This is another endnote in a chapter (3) that I am writing for The Science of Policymaking. I suggest that the identification of a ‘knowledge broker’ in practitioner studies is as problematic as the widely used but little understood term ‘policy entrepreneur’ in policy studies. So, an ostensibly simple recommendation (‘use a knowledge broker’) may, on its own, have little practical value.
Systematic reviews (such as by Oliver et al, in which you can chase up the other references) identify the word ‘broker’ but the individual studies to which they refer do not add up to a coherent account of who they are or what their role is:
- Dobbins et al’s (2009: 2) focus is on employing someone specifically to disseminate evidence. Their base description is someone working ‘one-on-one with decision makers to facilitate evidence-informed decision making’, as opposed to the provision of databases and computer-generated messages – then they try to test, with an RCT, an anecdotal expectation that they act ‘as a catalyst for systems change, establishing and nurturing connections between researchers and end users’, ‘improve the quality and usefulness of evidence that is employed in decision making’, and ‘a decision-making culture that values the use of evidence (2009: 3). Their evidence, based largely on brokerage provided by one person, is that they may be less important than computer generated tailored messages.
- Ritter (2009: 72) suggests that policymakers draw on ‘experts’, but expertise relates to broad knowledge of the field and a track record of engagement in government (so, there is not necessarily a direct link to scientists trying to supply new evidence).
- El-Jahardi et al (2012: 9) report that 45% of surveyed practitioners responded that they need brokers (‘people who bring researchers and their target audiences together and build relationships among them to make knowledge transfer and exchange more effective’) but that little evidence exists on their role or impact.
- Jack et al (2010) describe something different: ‘cultural brokers’, sharing information between an ‘aboriginal community’ and a community of researchers and policymakers.
- Jönsson et al (2007: 8) speculate that members of policy networks can be brokers.
- In some cases, articles which do not use the word ‘brokerage’ might still demonstrate a clearer role for specific professionals to address demand for evidence, such as to help commissioners gather and understand limited evidence on specialist services (Chambers et al, 2012: 144), or to facilitate a compromise between political and scientific beliefs (van Egmond et al, 2011: 34).
In short, I look forward to Oliver et al’s specific review of brokers, to see if there is more out there.