The role of the knowledge broker in mediating the researcher-policymaker relationship

The “gap” between the production and use of knowledge that is often referred to in the research literature can be redefined as a fundamental divide between scientists/researchers (producers of knowledge), and policymakers (users of knowledge).  In such arenas as drug and addiction policy, this gap is ever-growing and by extension increasingly creating adverse health effects for affected populations and other stakeholders.  An example?  Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s recent announcement that the federal government would halt the use of injectable diacetylmorphine (prescription heroin) to treat opioid addiction, which has demonstrated greater effectiveness than other opioid substitution therapies such as methadone maintenance therapy (Morrow, 2013; Oviedo-Joekes et al., 2009).  B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake is opposed to this ban (Morrow, 2013).

Although the lack of existing evidence-based policy can be attributed to a number of issues, some have agreed that the root of the problem lies in the inability for researchers and policymakers to coexist in the same world. (Brownson, Royer, Ewing, & McBride, 2006; Choi et al., 2005).  Differences in decision-making processes, poor timing, ambiguous findings, the need to balance objectivity and advocacy, personal demands of the process, information overload, lack of relevant data, and the mismatch of randomized thinking with nonrandom problems are identified as the problems that the researcher-policymaker relationship face (Brownson et al., 2006).  Elsewhere, similar problems are described: lack of mutual trust and respect, different views on the production and use of evidence, different accountabilities, and whether there should be link between science and policy (Choi et al., 2005).

Both articles offer possible actions that could potentially assist in bridging the gap between researcher and policymaker, although it must be noted that both provide only general and vague actions to address the issue at hand.  Solutions such as greater involvement in the process, better understanding of political decision-making, building of effective teams, and development of political champions (Brownson et al., 2006); or providing new incentives to encourage scientists and policymakers to work together (Would this work?  See: Red Bead Experiment, found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kkAK43DPTM), using knowledge brokers, making organizational changes, defining research in a broader sense, redefining the starting point for knowledge transfer, expanding the accountability horizon, and acknowledging the complexity of policymaking (Choi et al., 2005) are offered.

In theory, the aforementioned “solutions” should be effective, but those actually working in the field of research or policy will argue differently.  Following these solutions and taking these actions certainly will not guarantee a successful researcher-policymaker relationship, which brings up the question of whether employing a knowledge broker to essentially act as a ‘bridge’ would be a beneficial undertaking.  It has been suggested that the knowledge broker, in the role of mediator between researcher and policymaker, may serve to diffuse the misunderstandings and strengthen the relationship between these two groups (Choi, 2005).  Essentially, what’s missing is an evaluation of the knowledge broker role, and with the launch of every new campaign or initiative arises the opportunity to evaluate this role’s potential and limitations in support of evidence-based policy and practice.

References

Brownson, R. C., Royer, C., Ewing, R., & McBride, T. D. (2006). Researchers and policymakers: Travelers in parallel universes. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30(2), 164-172.

Choi, B. C. K., Pang, T., Lin, V., Puska, P., Sherman, G., Goddard, M., Ackland, M. J., Sainsbury, P., Stachenko, S., Morrison, H., & Clottey, C. (2005). Evidence based public health policy and practice: Can scientists and policy makers work together? Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 59(8), 632-637.

Morrow, A. (2013, October 4). B.C. Health Minister opposed to Ottawa’s ban on prescription heroin. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-health-minister-opposed-to-ottawas-ban-on-prescription-heroin/article14712549/

Oviedo-Joekes, E., Brissette, S., Marsh, D. C., Lauzon, P., Guh, D., Anis, A., & Schechter, M. T. (2009). Diacetylmorphine versus methadone for the treatment of opioid addiction. The New England Journal of Medicine, 361(8), 777-786.

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