Knowledge brokers – a solution for knowledge translation?

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?


I conduct and supervise research that promotes the translation of quality research evidence for use in clinical practice.

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Posted in knowledge broker, knowledge translation, sustainability, using research
13 comments on “Knowledge brokers – a solution for knowledge translation?
  1. Well, I feel knowledge brokering roles are part of each and every step from the conception of research idea to the application of research findings. The research-policy-practice continuum is also linear. In my post I tried to highlight on the major roles of knowledge brokers in the research cycle. It is also important to work towards the reduction of ‘blocking’ roles. I look forward to read your next article on this issue.

    • thanks for the link to an interesting post – you have highlighted some subtle distinctions between brokering and blocking
      I am working on developing a brokering role within academic internships and fellowships… I will write more

  2. I would like to nominate you for The Versatile Blogger Award. Please accept it here:

  3. […] it “idealistic” for researchers to make use of knowledge brokers as recently pointed out in a compelling blog. The blog suggests the possibility of cutting out knowledge brokers as a “cumbersome link to the […]

  4. Thanks for starting the discussion. While I haven’t read the paper you refer to (the issue of Evidence & Policy is sitting on my kitchen counter waiting for me to read it!) the question of knowledge brokers is the subject of an increasing amount of research. As I read your post (correct me if I am wrong) I don’t think you are questioning the need for knowledge brokering, just the role of dedicated knowledge brokers.

    In my university based knowledge mobilization practice knowledge brokering is one tool in a broader knowledge mobilization/translation tool kit. Sometimes we need a knowledge broker. Sometimes a research team can be its own knowledge broker. Sometimes knowledge is connected using events or knowledge products (policy briefs, videos etc). However, even when knowledge is connected using products (the “evidence”) the PARIHS framework reminds us to be cognoscente of the need for evidence to be “facilitated” in “context”. It is this facilitation that takes us back to brokering.

    For more on the PARIHS framework see a journal club I posted last year at:

    So while we need knowledge brokering (=facilitation) do we need knowledge brokers? I propose it depends on context. In some contexts the knowledge brokering can be accomplished by communications functions (although I am not a fan of this…see the debate with 48 comments at In others a variety of actors can fulfil a knowledge brokering role. But in a university setting where there are few incentives and regards for faculty or even graduate students to be active knowledge brokers then I can make the case (and have successfully as I have two full time knowledge brokers at York University in Canada) that knowledge brokers create value for researchers, students and partners.

    • some great comments – thanks
      It is really helpful to consider the skills of facilitation as part of the core knowledge brokering toolkit – and conversely, to recognise that the PARIHS framework emphasises the need for knowledge brokers to facilitate communication, sensitive to the needs of the context and with respect to the experiential and scientific evidence.
      I must agree that the context is probably the defining aspect of whether individuals can be supported to developed knowledge brokering skills within academic roles…

      • Rick Riopelle says:

        Key to ‘facilitation as part of the core knowledge brokering toolkit’ is the complementary aspect of measurement of the process of facilitation to ensure fidelity..

        A recent realist review of interventions/strategies to promote evidence-informed healthcare focused on change agency notes a distinct lack of theory-driven approaches which are critical foundation pieces to advance any science.

        As such, it seems reasonable in crafting a measurement framework to use a contemporary theory-based approach as a foundation piece. Moreover, in the interests of utility by people (both patients/End Users and providers/Knowledge users), organizations, jurisdictions etc., all directed to the ultimate goal of impact effectiveness through change agency (willingness that is individually driven or facilitated), a quality framework including relevance, robustness, transparency, validity and rigour must be in place.

        Such appears to be the case as per which provides the theoretical basis to normalization process and links to the ‘toolkit’ (slide 28) called NPT.

        Carl May was part of an IPG Session at GIC ’13.

        Best regards;

      • yes Rick, measurement is crucial, but theoretically informed measurement provides some understanding about why facilitation works. I am little cynical about whether this is really possible – can you check the link to Carl May’s slides please?

      • Rick Riopelle says:

        Thanks for the alert with respect to Carl May’s slide presentation. It did not work for me either (but it did in August!).

        This link provides a more facile approach and is probably more informative .

  5. Rick Riopelle says:

    A timely blog as a newsletter alert was directed to me yesterday!

    I direct you to and go to ‘Materials from GIC 2013 are now available’ where you can get to Monday August 19,
    IPG Presents: Identity Crisis—Who Are Purveyors and Intermediaries and What Do We Do? Monday 9:00 – 11:00
    Robert Franks Connecticut Center for Effective Practices (CCEP) (United States)
    Christopher Bory Connecticut Center for Effective Practices (CCEP) (United States)
    This session covers the results of the IPG survey—a survey developed to follow up on the discussions among purveyor and intermediary organizations at the GIC 2011 and to further describe, differentiate, and define the work of these organizations. The session will also include a facilitated group discussion to identify areas of future inquiry and research and implications for the field.
    Session Materials; links you to IPO GIC Survey Results

    And you can check out what I do thus giving me the opportunity to participate in developing the survey at

    Best regards;

    • thanks Rick, and for the links to a comprehensive survey – will there be a paper or blog summary?
      I found it impressive that there was strong support now and 5 years ago for functions of; purveying (brokering, facilitating?) evidence-based practices, training/education, public awareness and consultation.
      Is this the core of brokering activities in your Spinal Cord Injury Knowledge Mobilization Network?

      • Rick Riopelle says:

        This is the core of SCI KMN brokering activity and it is used across the stages of the process beginning with site selection (developmental evaluation), the stage-based process of implementation linked to Plan Do Study Act cycles (formative evaluation), and to measure sustainability (sustainability evaluation).
        We are in the process of writing it up.

      • thanks Rick for the informative link to some great Normalization Process Theory resources, and the explanation.
        It is a challenge to conceptualise this whole process – so many different variants of many different components – l look forward to your write up!

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