head over to Polcommtech.ca for annotated transcripts of this episode available in English and French.