Institutionalising Evidence-Based Policy: International Insights into Knowledge Brokerage

Lenihan, A. T. (2015). Institutionalising evidence-based policy: International insights into knowledge brokerage. Contemporary Social Science. 10(2), 114-125.


Numerous organisations act as ‘evidence brokers’, providing and translating research for use by decision-makers. The relationship between the supply and demand for evidence is far from linear, and whether these organisations are self-professed evidence brokers or government appointed bodies, they face similar challenges in their quest to impact policy. This paper analyses the strategies of two organisations considered ‘exemplars’ of institutional knowledge brokerage: the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis and the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The author posits that three primary factors help these organisations connect evidence successfully to policy-makers: the institution’s credibility, based on independence, neutrality, reputation, trust, transparency and the quality of its methods and evidence; the utility of its research, based on transferability, timing, stakeholder involvement and resonance with policy-makers; and the communication of that research, in terms of effectiveness, dissemination, presentation and translation for policy-makers. Findings, and the possibility of applying these insights internationally, are then discussed and contextualised.

This article isn’t open access, sorry. If you want a copy you can request one from Dr. Lenihan directly at

This is another article that discusses the role of organizations as knowledge brokers. I recently reviewed another article on this topic. As opposed to that previous article which was about networks as knowledge brokers, this article is about discrete organizations working as knowledge brokers to inform policy decisions. It is good to see literature about the role of knowledge brokering organizations to complement the literature on human knowledge brokers.

Critique #1: the author references the status quo as the “two communities” approach from Caplan, 1979. We have long abandoned such reductionist views. Policy and research might sit in different organizational constructs but researchers and policy makers share spaces, collaborate and exchange.

Studying two different knowledge brokering organizations the author concludes that there are three organization factors that define successful knowledge brokering organizations:

1. The institutional credibility
2. The utility of the research
3. The communication of that research

Makes sense, no argument here. What I find interesting is to compare that to the three elements of the PARIHS framework that speak to the factors of evidence that enable evidence use:

1. The credibility of the evidence itself
2. The context of its use
3. The facilitation dedicated to supporting uptake of evidence

It seems there are elements of our work that transcend different contexts. The factors that support evidence use are similar to the factors that support institutional knowledge brokering and these seem to transcend contexts. I recently blogged on an article I published about context being important but not for the reasons you think.

Critique #2: “Effective communication of research to policy makers can be paramount to its utilisation”. Not wrong but certainly incomplete. Metrics of communications (i.e. social media analytics, downloads, media impressions) are at best proxies of use. You can have use without communication but you can communicate the heck out of your evidence and never get it used. We know from the evidence on evidence use that integrated (i.e. collaborative) forms of knowledge brokering are more effective than dissemination (i.e. communication) forms. Don’t just communicate evidence but actively facilitate its uptake by doing engaged workshops with decision makers (for example).

Here’s a fun fact: both organizations studied were inside government. They appear to be working as independent (“We are specifically non-partisan. We do what we are assigned and we don’t make recommendations”) research organizations (i.e. think tanks) generating evidence for policy decision making. This doesn’t affect the utility of the evidence or how it is communicated but I feel it draws into question the claims to credibility of the organization. If it is by government for government then government has to claim it is credible. If it isn’t credible then government will shut it down.

Questions for brokers

1. Why do you think that certain enabling qualities can apply to evidence and organizations? What underpins this commonality?

2. Both organizations are independent evidence brokering organizations. If they are inside government how independent can they be (don’t forget to reference Stephen Harper in your discussion)?

3. How might these three factors underpinning successful knowledge brokering organizations map onto universities seeking to also provide evidence to policy makers? How does a university ensure credibility, utility and communication of evidence when it isn’t the university, but the researcher, who is generating the evidence?

RIR is producing this journal club series as a way to make the evidence and research on KMb more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read the article, then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.

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