Getting the word out: How knowledge gets shared on islands

| Research
A smiling older man in a dark suit
D. James Randall

You might think a conversation at your local coffee shop or at the hockey rink is just something you do in passing, but recent research done by the Institute of Island Studies (IIS) at UPEI says there is more to it than that.

In January 2020, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) asked Canada’s network of 27 UNESCO Chairs to contribute papers on knowledge mobilization (KMb): how research gets into the hands of people who can use it. UPEI’s UNESCO Chair looked at how knowledge is mobilized on islands across Canada. Knowledge on islands was one of six submissions selected for CCUNESCO’s final report, Imagining the future of Knowledge Mobilization: Perspectives from UNESCO Chairs.

Too often, informal and local knowledge on islands is thought of as being less important than the formal knowledge that we get from government, researchers, or other organizations. It turns out that what really creates resilience on islands is informal knowledge that we share in our day-to-day lives when we get together. The research also shows that if this knowledge is not valued and included in planning and decision-making by those in positions of power, they risk making communities more vulnerable.

“I think most islanders know the value of what they might learn at the local coffee shop, but it doesn't necessarily register for decision-making bodies, especially those not on the island such as a federal government department,” said Dr. Jim Randall, UNESCO Chair in Island Studies and Sustainability at UPEI. “This knowledge-sharing is not just important in the day-to-day lives of people, but also in how they address more significant challenges such as climate change or a pandemic.”

Randall was joined by Dr. Laurie Brinklow, interim co-ordinator of the Master of Arts in Island Studies program, and Master of Arts in Island Studies student Marlene Chapman to complete the project. Their research included focus groups in Atlantic Canada, the Great Lakes, and British Columbia’s west coast. The team found that knowledge-sharing is different on islands than on the mainland. Their chapter in the report details these differences and makes recommendations about how islands might make use of this information to make their communities more sustainable in the future.

Both English and French versions of the report can be found here.

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