By Chris Cvitanovic
How can we improve knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers to facilitate evidence informed decision-making? Of course there is no one size fits all approach, but here I outline four strategies that could be adapted and implemented across different contexts: (i) knowledge co-production, (ii) embedding, (iii) knowledge brokers, and (iv) boundary organisations. These are illustrated in the figure below.
Perhaps the most widely advocated approach to achieving improved knowledge exchange, knowledge co-production refers to the process whereby decision-makers actively participate in scientific research programs from the onset, collaborating with researchers throughout every aspect of the study including design, implementation and analysis. Including decision-makers in research programs in this manner ensures that decision-makers develop a strong understanding of the research content, as well as developing a strong sense of ownership in the research, which they can then communicate more broadly within their organisation, raising the awareness of others.
Improving knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers can also be achieved by embedding scientists in decision-making agencies. Permanently embedding research scientists within organisations dominated by decisions-makers will improve the likelihood that priority knowledge gaps will be answered, with the information quickly spreading among decision-makers via social networks. In turn this will increase the likelihood that new scientific knowledge is integrated into decision-making processes.
Another approach to improving collaboration and knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers is through the use of knowledge brokers. While the exact role and function of knowledge brokers are conceptualized and operationalised differently in various sectors and settings, the key feature of such a role is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between and among various stakeholders, including researchers, practitioners, and policy makers. To achieve this, knowledge brokers are typically embedded within research teams or institutions and act as intermediaries who develop relationships and networks with, among, and between producers and users of knowledge, to facilitate the exchange of knowledge among this network. When implemented effectively, knowledge brokers are believed to have the ability to facilitate organisational change by removing barriers to evidence-based decision-making and promoting a culture that values the use of the best available science in policy and practice.
Boundary organisations have also been identified as a novel approach to improve knowledge exchange among producers and users of scientific knowledge. Like knowledge brokers, boundary organisations facilitate communication and knowledge exchange among diverse networks of stakeholders. However, unlike knowledge brokers, boundary organisations are not typically embedded within research teams or organisations but are established as a separate entity, thus more effectively representing both sides across the boundary (ie., science and decision-making) while maintaining credibility through independence. In this way, boundary organisations are to be able to unite groups that may otherwise have strained relationships (for example, based on the cultural differences between scientists and decision-makers as outlined above) to enhance evidence-based decision-making. Boundary organisations have already proven particularly effective when dealing with a specific issue in a specific location.
While all four options described above are designed to improve knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers, there is much that we still don’t know, including the traits that influence the effectiveness and efficiency of each option, as well as how best to monitor and evaluate each option’s effectiveness. Irrespective, the increased awareness and implementation of these approaches to date provides an optimistic outlook for improved knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers, leading to improved capacity for evidence-based decision-making in the face of complex and uncertain futures.
What has your experience been with any of these strategies? And how have you adapted them to successfully fit within your specific circumstance or context?
This is based on a longer blog post also titled ‘Four strategies for improving knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers‘, published in Research to Action on 18 November 2015; http://www.researchtoaction.org/2015/11/four-strategies-for-improving-knowledge-exchange-among-scientists-and-decision-makers/
To find out more:
Cvitanovic, C., Hobday, A. J., van Kerkhoff, L., Wilson, S. K., Dobbs, K. and Marshall, N. A. (2015). Improving knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers to facilitate the adaptive governance of marine resources: A review of knowledge and research needs. Ocean and Coastal Management, 112: 25-35. Online (open access): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0964569115001167
Biography: Chris Cvitanovic (@ChrisCvitanovic) is a research scientist and knowledge broker at CSIRO in Hobart, Australia, specialising in knowledge exchange, stakeholder engagement, and the governance of marine resources. He draws on almost ten years of experience working at the interface of science and policy for the Australian Government Department of Environment.