Published on 18 January 2021
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Knowledge Brokers: How to engage with knowledge brokers

Engaging with knowledge brokers

Engaging with knowledge brokers

Introduction – who is a knowledge broker?

Knowledge brokers are often thought of as agents, intermediaries or translators[1], who support evidence-informed decision making by facilitating relationships, interaction and engagement between academics and policy makers.  There are organisations such as the Centre for Science and Policy and the Royal Society who act as conveners by bringing together academics and policy makers.  They can create conducive environments to enable the take up of scientific expertise and be effective influencers of policy and amplifiers of evidence.  Research institutes, academic networks, learned societies, think tanks and charities could all be labelled as knowledge brokers.  They often fulfil multiple complimentary functions, such as fostering networks and synthesising evidence, and work at different levels of influence.  Knowledge brokers have resources to help you get your research in front of policymakers with specialist staff skilled in such areas as engagement, event planning and communications.  They can provide platforms and channels for early to mid career researchers to promote their work and establish their reputation.  As a useful route to policy makers they are worth linking up with when thinking about who you might want to target.  Using a mixture of policy engagement methods, such as working with knowledge brokers, alongside any direct engagement with a policy maker can help maximise the impact you are likely to have.

Why should I work with a knowledge broker?

Knowledge brokers are increasingly advocated as a potential solution to bridge the gap between academia and policy makers by acting as intermediaries who can mediate between the world of academics, (interested in longer term research and under pressure to publish in academic journals), and policy makers (under political pressure, public scrutiny and who need timely practical input to make decisions).  Scientific expertise and evidence often comes to the attention of policy makers via multiple routes.  Based on interviews with ten Government Departments, the Institute for Government found that academic evidence often reaches policy makers through knowledge brokers[2].  Knowledge brokers can do this by establishing strong social networks between those that produce knowledge, scientists, and those that use it, decision makers or policy officials.

Knowledge brokers may also have a better understanding of the deeper nuances of the policy process – power dynamics, informal rules and norms – that takes time to develop.  They can therefore help researchers understand the operating environment or political context within which policy is made and implemented and help you tailor your communications accordingly.  Understanding policy contexts can be challenging and time consuming.  In addition the science/policy literature suggests that effective strategies for policy engagement are often highly context dependent [3], with policy often determined as much by the decision making context as by any research evidence[4].  Given an academic is unlikely to be able find the time to immerse themselves fully in the complexities of policy making, the use of a knowledge broker becomes more attractive.

Knowledge brokers can also help you identify the most appropriate way to engage and influence policy makers.  Building coalitions of expertise and establishing rapport with relevant knowledge brokers can also help build support and credibility for your scientific knowledge which could then be quickly mobilised if a ‘window of opportunity’ opens up.

What to do next?

The  downloadable booklet below provides practical ways to engage with knowledge brokers.


References on this page:  

[1] See Dr. Tanya Filer’s blog on the need for ‘translators’ to guide interactions between technical professionals and policymakers:
[2] Sasse T and Haddon C (2018) How Government can Work with Academia, Institute for Government
[3] Langer, L., Tripney, J., & Gough, D. (2016). The science of using science: Researching the use of research evidence in decision-making. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College of London
[4] Oliver, K., Innvar, S., Lorenc, T. et al. A systematic review of barriers to and facilitators of the use of evidence by policymakers. BMC Health Serv Res 14, 2 (2014).

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