The Function of Knowledge Brokers
Article Review & Thought Experiment
By Trish Roche
Knowledge brokers are often the ‘doers’ of knowledge translation (KT). They work with a variety of stakeholders to close the gap between research and practice, and facilitate the development of relationships that are critical to effective KT. In previous posts, we’ve reviewed an article on the 5 major role domains of knowledge brokers; heard from Leah Crockett about her early experiences in the role of knowledge broker here at the George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI); had a Q&A session with Anneliese Poetz (manager of the KT Core for Kids Brain Health Network (KBHN)); and listed 5 great sites for knowledge brokers.
In this post, Trish summarizes a 2015 review by that looks at (1) what knowledge brokers do, and (2) the effectiveness of knowledge brokers in contributing to KT in health-related settings. While reading the article, it also struck her to try and apply what she’s learned so far as a knowledge broker to the article — which brought her to the ‘thought experiment’. Check it out below and click here to read the original article .
Exploring the function and effectiveness of knowledge brokers as facilitators of knowledge translation in health-related settings: a systematic review and thematic analysis
The Review Team
Catherine C. Bornbaum, Kathy Kornas, and Laura C. Rosella of the Population Health Analytics Team at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health; and Leslea Peirson, former Review Coordinator for the McMaster Evidence Review and Synthesis Centre (a CIHR-funded initiative, now located at the University of Alberta’s Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence or ARCHE).
The team conducted a systematic review, which included 22 studies that reported on real-world applications of knowledge brokering in health-related settings (i.e. healthcare practice, health policy, health education, and healthcare administration). The authors use a confirmatory (hypothesis-driven) approach, rather than an exploratory (content-driven) approach to thematic analysis — meaning they came into the review with an idea of what they thought they would find . Using this strategy, Bornbaum and colleagues analyzed the 22 different studies through the lens of the knowledge broker domains described by Ward et al.  and Oldham & McLean . These initial 3 domains of knowledge brokering include (1) knowledge management, (2) linkage & exchange, and (3) capacity-building.
The knowledge brokering activities described in the 22 studies illustrated the high level of diversity and sheer volume of work that knowledge brokers do.
“As knowledge managers, linkage agents, and capacity builders, [knowledge brokers] performed many and varied tasks to transfer and exchange information across health-related stakeholders, settings, and sectors”.
— Bornbaum et al., 2015
Using the findings from these 22 studies, Bornbaum and colleagues provide a list of the knowledge broker tasks described in these studies, and link them to the 3 domains of (1) knowledge management, (2) linkage & exchange, and (3) capacity-building in this table.
The Thought Experiment
Following the review by Bornbaum et al. in 2015, Glegg & Hoens (2016) wrote a special interest article on the Role Model for Knowledge Brokering (which we summarized in a previous post). Glegg & Hoens found the existing KT literature lacked a model, framework, or theory that addressed all of the roles described by knowledge brokers — that is, the theory did not entirely reflect reality. To produce a model that ‘delineates the range of overlapping roles of knowledge brokers’, Glegg & Hoens added two additional domains: facilitation and evaluation.
Glegg & Hoens described facilitation as knowledge brokers being ‘KT champions’ — supporting the use of evidence in knowledge translation activities, promoting knowledge use, and enhancing the clinical utility of research. They described evaluation as the use of evidence and an understanding of local context in evaluation itself, while also including evaluation of brokered networks and knowledge brokers themselves.
In comparing Bornbaum et al.’s table of tasks and Glegg & Hoens’s model, it seemed interesting and informative to attempt to categorize the activities described by Bornbaum and colleagues within Glegg & Hoens’s model. This activity would help me (and perhaps others) better understand how day-to-day activities fit into the larger picture of the knowledge broker role — and how this contributes to advancing KT in health and health research.
I added the Glegg & Hoens’s additional domains of facilitation and evaluation to the table from Bornbaum et al. and began filling in the blanks. Here’s how it turned out (my additions to the table are in green):
Based on the definitions and my own experiences, I made the additions to the table based on the following rationale:
1. Identify, engage & connect stakeholders
These tasks really are defined by the linkage & exchange domain, and don’t really fall under any of the other domains.
2. Facilitate collaboration
It’s in the title of the activity itself — ‘facilitate’ collaboration . These tasks involve using facilitation techniques — although knowledge brokers themselves may not be involved or be able to provide expertise, their role is in bringing the right people together.
3. Identify & obtain relevant information
Considering much of the work involved in finding relevant knowledge involves some sort of assessment of the evidence (particularly its source and methods used), tasks such as evidence appraisal and identifying implications of evidence for local contexts really require a knowledge broker to step into an evaluation role. Not only to evaluate evidence, but also in developing methods for evaluation, using the current literature base.
4. Facilitate development of analytic and interpretive skills
It seemed as though many of these tasks were not directly related to the role of facilitator, aside from providing assistance with interpretation of research — facilitating the very act of knowledge translation itself.
5. Create tailored knowledge products
The task of tailoring resources to stakeholder needs and context also requires knowledge brokers to assume the role of facilitator, by refining or delivering information in a way that is accessible, relevant, and useful. This then ‘facilitates’ the use of evidence and resources by stakeholders.
6. Project coordination
Having experience in coordinating project design and development, considerations of evaluation in these early stages is key to successful implementation and knowledge translation activities.
7. Support communication and information sharing
A major facilitation role that knowledge brokers play is in developing and maintaining communication between researchers and stakeholders, but also to create and sustain modes for sharing knowledge that support knowledge translation activities.
8. Network development, maintenance and facilitation
Similar to number 7, networks (which Leah has talked about in her previous post) are critical to successful and sustainable knowledge mobilization activities. In developing and maintaining networks, not only do knowledge brokers act in a linkage and exchange role, but they also facilitate future networking through development of communities of practice.
9. Facilitate and evaluate change
The roles of facilitator and evaluator are literal in these tasks — making knowledge translation happen, and making sure it is measured.
10. Support sustainability
These tasks seemed to fall more into support and capacity-building, rather than facilitation and evaluation.
Expanding these activities and tasks to the additional, validated domains of facilitation and evaluation allows us to see the bigger picture of the role of knowledge brokers. This type of information is necessary to allow organizations to effectively create, define, and assess knowledge broker roles with clearly outlined objectives and expectations. It is also a step in the right direction if we want to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of knowledge brokering activities and roles.
That said, I am the sole ‘reviewer’ in this activity, and it is by no means scientific, but nonetheless it is important to ask these kinds of questions and think ‘outside of the box’ (or at least add some columns to the box). Hopefully this activity stimulates others to think, discuss, and perhaps even study the roles and effectiveness of knowledge brokering.
I’d like to know what other knowledge brokers think. Did I map the activities to the right domains? What does this mean for knowledge brokering, and how the work of knowledge brokers is perceived? Are knowledge brokers the jack-of-all-trades for research? Do we do too much?
Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter at @KnowledgeNudge.
1. Bornbaum CC, Kornas K, Peirson L & Rosella LC. Exploring the function and effectiveness of knowledge translation in health-related settings: a systematic review and thematic analysis. Implement Sci, 2015;10(162).
2. Ward V, House A & Hamer S. Knowledge brokering: the missing link in the evidence to action chain? Evid Policy, 2009;5(3):267–79.
3. Oldham G & McLean R. Approaches to Knowledge-Brokering. http://www.iisd.org/library/approaches-knowledge-brokering. Published December 2006. Accessed December 2017.
4. Glegg SM & Hoens A. Role Domains of Knowledge Brokering: A Model for the Health Care Setting. J Neurol Phys Ther, 2016;40(2):115–23.
5. Straus S, Tetroe J & Graham ID. Knowledge Translation in Health Care: Moving from Evidence to Practice. BMJ Books, Wiley-Blackwell: 2010.
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.