Worst Case Scenario: An Exercise

To get better, sometimes you have to think about the worst case scenario. This blog post is about a facilitated workshop activity that considers worst practices to support personal and collaborative change. Worst KTE practices

by Anne Bergen

What is the worst way that we can mobilize knowledge?

Knowledge mobilization* is about making information useful. It’s about:

  • helping information and knowledge flow among individuals and groups,
  • making decisions based on the best available evidence, and
  • creating relationships among people and networks.

The loftiest goals of knowledge mobilization are transformational, not just transactional. We want people not just to accept parcels of knowledge, but also to change their thoughts, feelings, and actions based on that knowledge. We want people to think and behave differently than they did before.

But there’s a problem. During knowledge mobilization training, it’s possible to get stuck on multi-layered definitions and conceptual models, leaving participants unable to answer the question:

“What does good knowledge mobilization look like?”

Yes, knowledge mobilization is about transformation of research knowledge into policy and practice. But non-specified “policy and practice” are dull. It’s hard to muster sustained enthusiasm for “policy and practice”, and it’s hard for trainees to be able to think about those terms in ways that are relatable and relevant.

Instead, a great way to start off a knowledge mobilization workshop is to think about worst practices, not best practices. That is, what could the participants do to get a really, really terrible result? What does knowledge immobilization look like?

At a recent training workshop for graduate students researching problem gambling, my colleague** and I gave a small performance of some of the worst knowledge mobilization and engagement practices:

  • Authoritarian credential-waving,
  • Condescension and over-simplification,
  • Sharing too much information, too quickly, and
  • Overselling research.

No one wants to be lectured by some bore in a lab coat, talked down to by an owl puppet, or be subjected to painfully complex visual materials. No piece of research is without limitations. This performance helped workshop participants start thinking about what really bad knowledge mobilization looks like. It was fun and relatively brief, lasting about 10 minutes.

We then moved into an interactive “Worst Case Scenario” exercise. A great description of this approach (and detailed instructions) can be found at the awesome Liberating Structures website.

First, we listed everything we could do to achieve the worst result imaginable of knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE)* for problem gambling research. So what do the worst problem gambling KTE practices look like?

  • Make sure your research is never used or useful.

  • Start by being a jerk to everyone, but particularly to people who might be potential collaborators or stakeholders in your research.

  • Wear a lab coat or tweed jacket at all times, and speak only in the densest of jargon (it’s the only way to make sure people know you’re a researcher).

  • Never identify stakeholders of your research, or if you do, make sure to never talk to them face to face.

  • Only share your research in closed-access peer reviewed journals and never post a copy on your institutional repository (even though you could).

  • If you are forced to create a knowledge mobilization product for your research, spend 15 minutes designing a poster in Word (lots of clip art!) and distribute only a few copies of that.

  • Always start research problems from scratch – never look at what others have done before, and especially never look outside of your own discipline.

  • Value only very specific forms of knowledge production, and be combative when other approaches are suggested.


Once the list of worst practice recommendations was in place, the group then talked about where they fell into these worst practices, and why. That is, what motivates bad knowledge mobilization practice? For example:

  • If graduate students are pressured to carry out quick research that lets them graduate “on time”, then slower, more collaborative research may not be possible.

  • Academic institutions and funders tend to reward peer reviewed publications, but not knowledge mobilization activities.

  • Sometimes we need to use jargon to demonstrate our expertise or to talk about concepts within a discipline.

  • We understandably place high value on our own disciplinary knowledge and methods.


We finished the exercise by reflecting on individual and group actions that needed to change to avoid the worst-case scenario and worst practices. Having taken on new ideas and challenged some pre-existing beliefs and assumptions, participants were hopefully ready and able to make space for change.

What kinds of changes did participants plan? They talked about:

  • Building in knowledge mobilization plans from the beginning of a research project, prioritizing open-access publication;

  • Creating plain language translations, and

  • Using jargon monitors during meetings and events.

Participants also talked about their deep commitment and passion for mobilizing, sharing, and using research knowledge, and how that shaped their graduate school and career options and choices. We looked at the worst things we can do in knowledge mobilization, in order to initiate better practices.

Identifying the worst-case scenario is a way to engage with complex concepts where both personal and systems-level change is needed. The same technique could be used in project planning, designing evaluation frameworks, or figuring out roles in a new collaboration.


Want to know more about what not to do in knowledge mobilization? Check out:

Oliver, K., Innvar, S., Lorenc, T., Woodman, J., & Thomas, J. (2014). A systematic review of barriers to and facilitators of the use of evidence by policymakers. BMC Health Services Research, 14, 2. doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-2. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1472-6963-14-2.pdf 


* Knowledge mobilization is complex, non-linear, and difficult to comprehensively define in a sentence or less. Sometimes knowledge mobilization is called other things (e.g., knowledge translation and exchange (KTE), knowledge translation and transfer (KTT); see also K* aka K-star). There’s a wiki to help with nuanced differences among definitions.

** Knowledge to Action collaborating partner Georgia Simms was the performance designer. Many thanks for her expertise.

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