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.
Janet Harris and Alexis Foster
This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Using knowledge brokering to produce community-generated evidence’
Non-profit community anchor organisations in England typically provide a range of support to local people, including wellbeing support, advocacy, social activities, and training and employment advice. This array of services takes a wider perspective on the determinants of health than the approach taken within the National Health Service (NHS), which generally focuses on mental and physical ill health.
Despite the different approaches, the funding for community anchor organisations is often dependent on the impact they have on health outcomes. Is this a good basis for judging the value of holistic support?
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.
This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘What do advocates want from policy research? Evidence from elite surveys‘.
Jake Haselswerdt and Elizabeth Rigby
Efforts to advance evidence-based policy quickly recognise the need for ‘research brokers’ to take on the critical role of linking the separate worlds of research and policy. Research brokers work in a range of organisations to transform, translate and package complex research findings into ideas and formats that can be used by policymakers, as well as facilitate meetings and establish relationships between researchers and policymakers. These research brokers are typically engaged in shaping the policy agenda, identifying promising solutions and influencing policy decisions. Yet, we know little about who plays that role, nor how they think about the evidence-policy connection.
Of particular interest are advocates working in foundations, think tanks, associations, lobbying firms and non-profit organisations pursuing specific policy objectives. These advocates are well-positioned to serve as research brokers since they are actively involved in most policy formulation and implementation processes and policymakers often use them as an important source of information. Yet advocates are also participants in the policy process who work to advance their own positions and preferences (and those of employers/clients). Research dissemination is just one of many tools advocates use to advance their policy goals.
You know the story. A lone cowboy (unfortunately never a cowgirl) rides away into the sunset having saved the day. The same expectations are often placed on knowledge brokers who bring together different communities to share knowledge and catalyse change. The lone knowledge broker is supposed to be a hero. But speaking from decades of experience, you just can’t do it alone. A single person does not have all the necessary networks, knowledge, understanding, skills or credibility. To be effective, knowledge brokers need teams.
In a unique experiment from 2013–2016, we set up the Bristol Knowledge Mobilisation team. This was made up of four local healthcare policymakers (called ‘commissioners’) and three primary care academics; all of whom had part-time contracts with both the university and in healthcare commissioning. Our aim was for both communities to draw on each other’s knowledge to create ‘research-informed commissioning’ and ‘commissioning-informed research’ (i.e. research of genuine relevance).