Stateless nomads, with little to trade (or how knowledge brokers are set up to fail and how to avoid

Author: Graham Martin, Sarah Chew and Natalie Armstrong

This post was originally published by the Evidence & Policy blog on 11th August, 2021.

We have re-issued the article that has already been published by the Evidence & Policy blog. We would like to express gratitude to the kind offer of the editorial board of the Evidence & Policy blog.

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This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Understanding knowledge brokerage and its transformative potential: a Bourdieusian perspective‘.

Graham Martin, Sarah Chew and Natalie Armstrong

Some problems in society result from institutions’ traditional tendency to work in isolation from one another. An example is the slothful pace at which evidence from healthcare research reaches practice: some estimates suggest it can typically take as long as seventeen years. Increasing collaboration between institutions is the obvious remedy, but ‘If you think competition is hard, you should try collaboration’.

The institutional fields of research and practice have very different structures and value systems. This means that getting them to collaborate requires some external impetus. Recently, knowledge (brokering a range of activities designed to link the producers and users of knowledge by, for example, encouraging new relationships, devising new ways of working together, and helping to move knowledge across boundaries) has been promoted as a way of enabling collaboration and even bringing about changes in the working relationships of institutions. Knowledge brokerage has become a role in its own right, but its popularity as a remedy outstrips evidence for its efficacy.

For four years, we studied seven dedicated knowledge-brokering roles in a partnership between healthcare research (a university) and practice (NHS hospital trusts) which aspired to bring researchers and research users together to co-produce locally-driven research, and so reduce and transform the boundaries between the institutions. The knowledge brokers were seen as the crucial link that would make this happen. We focused on the interaction between the knowledge brokers’ backgrounds, their attributes, and the characteristics of the institutions across which they worked. We used Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of capitals to understand their roles in context.