What does the literature tell us about brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners?

Jennifer Watling Neal, Brian Brutzman and Stephen Posner

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Understanding brokers, intermediaries, and boundary spanners: a multi-sectoral review of strategies, skills, and outcomes

Research evidence can help policymakers make decisions about society’s biggest challenges such as combating climate change, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking racial justice. However, exchanges between policymakers and researchers are complex and often require the help of individuals and organisations serving in broker, intermediary or boundary spanner roles.

Although brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners are recognised across the environment, health and education sectors, there have been limited opportunities to explore how literature across sectors characterises what these individuals and organisations do, what skills they need and what outcomes they produce. Therefore, in a recently published Evidence & Policy article, we reviewed 185 conceptual and review papers across the environment, health and education sectors with the goal of understanding the strategies, skills and expected outcomes of brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners.

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On the origin of a new knowledge exchange species: engineering evidence in policy

Adam Cooper

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Engineering advice in policy making: a new domain of inquiry in evidence and policy’

Every day in government ministries, decisions are being made that shape the world. Literally, not figuratively. Decisions are made that can move mountains, make holes in the ground, cause buildings to appear, decide where other things can land, park or moor. This shaping involves a profession of highly trained and skilled individuals known commonly as ‘engineers’. Most engineers work in the private sector but a small fraction work in government, providing advice to policy officials and ministers. In the UK, engineers in government are a hidden species, commonly clustered into the STEM acronym. Science and engineering are often used interchangeably, which may explain why there is a body of research on science advice but nothing explicitly on engineering advice.

In addition to the common failure to distinguish between scientists and engineers in policy is the way in which science advice is commonly understood: as a regulatory function that helps monitor the presence of toxic elements in the environment, and work out what to do about them. The work of Jasanoff in her book The Fifth Branch is an example of this, and it also tends to exemplify the ‘at a distance’ approach of the majority of science advice research. Engineers aren’t normally involved in this kind of ‘regulatory science’ – in the UK at least they are involved in implementation (though of course engineering, if nothing else, is a discipline of standards, as Yates & Murphy show). Instead, discovering this new evidence for policy species took a more ethnographic moment to reveal it.

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Duelling narratives: historical knowledge mobilisation in the United States

Joel Malin and Dustin Hornbeck

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Historical knowledge mobilisation in a post-factual era in the United States

Public debates about history are nothing new, but in recent years – with the convergence of new media platforms and a tumultuous political atmosphere – we have noticed debates centred on duelling historical interpretations are becoming increasingly conspicuous and are engaging the public. In fact, both evidence-based and false, or misleading, historical claims are being brought forth all the time, apparently in efforts to influence key decisions and/or pushing for social change. This drive to mobilise historical knowledge, we also assume, reflects a shared understanding that our history and how we think about it matters – i.e. that different understandings of the past can help us navigate the present, pointing the way to different policies and, perhaps, a more just future.

We understand this strengthening phenomenon as historical knowledge mobilisation, and we set out to better understand its underpinnings, nature and impacts. We drew upon Ward’s (2017) ‘framework for knowledge mobilisers’ to analyse what and whose knowledge is being shared and how and why this is happening. Though we focused primarily on university-based mobilisers (academic historians and history-adjacent scholars), we also observed how non-academics actively inhabit this territory. Indeed, as we revealed, historians and non-historians alike are acting to mobilise the usable past in service of the present. Further, and on a partisan basis, we detect duelling preferences for ‘historical memories’ that either motivate progressive social change or favour policy inaction/reversal.

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Embedding researchers in service organisations: what do initiatives look like and how can they be cultivated?

Dr Vicky Ward

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy articles ‘Embedding researchers into organisations: a study of the features of embedded research initiatives‘ and ‘A framework to support the design and cultivation of embedded research initiatives‘.

Embedding researchers in service organisations is the latest in a long line of approaches to better link the worlds of research and practice. Embedded researchers have become particularly popular in the field of healthcare, but can also be found in education and local government. As with any new initiative, one of the big questions on people’s minds is ‘does it work’? The problem, though, is that until now we haven’t had a clear picture of what ‘it’ (i.e. embedded research) is and how those interested in the approach might design an initiative.

To address this, our research team (a diverse group including researchers and healthcare managers) set out to better understand what embedded research initiatives look like in practice and produce a practical framework for anyone involved in designing or cultivating an initiative.

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Guidelines for healthcare about promotion of healthy lifestyle habits – what knowledge should they be based on?

Helena Lagerlöf, Teun Zuiderent-Jerak and Morten Sager

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Epistemological deliberation: the challenges of producing evidence-based guidelines on lifestyle habits

Drafting recommendations is an art that requires more attention to the choices between different views of knowledge, formats and standards and their ramifications.

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Four things we have learned about national evaluation policies in Africa

Caitlin Blaser-Mapitsa, Takunda Chirau and Matodzi Amisi

National evaluation policies are one way of demonstrating a willingness in government to promote the use of evidence in a systemic way. Our recently published Evidence & Policy article, ‘Policies for evidence: a comparative analysis of Africa’s national evaluation policy landscape‘, explores the relationship between evaluation policies and evaluation systems. We have found that policies are one piece of the puzzle acting to strengthen undertaking of evaluations, evidence use, and build evaluation practice in Africa.

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Why do many local governments fail to support evidence-based practice?

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Local politicians in action? The relationship between perceived prerequisites and actions of political committees responsible for social services in supporting the implementation of evidence-based practice


Annika Bäck

Basing health care and social services on the best available knowledge is a crucial policy issue in many countries to increase quality and reduce unnecessary, or even harmful, care. But as policy implementation research makes clear, what is formulated as goals at the national level is not necessarily what is implemented at local level.

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Pulling back the curtain: insights and a new tool for investigating the role of science in US Congress

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘A new measure to understand the role of science in US Congress: lessons learned from the Legislative Use of Research Survey (LURS)

Elizabeth C. Long, Rebecca L. Smith, Jennifer T. Scott, Brittany Gay, Cagla Giray, Shannon Guillot-Wright and Daniel M. Crowley

Want to conduct surveys with national-level policymakers about their research use, but not sure how? We at the Research-to-Policy Collaboration offer a new measurement protocol to understand the role of science in national-level policymaking and provide lessons we learned based on our experiences surveying congressional staff in the US.

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Stateless nomads, with little to trade (or how knowledge brokers are set up to fail and how to avoid this)

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Understanding knowledge brokerage and its transformative potential: a Bourdieusian perspective‘.

Graham Martin, Sarah Chew and Natalie Armstrong

Some problems in society result from institutions’ traditional tendency to work in isolation from one another. An example is the slothful pace at which evidence from healthcare research reaches practice:  some estimates suggest it can typically take as long as seventeen years. Increasing collaboration between institutions is the obvious remedy, but ‘If you think competition is hard, you should try collaboration’.

The institutional fields of research and practice have very different structures and value systems. This means that getting them to collaborate requires some external impetus. Recently, knowledge (brokering a range of activities designed to link the producers and users of knowledge by, for example, encouraging new relationships, devising new ways of working together, and helping to move knowledge across boundaries) has been promoted as a way of enabling collaboration and even bringing about changes in the working relationships of institutions. Knowledge brokerage has become a role in its own right, but its popularity as a remedy outstrips evidence for its efficacy.

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‘Let’s avoid reinventing the wheel’: using IKT to advance knowledge translation of a domestic violence research network

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Creating an action plan to advance knowledge translation in a domestic violence research network: a deliberative dialogue‘.

Jacqui Cameron, Cathy Humphreys, Anita Kothari and Kelsey Hegarty

Addressing domestic violence is not like some public health strategies that can be addressed with a straightforward prevention strategy. Although there are well over sixty different models of knowledge translation (KT) in the literature, a recent review of KT found the voices of survivors and diverse populations were often absent in KT examples.

To address this gap, we asked the following two questions of a domestic violence research network:

  • Is there a consensus regarding a coherent knowledge translation framework for a domestic violence research network?
  • What are the key actions that a domestic violence research network could take to enhance knowledge translation?
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