Four strategies for improving knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers

Community member post by Chris Cvitanovic

Chris Cvitanovic (biography)

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.

Knowledge co-production

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.

Conceptual diagram outlining the four primary models believed to increase knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers (Cvitanovic et al., 2015)

Embedding

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.

Knowledge brokers

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conditions for co-creation

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

This is part of a series of occasional “synthesis blog posts” drawing together insights across blog posts on related topics.

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What is required for effective co-creation, especially between researchers and stakeholders? In particular, what contributes to a productive environment for co-creation? And what considerations are relevant for deciding who to involve?

Twelve blog posts which have addressed these issues are discussed. Bringing those insights together provides a richer picture of how to achieve effective co-creation.

What makes a productive environment for co-creation?

A good starting point is to be working in an environment and organizational culture that support co-creation and to have sufficient financial, personnel and other resources, as pointed out by Kit Macleod and Arnim Wiek.

Dialogue-based processes are often an important part of co-creation and they need to be established as a generative space, focused on synergy, not conflict. These issues are raised by Doug Easterling and Gerald Midgley. From New Zealand, Rawiri Smith describes how co-creative processes between indigenous (Māori) and non-indigenous (Pākehā) participants often use ceremony as a framework for treating conflicting views respectfully and it is instructive to reflect on how stronger rituals might be used more widely in co-creation. There are already many rituals in dialogue such as introductions, setting ground rules and turn-taking and it is useful to think how these could be strengthened and added to, especially in situations where there is conflict. Gerald Midgley points out that systems thinking approaches already embed ritual for exactly this reason.

Dialogue-based processes require facilitation that achieves a sense of common community and purpose, where credit is shared, as described by Bob Dick, as well as Doug Easterling and Kit Macleod and Arnim Wiek.

Who to involve in co-creation?

Co-creative processes can be initiated in a variety of ways. One common way is for researchers to identify and invite stakeholder partners. In such circumstances there are two key overarching considerations.

One is to take into account that most problems are systems problems, with multiple interrelationships, as highlighted by Doug Easterling, as well as Gerald Midgley and Cristina Zurbriggen. The range of stakeholders who have something useful to contribute is therefore often broader than might be initially considered. Different participants will also frame the issue differently. As Gerald Midgley points out: “no participative process can include every possible perspective: comprehensiveness is impossible, and we need to think about how inclusions and exclusions (of both people and the issues they are concerned with) can be justified.”

A second overarching issue is to take into account power relationships. Critical here is the understanding that co-creation does not just involve the different kinds of knowledge that stakeholders bring to the table, but instead that “knowledge is imprinted by power” as highlighted by Andy Stirling, Adrian Ely and Fiona Marshall. The same point is made by Cristina Zurbriggen, who emphasizies that “knowledge and information cannot be seen as separate from political struggles over the definition of ambiguous societal problems, goals, and values.”

Much more discussion is required about ways of managing power relationships. Gerald Midgley argues for identifying “who gets invited, who is excluded, who is marginalized, and how to address that marginalization.” Machiel Keestra identifies the value of long-term relationships between researchers and stakeholders, as do Andy Stirling, Adrian Ely and Fiona Marshall, who argue that these allow for the formation of particular kinds of social relations, where all participants are “afforded equal respect and agency in the knowledge production process.”

As a brief aside, a useful model for managing power relationships between researchers and stakeholders comes from cross-cultural research between indigenous and non-indigenous New Zealanders. Both Jeff Foote and Maria Hepi describe the interchanging of tuākana (senior/leader) & tēina (junior/novice) roles and relationships. This recognizes that one group does not have all the expertise necessary to deal with a problem and that leadership in investigating an issue needs to rotate to the group with the greatest expertise for the particular aspect of the problem. Researchers, then, will be senior when it comes to, for example, knowing the literature about the problem and bringing to bear relevant theory and research methods, while stakeholders affected by the problem will be senior in contributing lived experience of its effects and possibilities for adapting to or mitigating its consequences. This is a method that could be used for all researcher-stakeholder interactions.

A general consideration in selecting participants for co-creative processes is the importance of diversity, as highlighted by Quassim Cassam, along with Bob Dick and Doug Easterling and Gerald Midgley and Arnim Wiek. As Arnim Wiek points out it is helpful to consider including “those negatively affected, those benefitting, those involved in causing the problem or situation under investigation, and those with legitimate concerns.” Quassim Cassam suggests they bring “different perspectives, assumptions, interests, skills and thinking styles.” The challenge is to ensure that diversity leads to innovation, rather than bedlam.

Doug Easterling makes the case for avoiding disruptive people. There are also characteristics to look for. Quassim Cassam calls these “epistemic virtues,” namely humility, openness to diverse perspectives and interests, and willingness to listen. Kit Macleod suggests that relevant values for participants include “respect for different viewpoints and other sources of knowledge, and being flexible and open to different ways of doing things.” It also helps if participants are willing to abide by the following principles: “engage, commit, build trust, advocate, communicate, participate, build capacity, reflect and ask questions, deliver, share outputs, and review and evaluate.”

What do you think of these conditions for co-creation? Do they resonate with your experience? Do you have others to share?

Blog posts cited:

Cassam, Q, 2016, Virtues and vices of real-world co-creation, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 26 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/26/co-creation-virtues-vices/

Dick, B, 2016, Facilitating multidisciplinary decision making, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 17 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/17/facilitation-process/

Easterling, D, 2016, Five steps for managing diversity to create synergy, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 19 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/19/managing-diversity/

Foote, J, 2016, Cross-cultural collaborative research: A reflection from New Zealand, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 15 December https://i2insights.org/2016/12/15/cross-cultural-collaborative-research/

Hepi, M, 2017, Undertaking bi-cultural research: Key reflections from a Pākehā (non-Māori) New Zealander, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 26 September https://i2insights.org/2017/09/26/bi-cultural-research-reflections/

Keestra, M, 2018, Overcoming a paradox? Preparing students for transdisciplinary environments, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 30 January https://i2insights.org/2018/01/30/preparing-transdisciplinary-students/

Macleod, K, 2016, Working together for better outcomes: lessons for funders, researchers, and researcher partners Integration and Implementation Insights blog 15 March https://i2insights.org/2016/03/15/working-together-for-better-outcomes/

Midgley, G, 2016, Co-creation without systems thinking can be dangerous, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 7 July https://i2insights.org/2016/07/07/co-creation-and-systems-thinking/

Smith, R, 2016, Powhiri: An indigenous example of collaboration from New Zealand, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 8 December https://i2insights.org/2016/12/08/indigenous-example-of-collaboration/

Stirling, A, Ely, A, Marshall, M, 2018, How is transformative knowledge ‘co-produced’?, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 3 April https://i2insights.org/2018/04/03/co-producing-transformative-knowledge/

Wiek, A, 2016, Eight strategies for co-creation, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 12 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/12/eight-strategies-for-co-creation/

Zurbriggen, C, 2016, The interplay between knowledge and power / La interacción entre el conocimiento y el poder, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 14 July https://i2insights.org/2016/07/14/interplay-of-knowledge-and-power/

Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is a professor at The Australian National University in the Research School of Population Health’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. She is developing the new discipline of Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) to improve research strengths for tackling complex real-world problems through synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change. 

Producing evaluation and communication strategies in tandem

Community member post by Ricardo Ramírez and Dal Brodhead

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Ricardo Ramírez (biography)

How can projects produce evaluation and communication strategies in tandem? Why should they even try? A major benefit of helping projects produce evaluation and communication strategies at the same time is that it helps projects clarify their theories of change; it helps teams be specific and explicit about their actions. Before returning to the benefits, let us begin with how we mentor projects to use this approach. Continue reading

A checklist for documenting knowledge synthesis

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

How do you write-up the methods section for research synthesizing knowledge from different disciplines and stakeholders to improve understanding about a complex societal or environmental problem?

In research on complex real-world problems, the methods section is often incomplete. An agreed protocol is needed to ensure systematic recording of what was undertaken. Here I use a checklist to provide a first pass at developing such a protocol specifically addressing how knowledge from a range of disciplines and stakeholders is brought together.

KNOWLEDGE SYNTHESIS CHECKLIST

1. What did the synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge aim to achieve, which knowledge was included and how were decisions made? Continue reading

Linking learning and research through transdisciplinary competences

Community member post by BinBin Pearce

BinBin Pearce (biography)

What are the objectives of transdisciplinary learning? What are the key competences and how do they relate to both educational goals and transdisciplinary research goals? At Transdisciplinarity Lab (TdLab), our group answered these questions by observing and reflecting upon the six courses at Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD levels that we design and teach in the Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

Six competence fields describe what we hope students can do with the help of our courses. A competence field contains a set of interconnected learning objectives for students. We use these competence fields as the basis for curriculum design. Continue reading

Structure matters: Real-world laboratories as a new type of large-scale research infrastructure

Community member post by Franziska Stelzer, Uwe Schneidewind, Karoline Augenstein and Matthias Wanner

What are real-world laboratories? How can we best grasp their transformative potential and their relationship to transdisciplinary projects and processes? Real-world laboratories are about more than knowledge integration and temporary interventions. They establish spaces for transformation and reflexive learning and are therefore best thought of as large-scale research infrastructure. How can we best get a handle on the structural dimensions of real-word laboratories?

What are real-world laboratories?

Real-world laboratories are a targeted set-up of a research “infrastructure“ or a “space“ in which scientific actors and actors from civil society cooperate in the joint production of knowledge in order to support a more sustainable development of society.

Although such a laboratory establishes a structure, most discussions about real-world laboratories focus on processes of co-design, co-production and co-evaluation of knowledge, as shown in the figure below. Surprisingly, the structural dimension has received little attention in the growing field of literature.

Overcoming structure as the blind spot

We want to raise awareness of the importance of the structural dimension of real-world laboratories, including physical infrastructure as well as interpretative schemes or social norms, as also shown in the figure below. A real-world laboratory can be understood as a structure for nurturing niche development, or a space for experimentation that interacts (and aims at changing) structural conditions at the regime level.

Apart from this theoretical perspective, we want to add a concrete “infrastructural” perspective, as well as a reflexive note on the role of science and researchers. Giddens’ use of the term ‘structure’ helps to emphasize that scientific activity is always based on rules (eg., rules of proper research and use of methods in different disciplines) and resources (eg., funding, laboratories, libraries).

The two key challenges of real-world laboratories are that:

  1. both scientists and civil society actors are involved in the process of knowledge production; and,
  2. knowledge production takes place in real-world environments instead of scientific laboratories.
Franziska Stelzer (biography)

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Uwe Schneidewind (biography)

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Karoline Augenstein (biography)

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Matthias Wanner (biography)

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Continue reading