Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Building an understanding of Knowledge Brokers and Intermediaries

By Catherine Fisher

My role within the Impact and Learning Team at IDS is capacity development co-ordinator.  I understand capacity broadly, not just as skills of individuals but as a set of capabilities that mean individuals and organisations can set their objectives and work within their contexts to achieve them

Among the knowledge intermediaries and brokers who have been the focus of my attention, I have felt that some of the factors constraining the development of capabilities have been a lack of identity and connection with peers, lack of understanding of the nature of the role and its contribution, and no consolidated body of knowledge that these actors can draw on to inform their work.

Issues emerging from these problems are intermediary and brokering initiatives that replicate each other, lack of learning about both positive and negative experiences and programmes designed without reference to the range of evidence about context and their potential contribution that could help shape them

While I was on maternity leave last year two big steps were made towards addressing some of those concerns. Firstly the Knowledge Brokers Forum was founded as a community of interest by the IKMediary Network, a much smaller community of practice I was involved in establishing in 2006.  Secondly, this forum hosted a fascinating discussion about knowledge brokering and intermediary concepts. 

I was lucky enough to be asked to summarise the debate and would like to share some of the key findings in this, the second of the Impact and Learning blogs.  

A global discussion on knowledge brokering and intermediary concepts

The discussion on 'knowledge brokering and intermediary concepts' sought to explore the different terms that are used in relation to these actors and understand more about their roles and functions.

In its examination of terms, this discussion pointed to a nested set of roles which expand in scope and the extent to which they are directly engaged in change processes.

Each of these can be associated with a set of functions:

•    Information intermediaries or infomediaries: concerned with enabling access to information from multiple sources and engaged in informing, aggregating, compiling and signalling information

•    Knowledge intermediaries or knowledge translators: concerned with helping people make sense of and apply information and engaged in disseminating, translating and communicating knowledge and ideas

•    Knowledge brokers: concerned with improving knowledge use in decision making and engaged in bridging, matching, connecting, convening, linking, boundary spanning, networking and facilitating people

•    Innovation brokers: concerned with changing contexts to enable innovation and engaged in negotiating, building, collaborating and managing relationships and processes

This diagram attempts to capture these functions and the way they engage with changes processes:  

Knowledge brokers and intermediaries: roles and concepts (Knowledge Brokers Forum;

What was interesting about this discussion is that it drew on experiences of brokering from multiple sectors (not just the development sector), in particular the rich experience and work undertaken in the agriculture sector in both developed and developing country contexts and the huge body of work on knowledge brokering in the Canadian Health System.

Cross-sectoral discussion revealed interesting differences in the way that knowledge brokering and intermediary work is understood and undertaken that provide a basis for new ideas and approaches. The discussion identified characteristics of Knowledge Brokers many of which, such as their hybrid nature and the relative invisibility of their role, make them hard to pin down and describe which contributes to the relative lack of understanding about them.

Reposted from the original, which includes issues identified that merit further discussion and/or action; and which can be found at: