Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical

Megan Auld, Emmah Doig and Sally Bennett

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical: an analogy for explaining the role of knowledge brokers in a university setting’.

It would be an untruth to say that we knew exactly what we were doing when we started our role as knowledge brokers. As experienced clinicians and researchers we’d lived on both sides of the knowledge-action coin, and we’d certainly had a few good tries at making them come together. The literature told us we were ‘capacity builders’, ‘knowledge managers’, ‘boundary spanners’ who required a myriad of personal characteristics to pull this thing off (only some of which, to be honest, I thought I actually possessed). Here began a journey to make the theoretical come to reality and after living and breathing knowledge brokerage in a university setting for a year, we wanted to make sure that the experiences we had would span the boundaries of knowledge for other would-be brokers.

In an exploratory study, as two knowledge brokers we recorded our activities within a school of health in a large university setting using the Expert Recommendations for Implementation Change (ERIC) categories over a period of nine months and reported the results in our recently published Evidence & Policy practice paper. We wanted to make sure that we helped knowledge brokers know what the job consisted of when they showed up to work on a Monday morning. Thus, the birth of Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical – an analogy to help explain the role of knowledge brokers in higher education.

When you sit in the audience on opening night of a new musical, you rarely think about all that has had to happen to make the production happen. But the clarity of the story is only possible because many parts have worked together to make the whole – the set design and costumes, the lighting and music all helps you understand what happens on the stage before you. Knowledge brokerage in higher education was a lot like this:  The performance of a knowledge ‘musical’ by academic actors for a consumer audience who provide feedback, with the knowledge broker performing many critical behind-the-scenes roles in the lead up to the performance. 

Using this analogy and the corresponding data on how our time was allocated we proposed five main principles of practice for knowledge brokers in higher education:

1. Know your audience, cast and crew: develop stakeholder inter-relationships

To successfully play their part, your cast and crew must work well as a team. The knowledge broker plays a key role in initiating, developing and nurturing relationships with and between others. In our experience, relationships were the key ingredient to knowledge transfer success.

2. Train your cast and crew: train and educate stakeholders

To deliver a musical, specific training is required. Based on our data, the primary task of a knowledge broker in higher education is to train their cast and crew. Just like the director would identify the needs of the actors on stage and target training accordingly, so too the knowledge broker identifies and targets training towards the knowledge gaps of their recipients.

3. Rehearse and review: use evaluative and iterative strategies

In a musical, rehearsing and reviewing is critical for a successful performance; in knowledge brokerage evaluating the implementation is similarly essential. Just as a musical director knows the ability of his cast to deliver the story, so too, the knowledge broker must examine the baseline readiness of the people they are working with and identify barriers to moving forward.

4. Provide hands on support: provide interactive assistance, tailor to the context, change infrastructure

For a musical to take place, significant local technical assistance is required. Sometimes the knowledge broker plays the role of sound and lighting director – ensuring the message is heard and seen accurately, or costume designer – providing local technical assistance to ensure the knowledge fits and is tailored to the audience.

5. Team Knowledge Broker

To date, the knowledge brokerage literature consistently reports a role that is large and varied, potentially leading to unrealistic expectations about the skills of any one broker. Perhaps, like the musical, it was never meant to be the role of one but a team of several people with varying skills who work together. We would never ask someone to simultaneously direct, do makeup and set design and so it is also unrealistic to expect a knowledge broker to be all things to all actors.  For us, the sense of team made this incredible journey all the more rewarding and productive.

Using these principles of practice as a guide, we hope considering the musical analogy will support future knowledge brokers to understand their place in the knowledge translation story, to measure their success against these principles highlighting their own value and to change practice and policy so that knowledge brokers can become part of core business within the university sector.

Dr Megan Auld; The University of Queensland; CPL-Choice, Passion, Life;

Dr Emmah Doig; The University of Queensland;

Professor Sally Bennett; The University of Queensland;

You can read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

Auld, M. Doig, E. and Bennett, S. (2022) Knowledge Brokerage: The Musical: an analogy for explaining the role of knowledge brokers in a university setting. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/174426421X16397424861558.

Image credit: Photo by Gwen King on Unsplash

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Understanding knowledge brokerage and its transformative potential: a Bourdieusian perspective

Inside out: knowledge brokering by short-term policy placements

Understanding brokers, intermediaries, and boundary spanners: a multi-sectoral review of strategies, skills, and outcomes

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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