Anne Bergen, Gavan Watson and Caitlin Holton explore the relationship between academic data management and knowledge mobilization through the use of Evernote, the popular personal note-taking software. Evernote can be used for both sharing and storing information and can support and contribute to academic productivity and improved knowledge management practices.
Personal productivity software tends to attract fervent devotees. Googling “Evernote-super-fan” yields over 1.3 million hits. Finding the right application can transform the ways that people deal with information and task management, as well as creative workflows. Academics are knowledge workers, charged with finding ever more efficient ways of synthesizing and translating information. Academics also tend to be knowledge hoarders and sharers, collecting and distribution information and data between people and networks. The three authors reflect here as academics and Evernote users on the ways that this note taking, archiving, and data management software has changed the ways we work, and the ways we work with others. Further, we consider some ways in which productivity and data management software fits into the larger idea of “knowledge mobilization”, and how these systems can transforms the ways information is shared and used between groups of people.
Broadly, knowledge mobilization involves moving knowledge into action for the common good. This includes not only knowledge products, but also processes of knowledge creation and relationships among knowledge producers, knowledge users, and knowledge intermediaries. The diverse activities subsumed under the term “knowledge mobilization” have many names (see for example this concept paper and this definitional wiki). However, the common theme is that by sharing knowledge more effectively, and by increasing capacity for knowledge exchange, we are more likely to make decisions based on evidence, and act in ways that lead to positive social change.
Although this is a somewhat idealistic lead-in to a description of a productivity tool, we’re not saying that productivity software leads to social change, but rather that improved information sharing and knowledge mobilization can support and contribute to improved practices.
Evernote can be used for both sharing and storing information – that is, knowledge dissemination and knowledge management. We share here experiences from two Evernote power users to illustrate some of the ways that Evernote can mobilize knowledge – both within a single person’s life and between individuals and groups.
Evernote has acted as my digital repository since late 2008 and has become central to my way of collecting conventional knowledge in unconventional places and, in turn, discovering unconventional ways to use it.
I integrated it into my work as a doctoral student with my use evolving with me as I transitioned into an allied academic position after the completion of my PhD. This flexibility is part of its power. Initially, I was drawn to the service by having a single, digital copy of all my notes—rather than organizing my writing by moving from a physical notebook that held research notes to a notebook that held reading reflections, I simply added it all, entry by entry to Evernote. I used the skeuomorphic metaphors of “notebooks” and “notes” to help organize my work. By moving to digital entries, the work immediately became searchable and I quickly built trust in my ability to effortlessly (in comparison to flipping pages in a notebook and scanning my handwritten notes) search for what I was looking for and find it. Capturing information became equally as effortless. My physical and digital mobility was no longer a barrier to these efforts and, in turn I collected more information in more unexpected places.
I soon found I was able to capture what at the time was the unconventional—photographs taken and uploaded via smartphone, for example. Images uploaded to the service are scanned for text, and, in turn, become searchable. Much like digital objects aren’t limited in the same ways as their physical counterparts, my notes were further contextualized with the addition of metadata like geolocation and tags. This has offered the conventional information that I collected and organized in one way, discoverable in unconventional ways: for example, notes and photographs can be organized after the fact by location captured.
Anne described a tenant of knowledge mobilization as the ability to move knowledge into actions for the common good. I would describe Evernote as a tool to help enable this philosophy of practice: in being able to easily capture, organize, and find information, regardless of its form or origin, this service can help in lowering barriers in that movement of knowledge.
Since beginning my PhD in 2011, Evernote has been my go-to application. It is a repository of snippets—both of my own thoughts and of other content—that not only helps to keep me on track but also charts my development as a scholar. Some notebooks are devoted to the detritus that follow any project: booking confirmations, agendas, programmes, to-do lists, summaries, et cetera. Through stacks and tags, I make links between last year’s event and this year’s, with notes to myself regarding reminders or changes. I’ll add interesting bibliographies and syllabi I come across for later use, so that I find them again and credit their creator as appropriate. I’ve even begun creating email templates so that I can easily reuse material and save time.
I also use Evernote for more developmental processes, as a way to consider concepts and sort out my thoughts about them. Evernote’s access options (desktop, mobile, web) mean that I can record ideas anywhere they strike. One notebook, shared with a colleague, is devoted working out various models related to our individual research. As either of us find interesting definitions or diagrams, we add it to the notebook, analysing and evaluating its usefulness in turn.
Evernote is central to my own workflow, but it also helps me to keep track of other projects and people, linking everything together in order to help me “Remember Everything.”
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics.
Dr. Anne Bergen is Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator at the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship/College of Social and Applied Human Sciences, University of Guelph.
Dr. Gavan Watson is Educational Developer of Open Learning and Educational Support, University of Guelph
Caitlin Holton is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Scottish Studies, Department of History, University of Guelph