Can knowledge brokers help translate research evidence into practice – or do they add another cumbersome link to the chain of knowledge translation?
This sounds very positive when you review the definition of knowledge brokers in health policy – they facilitate interactions between decision makers and researchers so they can both understand each other’s goals and professional cultures and influence each others’ work to promote the use of research evidence in decision making. Further, three main activities have been identified:
- managing knowledge to make existing evidence accessible to those who need it
- facilitating interactions between decision makers and researchers towards solving practical problems
- enhancing the communication, analytical and interpretation skills of those involved in doing and using research
This is so idealistic that perhaps, it is unattainable. It is useful to read a longitudinal analysis of 7 formalised full time knowledge broker roles within a series of health research-practice collaborative projects in the UK. The authors highlighted structural issues around professional boundaries, organisational norms and career pathways that made these roles difficult to sustain. Most knowledge brokers described ambiguity within their roles and expectations from both healthcare and research environments. While they suggested ways to manage these challenges, they often diluted the distinctive characteristics of these roles.
So I am left wondering whether knowledge brokering should really be an aspect of an individual’s work roles, rather than a whole role? Further, could we recognise the knowledge brokering role within teams of decision makers and researchers who are working together over time to improve practice in a specific area? What if several researchers and decision makers met regularly to monitor and discuss ways of managing access to knowledge, to solve practical problems?