Knowledge Broker Q&A: Ogai Sherzoi
By Trish Roche
Knowledge brokers — often the ‘doers’ of knowledge translation — are increasingly used to close the gap between research and practice, and facilitate the development of relationships that are critical to effective knowledge translation. In one of our very first posts, Leah reflected on her then *new* job as a knowledge broker. We’ve also heard from University of Winnipeg’s Program Officer of Research Partnerships Jill Condra, Knowledge Translation Manager Anneliese Poetz of Kids Brain Health Network, former DEVOTION Knowledge Exchange Coordinator Leanne Dunne, and the George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation’s own Knowledge Broker Trish Roche. In another post, Trish summarized a systematic review on the roles of a knowledge broker, which highlighted the high level of diversity and work that knowledge brokers do.
Here at the George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI), we have knowledge brokers working in various capacities — patient engagement, developmental research, and pediatric emergency medicine. In this series, we highlight the backgrounds, experiences and work that knowledge brokers do.
This week we chat with Ogai Sherzoi, Patient Engagement Knowledge Broker for CHI. Her current work is focused on meaningful, safe, and appropriate engagement with patients and members of the public in health research.
What is your background and how have these skills helped you in your current role?
Ogai: “I was drawn to the social services field due to my own personal experiences with immigrating to Canada. At a young age, I came to the realization of the importance of support systems in one’s life. I saw the positive impacts it had for me and my family. I wanted to give back and be able to support others in need. I started with the Child and Youth Care Diploma Program at Red River College, where I gained knowledge and skills of working with individuals in variety of settings (one on one, in a group).
I also learned the importance of personal work. In order to be able to give to others, we need to have a greater understanding of ourselves. We don’t want to negatively impact the people we’re working with because of unresolved issues in our past. We need to be healed in order to walk beside others who need healing.
Once I began working in the field as a frontline worker, I realized the inter-connectedness and reciprocal relationships between individuals, families, communities, and society. It was important for me to expand my knowledge and skill set to be able to work across and within different systems. I entered the Family Social Sciences program (Human Ecology) at the University of Manitoba. This training helped me learn how to work across different stakeholder groups — families, school systems, and communities — to engage in a meaningful, culturally safe, and appropriate way.
I still felt a piece was missing, in terms of how these networks connect with the individuals I work with, and how any services and programs we have for individuals are deeply rooted and connected to policies, structures, and systems — the bigger picture.”
We need to be healed in order to walk beside others who need healing.
“Social work was kind of my goal from the beginning — to work from a foundation of social justice and change, advocating for others, and looking at the world through an anti-oppressive lens. To make a significant difference in peoples’ and communities’ lives, we need to change policy. Working on the front line is great, but if the system isn’t changing and forms of oppression like racism and sexism aren’t being addressed, we are just keeping up the status quo. I looked to these different avenues to gain the skill set to really advocate for policy change.”
And how does this experience and education help you in your role as a knowledge broker?
Ogai: “As a social worker, I have worked with diverse populations and age groups across different settings — including addictions and mental health, women’s and children’s hospital, one-on-one therapy and developing tools with the community regrading well-being. I love people, and I want everyone to be able to live their best life in whatever capacity that is for them.
Having this experiential knowledge and education fits perfectly within my role as a knowledge broker in patient and public engagement. At CHI, we work with so many different community members, patient and public partners, researchers, policy-makers and other stakeholders. My background helps me be able to work across cultures and translate knowledge in a way that’s accessible, meaningful, and easy to understand for the people that knowledge pertains to. Having the social justice and anti-oppressive lens helps me to ensure engagement activities with stakeholders are done in a safe, trauma-informed way and ensure diverse voices are present and heard.”
How do you describe what you do to friends and family?
Ogai: “It’s interesting; I always tell them I’m a social worker, because that’s often easier to understand. I also tell them I work with researchers to facilitate group discussions, build relationships with communities, and advocate for diverse voices to be heard in research so that when policies are created, they’re helpful to the people who live in our communities. As a knowledge broker, I take knowledge and present it in a way that makes sense to everyone.”
What advice would you give to a new knowledge broker?
Ogai: “It’s exciting — your job will never be boring. You need to be flexible and adaptable — you will continuously be challenged to do things in different ways, but it gives you variety day to day. You might be facilitating a meeting, having coffee or tea with community members, or discussing policy. It is a breath of fresh air, and you are given the opportunity to find new ways to achieve goals.”
What’s the most rewarding or unique project you’ve worked on?
Ogai: “I worked as a Project Coordinator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Mental Health Promotion Team to create a tool to enhance the well-being of newcomer children, youth and families. Initially, we thought to create a brochure, but through consultations with community members, organizations, and experts in the field, it became clear that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ tool. Each person will identify different modes for tools that enhance their well-being.
What we ended up doing was creating a video to start the conversation about well-being. It asks individuals what helps them get through hardships in life, including resources, and encourages viewers to do the same. The tool comes from a place of resilience and strength — approaching mental health through a strengths-based, solution-focused lens, and uses the tree of life. The video is available with subtitles in both English and French. For the future, the hope is that a workbook will accompany the video for community organizations to use with newcomers.”
“What I love the most about working with individuals and communities includes how trust is fostered between people; and relationships and connections we make throughout the process. It is humbling and a privilege to be part of people’s journeys and the immense amount of strength and resiliency that individuals and communities attain.”
Are there any key resources you would share with other knowledge brokers?
Ogai: “I think that for me, coming in and having very little knowledge about being a knowledge broker, what helped me a lot were my amazing coworkers. Having a team that’s really supportive helped me navigate this field and body of knowledge. Our KnowledgeNudge blog on knowledge translation and patient engagement was especially helpful, providing information in an easy to understand format that made grasping concepts a lot easier. I also did a lot of reading on CHI’s website, particularly around patient engagement.”
Editor’s Note: Ogai has also contributed two 3-part blog series based on her own work: PhotoVoice and Practical Tools for Ethical Engagement in Health Research.
Any final words about being a knowledge broker?
Ogai: “Being a knowledge broker is unique, as it provides you with the opportunity to work across different disciplines, cultures, and abilities — which is great, as we can see the world through so many different perspectives. There are times when your values and beliefs will be challenged. It is good to be challenged, so we can continuously practice self-awareness. Being open and being mindful of others perspectives and starting where individuals are at is important.”
Are you a knowledge broker and want to share your story with our readers? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet at us @KnowledgeNudge.
About the Author
Trish Roche is a knowledge broker with the George & Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI). Her primary interests lie in advancing the science of knowledge translation, especially in the realm of basic biomedical science. Find her on Twitter @TrishMcNish.