The keys to sustainability? Knowledge mobilization and community engagement. When should we start? Yesterday!

The keys to sustainability? Knowledge mobilization and community engagement. When should we start? Yesterday!.

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Sure, let’s #banbossy, but not in the way Sheryl Sandberg is talking about.

Sure, let’s #banbossy, but not in the way Sheryl Sandberg is talking about..

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Sure, let’s #banbossy, but not in the way Sheryl Sandberg is talking about.

Sheryl Sandberg ( Facebook exec and author of Lean In) has launched a social media campaign to ‘ban bossy‘ – a campaign she claims is aimed at encouraging young girls and women to embrace leadership roles by taking away the stigma of being labeled ‘bossy’.  Margaret Wente (someone I rarely agree with) summed the campaign up with this comment; “The fear of being labelled “bossy,” she [Sandberg] argues, has a real impact on girls’ lives, because it encourages them to sit down and shut up.”  Wente goes on to question the validity of this fear as it’s not really showing up in demographic trends in our school systems and in professional vocations such as medicine and law.  In fact, in the 2006 Census, women accounted for 60% of university graduates and are increasingly taking on public leadership roles as we see in provincial politics across the country.  But while Wente admonishes girls to ‘suck it up’ and learn how to conquer adversity, I’m left wondering if the whole campaign (and the reaction I’ve read to date) doesn’t just miss the point completely?

On the ban bossy website, there are downloadable PDF’s and suggested activities for girls, parents, teachers, and managers.  The brochure for girls is full of advice along the lines of encouraging girls to practice speaking up in class, to not end their sentences with a question, and to definitely not start their answers with an apology, as in, ‘I’m not sure if this is right, but maybe…’.  While this is all well and good, why is there a gender component at all?  What about the boys who are shy and don’t want to speak up?  What about the children who come from cultures where it is customary to state their opinions in an open and questioning manner?  And really, where does all this speaking up in a confident and self-assured way get us to at the end of the day?  I can picture a class of 10 year olds, all clamoring to have their voices heard, to be the ‘one who is right’ (because if you’re told to never start a statement with a question, are we not telling our kids that whatever they think must always be the truth?).   How will this play out in the long run?

I think the point might just be to ban bossy across the board – because do we really think that ‘bossy’ equates with leadership these days?  I’m not convinced that it does.  Sure, being confident in your own skills and abilities and feeling empowered to make decisions are positive messages to send our kids but shouldn’t we also be looking at developing and fostering the quiet leaders among us?  What if we taught all our children, regardless of gender, that not only do their thoughts and opinions matter, but so do those of the otherteamwork_kids children around them.  That the power of empathy and strong listening skills can be just as, if not more, important than consistently out-stating the person next to you.   What if we could teach our children the skills required to embrace collaboration and diversity rather than an individualistic approach to leadership?

I know that I’ve been labeled as ‘bossy and opinionated’ over the years, and as Margaret Wente comments; “Any girl who’s smart and assertive learns at some point that not everyone is going to like her.”  Wente’s advice to these girls is that you basically have two options, play dumb, or go find people who appreciate smart and assertive girls and hang out with them.  Nine times out of ten, I’ve chosen the latter option.  But again, I wonder why we accept this as the status quo?  We see in the business literature that collaboration drives innovation and in a recent study (published in Forbes magazine) by Cisco on innovation, they saw that human interaction was the key.  They found the following 4 key practices as the foundation for innovation:

  • Build relationships and networks that lead to trust
  • Turn human interactions into results
  • Balance decision-making and consensus building
  • Evolve the culture for productive collaboration

In my work in the field of knowledge mobilization, we also find that collaboration and creative brain-storming are key elements toward the effective translation and transfer of research knowledge between various stakeholder groups.  And to be sure, the most successful collaborative decision-making discussions involve a lot of people asking questions.  Phrases such as ‘I’m not sure if this is the way we want to go, but…’ can be just the opening needed for others to offer up their own thoughts and perspectives.  Being bossy, but calling it ‘leadership’, is not going to go very far in the complex and diverse landscape our children are going to find themselves working in as adults. So yes, by all means, let’s ban bossy, and while we’re at it, let’s take a good look at how we define leadership in general, and how we teach leadership skills to our daughters and sons.

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Knowledge mobilization through the lens of llama behaviour!

So, to explain the title of this blog post a bit more, this is the second installment in my series of crowd-sourced ideas for blog postings.  Yes, for those of you just joining in the conversation at this point, a little while ago, I asked my Facebook community for creative ideas to inspire some blogging.  You provide a topic, I’ll provide a blog post – simple, right?  Well as the first few ideas rolled in, I was quite enthusiastic; all topics I could easily spin a few paragraphs about, no problem, this was going to be fun.  Until, one clever participant threw a fly in the ointment: ‘llamas’. That was it, nothing further to explain why she wanted a blog post about llamas – for example, was she thinking of purchasing a llama and  hoping I could shed some light on whether this would be a wise decision or not?  I hope not since I know nothing about llamas! So I have decided to cheat a bit and combine the llama topic with another topic that came in: ‘what the heck is knowledge mobilization anyway?’ And since the term knowledge mobilization is in my job title and I get asked quite regularly to explain ‘what the heck do you do anyway?’, I’m hoping the llama’s viewpoint will provide new material for my answer to that question in the future!

First, I need to learn a little bit more about llamas so where better to go than my nearest search engine?  (ah Google, how did we all get by without you?)  I was expecting to find out a bit more about the rather notorious habit that llamas have of spitting at people and was mildly concerned that my thesis relating llama behavior to knowledge mobilization was just not going to go very far. After all, a group of researchers and research users sitting around spitting at each other would probably not be very productive! Happily for me, I discovered a greater depth and sensibility to the humble llama – for example, if they are well socialized from an early age, llamas can be very friendly and pleasant to be around (thank you Wikipedia!).  In addition, these friendly creatures (part of the Camelid family) are also very curious and quite easy to train to do simple tasks. Llamas have often been used as pack animals and for their wool, however, in recent years, sheep198883-llama-in-field-taken-from-wikipedia-creative-commons-image-quality-image and goat farmers have been using llamas to guard their livestock from predators such as coyotes and wolves.  Helpful creatures, these llamas!

Now how does this relate to the relatively unique profession of knowledge mobilization?  Well, to summarize what I’ve learned so far; llamas can be socialized, they’re friendly and curious, they can be protective, and by their very nature, they provide useful services that over the years would have allowed for sustainability of local economies.  And what are some key characteristics of individuals working within the field of knowledge mobilization?  Generally, we are a very curious and friendly bunch of people and we’re particularly happy when we’re socializing!

One of the key elements of knowledge mobilization is the belief that knowledge is meant to be shared and also that it should be shared with the people who need it in the form that they can use it.  For example, this week I’ll be meeting with a research team that has been working on drought management for agricultural soils – important knowledge that farmers would want to have access to; so we need to figure out the best way to package and pass along this research. In the agricultural world, this is a traditional practice, typically referred to as ‘extension‘ and still actively used around the world to share research results with producers in order to improve crops, promote conservation of resources, and to improve profitability.  But as the saying goes, the only constant in life is change and so it is with extension…as other research areas caught on to this notion that knowledge should be shared more effectively and openly (in contrast to the traditional academic model of publishing only in peer reviewed journals which are largely unavailable to the general public), new terms began to appear on the scene.  One of these terms was knowledge mobilization – an old concept in new packaging (and some new elements as well but that’s a topic for another day!).  For some good definitions of knowledge mobilization, check out the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship, Agri-Food and Rural Link, and Research Impact.

And this brings us back to the llamas – in addition to the friendliness and curiosity that we have in common, I also think that we share the ability to be protective when we need to be.  Knowledge is a valuable and sometimes powerful commodity and it demands careful management and stewardship. And just like a young llama, knowledge needs to be well-handled from an early age to reach its maximum potential, and that is exactly what a good knowledge mobilization plan can do for you. So be friendly, be protective when you need to be, and most importantly, always stay curious!

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Happy Birthday U of Guelph!

As I get ready to head over to the University Centre for a kick-off celebration of 50 years of the U of G being officially a university (as opposed to the founding colleges granting degrees from the U of T prior to 1964), I am reflecting on the fact that my family has been involved with Guelph for almost all of those 50 years.  From the time my father first did his Masters degree here in the early 60’s, to when he later joined the faculty (I think in 1965), to when my mother competed a Bachelor’s of Applied Science here in the 1980’s and to when I (and I’ll admit reluctantly) became a student here in ’89.  My initial reluctance stemmed from the fact that I would rather have been riding horses than doing anything remotely resembling studying, however, once I switched majors to the Natural Resources Management program and met one of the most influential people in my life, Dr. Stew Hilts, reluctance quickly shifted to enthusiasm.  To think we could have classes out in the Arboretum and spend our time learning how to identify trees, woodland plants, and all of the complex interactions of the ecosystem.  This was more like it!

After trying to move on to different ventures over the years, it was like there was an invisible connection to this beautiful campus and I returned twice to complete both my masters and PhD degrees here as well.  Possibly not the best move in terms of an academic career but with such wonderful faculty mentors to work with, it was hard to see the benefit of going elsewhere.  In more recent years, through my involvement with the Office of Research and the important partnership that the U of G has with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs, I have come to understand even more just how deeply our Guelph roots go in terms of the breadth and depth of knowledge related to the delivery of a safe, healthy, and innovative food system in the Province.

As I think ahead to what the next 50 years might be like for Guelph, I think of the campaign that the Community Foundations of Canada is initiating for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, ‘Smart and Caring Communities’.  It seems logical to me that the University of Guelph with its track record of excellence in both teaching and research and its well-known spirit of community involvement and engagement, that the ‘Smart and Caring’ slogan could work for us as well.  As academic institutions continue to evolve to meet the demands of budget restraints, changing demographics, technological advances, and public accountability, we can be both smart and caring in our approaches. Smart in how we embrace the scholarship of teaching and learning, in how we foster innovation through research and community collaborations, and in how we facilitate excellence in staff, students, and faculty alike.  But any university can do all of those things, where I believe Guelph can truly set itself apart is in the ‘caring’ piece.  We can be caring in how we open our doors to the community, how we embrace diversity in both our student population and in our staff and faculty, how we continue to strive for solutions to issues facing society including caring for vulnerable sectors of the population and the natural environment.

Happy birthday U of G!  May your future be bright!

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Finding balance in a slice of pie.

OK, well, I asked for it and my good friends on Facebook offered up several interesting (and challenging) topics for blog posts.  I should have thought that through a bit and required some built-in reciprocity because now I have all sorts of ideas for topics that I would love to hear my friends’ thoughts on! (I think that could become a whole blog post of its own actually!)

One of the suggested topics was ‘balance’ – as in how do people manage to balance work time with family time, family time with personal time, farm time with social time, social time with community time, and the list could go on.  And as someone who tries to do all those things, I often wonder what the magical answer is myself so I’m glad this came up a suggested topic! Nothing like a little incentive to force myself to spend some time thinking about this important question.

I’ll start things off by saying that I’m not a fan of the term ‘work-life balance’ – I’m not sure I agree with the concept that the two activities are separate entities, nor should they be really.  Does your ‘life’ stop temporarily the moment you walk into your work space?  And vice versa, is your work so completely disconnected from who you are that it stops the moment you leave? I think we would all do ourselves a favour if we embraced the fact that work is an important part of who we are and also that we each bring value to the workplace by bringing our ‘whole selves’, including our values and aspirations, to work every day.

In a 2011 Globe and Mail article, Barbara Moses suggests that we should forget the pursuit of balance altogether and instead, think of our lives as chapters.  She suggests that “You can never have it all at any given time….you will have ample opportunity to satisfy other desires in later chapters.”  I think this notion of ‘chapters’ is helpful, especially for those of us who are trying to balance the responsibilities of parenting with efforts to improve our careers.  While you can certainly muddle your way through, letting yourself focus on one thing or another at a given time can absolutely be the right thing to do.  And don’t beat yourself up feeling guilty about saying ‘no’ to some of the demands that come your way!

In terms of my own efforts to find balance, well, let’s just say it’s a work in progress!  I have a feeling that I will look back some day and realize that this was an extremely busy ‘chapter’ in my life. Balancing the needs of a small hobby farm with the responsibilities of work and parenting seems to leave little time for lots of other things I wish I could be doing. And I must admit that I’ve pulled snow pants over good ‘work’ clothes to rush out and feed ponies before hitting the road to the office. I also once gave a colleague a good laugh when I said I’d be a couple of minutes late because “I have to text my farrier”.  (not only did she think it was odd to know someone who had a farrier, but that I had a texting relationship with this person seemed to strike her as particularly funny – but hey, you do what you have to do when there are 5 ponies relying on you!).Image

I was talking about this topic with my daughter the other day as I was a bit concerned she was spending too much time on her homework (I know, teenagers these days right?!).  I used the analogy of a pie, in that you need to think of your life as a pie with the different slices representing the all of the important activities that contribute to a healthy life, such as school/work, friends, exercise, community involvement, family, etc.  If you’re eating one big chunk of pie and it’s all work or school with no time for the other things that are important to you…well, enough said, I think the end result is pretty obvious!

All kidding aside though, finding a healthy balance in life is really important for our health, for effective workplaces, for cohesive and happy families and for our communities.  On an individual basis, I think it’s really important to recognize, and value, those things that are important to you, the things that you feel ‘jazzed’ about, and to make time for those things in your life.  It’s also important to recognize (and take action) when things are just a bit too far out of balance. While surfing the web looking for inspiration for this post, I came across this ‘work-life balance’ quiz from the Canadian Mental Health Association. If you’re feeling a bit stretched, you might want to try the quiz, I found it to be quite insightful. Interesting food for thought as we start a new year – and now I think I’ll go spend some time with my kids!


Fun in the snow. (photo credit: Jim Wilton – aka Grandpa!)

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A year in the life of the Chauvin-Wilton family!

This is a bit late in the game for a 2013 Christmas letter to friends and family but I thought it would be nice to capture the highlights of the past year with a look ahead to 2014 before we get too far into January!

2013 will forever be known as the year of the ‘ice storm’ in our family.  With twoImage major ice storms, one in April and the second one in December, we gained a whole new appreciation for the electricity that keeps us warm and comfortable out here on the farm.  Within an hour of the power going out during the April storm, our basement started flooding with water from the sump pump that was no longer able to do its 24/7 job in our house that seems to have been built right on top of an artesian spring (if only we could think of a good way to bottle all that water!).  Pierre quickly headed into town and bought the last generator available while the kids and I tried to bail out the basement to no avail.  With the new generator running and the sump pump back in business, we were able to avoid a complete catastrophe thankfully!  The generator turned out to be the purchase of the year though as we faced an even longer power outage in December.  For four days, we kept the sump pump, the fridge and a rotating series of space heaters, kettles, and toaster going as we tried to make the best of a cold and dark Christmas holiday.  Luckily friends and family welcomed us into their homes for much needed warmth, hot showers, and wonderful meals. Even more valuable than power – good friends and family!


Maddy (white t-shirt) with new friends in Ecuador

Aside from the adventures of living without power at various points throughout the year, we enjoyed lots of other fun experiences, some as a whole family and now that the kids are getting older, they’ve started venturing out on their own to see the world and learn new things. Madeleine embraced the adventure concept whole-heartedly and signed up for a Me-to-We trip to Ecuador this past July.  With generous support from family and friends and her own savings from her part-time job at the Wellington County library, she was able to spend two weeks traveling and volunteering in Ecuador with a wonderful group of young people from across Canada and the United States. She came back with new friendships, a renewed passion to make a difference in the world, and a new focus for where her post-secondary studies may take her.


Noah in his staff jacket!

Noah put his own spin on the idea of an adventure and applied for a position as a camp counselor at the Gryphon Day Camps at the University of Guelph and happily accepted his first official offer of employment.  So Noah and I became car-pooling buddies for the summer as we headed off to the U of G every morning – it was fun to have some company for a change and he always had some good stories to tell at the end of the day!  He also made new friends, learned a lot about leadership skills, teamwork, and how to stay patient with little people. Not to mention having his own paycheque of course!

Every day is an adventure for Sara!  She is always busy, always planning, always dreaming, always creating, and always quick with a bubbly laugh, a clever comeback, a beaming smile, or a wonderful hug.  For the first half of 2013, Sara was busy swimming with the Orangeville Otters, a sport she loves but it also comes with a high time commitment and with a renewed interest in ponies this summer, Sara made the difficult decision to leave the Otters and focus on riding.  Not one to walk away from something completely though, Sara is now planning to ‘swim the Grand’ at the Fergus pool.  In July, Sara and Pierre headed off with friends for a ‘father-kids’ canoe trip in Algonquin Park.

Sara and Stetson

Sara and Stetson

In spite of record numbers of black flies and mosquitoes and sweltering heat, they both enjoyed their trip tremendously!  Pierre was also quick to revise our own plans for a canoe trip later in the summer as he now had a better understanding of just how long a portage could be! Phew!  Sara is also busy getting to know her new pony Stetson and they got off to a good start by winning the low hunter championship at the Fergus Fall Fair in September.  She was happy to be back with her friends at Mill Ridge Pony Club for fun with Prince Phillip Games, and this year, she’s looking to try her skills out at tetrathlon and hopefully some more show-jumping competitions as well.  2013 was also the year that Sara discovered the joy of riding ‘real’ horses as she has been lucky enough to ride some lovely dressage horses (thanks Trish and John!).

In August we struck out on a family adventure with 2 canoes, 2 tents and a bag of food tImagehat would hopefully last for 5 days out on the lakes of Algonquin Park.  Although we started out in rainy conditions, by the time we set up our first site, it was clear and dry and the rest of the week was absolutely wonderful.  What a great way to relax and recharge before the start of a new school year!

We also continue to enjoy our farm and the motley crew of animals that share our space with us.  We found a wonderful new home for Willy this summer and we also said a sad (but necessary) final good-bye to Pepper.  TOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhe chickens continue to provide lovely fresh eggs and are quite fun to have around the place.  We’re lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country and really enjoy being part of rural Ontario.

Pierre and I continue along in our career paths – Pierre as a partner at MHBC Planning in Kitchener and I’m still at the University of Guelph, managing knowledge mobilization and communication programs for the Partnership between U of G and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs.  I can now often be heard to say ‘did you know there’s a study about…?’ much to the chagrin of the kids!


Pierre and Bronwynne sliding into 2014!
Photo credit: Jim Wilton

Looking ahead to 2014, this will be the year that we’ll have 3 teenagers in the house, the year that Maddy will likely move out to start the next chapter of her life at university, the year that Noah will get his driver’s license, the year that Sara will continue to have fun with the horses, the year that the kids will continue to learn, travel, and gain new experiences, and the year that we will continue to wish all the best of health and happiness to our wonderful network of family and friends!!

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