Knowledge brokering is showing significant potential as a means of increasing the use of research in policy making. Using research to inform policy making is critical to achieving policies that are ‘evidence-based’ and result in policy outcomes that have greater potential to address the ‘wicked’ social problems that governments are facing. Research provides governments with the knowledge to make sense of policy problems, develop policy solutions and evaluate their effectiveness. Despite extensive attention given to better understanding the barriers and facilitators to research utilisation, the use of research to inform policy decisions remains elusive.
Advocates of a close relationship between the ‘two communities’ of policy makers and researchers believe this relationship is the key to effective policy formulation based on sound research. Knowledge brokering is emerging as a promising means of linking, and facilitating exchange, to form effective relationships between the ‘two communities’ of academics and policy makers, building on interactive models of the policy making process. More specifically, knowledge brokering is the human component of knowledge mobilisation, using relationships to move knowledge between policy makers and academics. In doing so, knowledge brokering works to overcome the barriers that hinder research utilisation.
While there has been an increased interest in the past decade in understanding and defining the activities of knowledge brokering, the role and effectiveness of knowledge brokering in moving research into the policy making process is unclear. Furthermore, much of the focus in the literature to date is on knowledge brokering activities carried out by individuals, but the dependence of these knowledge brokering activities on the organisational context in which these individuals operate has largely been ignored in the literature. Hence, the study of knowledge brokering organisations may be very important in understanding how knowledge can be effectively transferred between knowledge producers and users.
To address the research problem, two separate yet related research components were undertaken, and these research components are described across three core sections of this thesis. Part A of the thesis provides the essential conceptualisation and operationalisation of the research questions based on current debates within the extant literature on knowledge mobilisation and knowledge brokering. Part B of the thesis analyses surveys and in-depth interviews with policy officials and social scientists to make conclusions on the perceived need for, and existence of, knowledge brokering roles and activities in the movement of knowledge into the policy making process in Australia. A typology of organisations that operate in a knowledge brokering capacity in Australia has been developed. Part C adopts a multiple-case study design to investigate one type of entity operating in a knowledge brokering role within key public policy areas in Australia – research-focused intermediary organisations. While very few studies of this model of organisational knowledge brokering exist, their potential is acknowledged in the literature. In doing so, the research explores the role and activities of research-focused intermediary organisations, and draws conclusions on their role and effectiveness in moving research into the policy making process.
The research undertaken for this thesis shows there is a notable movement toward knowledge brokering activities in the social sciences within Australia. It has reconfirmed the potential and need for knowledge brokering activities that facilitate knowledge mobilisation between policy makers and academics. The research indicates that organisational knowledge brokering, and in particular research-focused intermediary organisations, offer the greatest potential for building a culture in academic and policy institutions that supports the use of research in policy making, and thereby show potential in policy agenda setting. The most substantial contributing factor to the development of this culture is capacity building, one of the core functions of knowledge brokering. Research-focused intermediary organisations are best placed to achieve long term and sustained use of research in policy making because they have the attributes, including adequate resources, required to extend and promote capacity building activities.
The contribution of this research to the extant body of knowledge on knowledge brokering has three elements. Firstly, in looking in detail at organisational models of knowledge brokering and in particular research-focused intermediary organisations, it provides a more detailed account of this model than is found in existing literature. Secondly, using a framework of activities undertaken within knowledge brokering, it draws conclusions on where the focus should be to achieve effective utilisation of research in policy making. Finally, the overview of the varying types of organisational knowledge brokering activity confirms its diversity, using Australian examples, and provides a strong foundation for further empirical work on the broader activity of knowledge brokering and, in particular, organisational forms of knowledge brokering.