Context Matters but Not Why You Think It Does / Tout dépend du contexte – mais pas pour les raisons qu’on imagine
We often say context is king or knowledge brokering is context dependent. It is both of these things but a recent transnational comparison of knowledge brokering in very different contexts illustrates that there are determinants of knowledge brokering that transcend contexts; however, their implementation is context dependent.
On dit souvent que tout est affaire de circonstances, ou que le courtage des connaissances est largement soumis à la conjoncture. C’est vrai, mais une comparaison transnationale effectuée récemment dans des contextes très différents montre que certains des déterminants du courtage transcendent la conjoncture ; leur mise en œuvre, toutefois, en demeure tributaire.
Phipps, D. J., Brien, D., Echt, L., Kyei-Mensah, G., V. (2017). Determinants of successful knowledge brokering: A transnational comparison of knowledge intermediary organizations. Research for All, 1(1), 185–97. DOI 10.18546/RFA.01.1.15
This article appeared in the inaugural edition of Research for All, a new journal from the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement. The abstract gives the summary but doesn’t tell the story of this article.
In this practice-based paper, knowledge brokers working in Argentina, Canada, Ghana and Vanuatu reflect on knowledge-intermediary activities. Although our use of media varies, we share five knowledge-brokering practices: build trust; develop capacity; co-construct knowledge; understand the political, social and economic context; and build culture. While these characteristics of knowledge brokering are well described in individual research studies, our reflections on their commonality across diverse settings suggest that they are determinants of successful knowledge brokering. The commonality of these five practices challenges the perception that knowledge brokering is context specific. We propose that it is not the practice but its implementation that is context specific.
Picture this. Hamilton, Ontario. April 2012. The K* (K star) conference. A gathering of +60 knowledge brokers from 5 continents. I was asked to coordinate a panel on brokering with civil society. I was joined by Derek Brien (Vanuatu), Glowen Kyei-Mensah (Ghana) and Leandro Echt (Argentina). In preparing for our session we discovered we all paid attention to the same five things: build trust; develop capacity; co-construct knowledge; understand the political, social and economic context; and build a culture of evidence use. These five were subsequently validated in an open space session with participants from UK, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, USA and Kenya.
Five practices – all well described in individual studies so nothing rocket science here – common across vastly different institutional contexts. This led us to conclude that these are not context dependent which goes against a commonly held view of knowledge brokering. As we quoted the book Knowledge Policy & Power, “No two knowledge intermediaries are the same; their work is entirely context specific”. We don’t disagree but our transnational comparison shows that there are some things that transcend context. What doesn’t transcend context is how you implement them. How Glowen builds trust with her communities in Ghana is different than how I build trust with my researchers at York University in Toronto, Canada. But we both build trust.
The dominant discourse about context being king is still correct but we show that context is critical for implementation of knowledge brokering, not for the knowledge brokering itself. Some things transcend contexts. So when you are considering your next knowledge brokering opportunity don’t forget to pay attention to trust, capacity, culture and the social, cultural and political contexts of that opportunity.
Now, when is Derek going to invite us to present this in Vanuatu?