I am a Knowledge Broker / Je suis courtier en connaissances

Picture this…a knowledge broker is at a party and meets up with someone who innocently asks, “So…what is it you do?” The knowledge broker faces the stress of trying to communicate what it is he does. Well now, thanks to Travis Sztainert, you can see this play out in his YouTube video appropriately titled, “I am a knowledge broker”.

Imaginez la scène : un courtier de connaissances est à une petite fête et rencontre quelqu’un qui lui demande en toute innocence : « Et… tu fais quoi, comme travail ? » Bouffée de stress, ici : comment expliquer ce qu’il fait, au juste ? Eh bien, grâce à Travis Sztainert, cette scène se déroule sous vos yeux, avec la réponse, dans une vidéo publiée sur YouTube et fort adéquatement intitulée Je suis courtier en connaissances.

It might have stated out as a whimsical video but Travis Sztainert landed on something quite important in his 90 seconds of Spielberg worthy film. What we do may not be rocket science, but it takes a lot of skills to do it.

Travis speaks about the skills he practices every day as a knowledge broker at Gambling Research Exchange Ontario. He starts out with building community through stakeholder engagement. He then moves to the evidence including quality appraisals, systematic reviews, evidence syntheses and then tailoring the evidence to different contexts and accessible formats. For capacity building he speaks about workshops, seminars, peer to peer learning and webinars and training sessions tailored to stakeholders needs. Then there’s all the evaluation he does seeking to demonstrate a sustained impact from evidence.

And this is just one guy doing one job employing all these different skills. This diversity of skill set is reflected in more rigorous research about competencies of research impact practitioners that I conducted with Julie Bayley (University of Lincoln), Monica Batac (then grad student at Ryerson University) and Ed Stevens (University of Bath). We synthesized four unpublished knowledge broker frameworks (two from Canada and two from UK) into a single set of 80 competencies arranged in 11 categories including:

  1. Change management
  2. Communication
  3. Creating, sourcing and synthesising (research) knowledge
  4. Evaluating impact of KT
  5. Facilitating and negotiating
  6. Leading, managing and driving KT
  7. Managing legal issues and IP
  8. Managing partnerships/relationships
  9. Networking and engaging stakeholders
  10. Training and capacity building
  11. Understanding, creating and using KT tools, products and practics

[Bayley, J.E., Phipps, D., Batac, M. and Stevens, E. (2017) Development of a framework for knowledge mobilisation and impact competencies. Published on line in Evidence and Policy, pp. 1-14 https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tpp/ep/pre-prints/content-ppevidpold1600050r2]

We then surveyed research impact practitioners to assess how frequently research impact practitioners practiced the 80 competencies. We had 120 respondents mainly from Canada and UK but including African countries as well as Australia, European countries and US. These 120 respondents ranked each competency depending on if they were practiced daily, weekly, monthly, rarely or never.

The top 10 competencies based on these 120 respondents are:

  1. Internal communication skills
  2. Developing and maintaining professional relationships
  3. Working in teams, communities and networks
  4. Managing multiple conversations
  5. External communication skills
  6. Active listening
  7. Organizational link: acting as a connection point to your organization
  8. Facilitating sharing of knowledge
  9. Partnership and relationship management skills and processes
  10. Reporting and presenting knowledge

[Bayley, J.E., Phipps, D., Batac, M. and Stevens, E. (2016) Knowledge Broker Competencies. Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum. Toronto, Canada. https://www.slideshare.net/KMbYork/competencies-for-research-impact-professionals]

The top ten are mostly focused on communications and partnership/collaboration. Nothing surprising.

But what is surprising is how I see us in Research Impact Canada focusing our capacity building on knowledge mobilization/research impact practices. Shouldn’t we also be building capacity for some of these core competencies, so we can be successful when we practice the tools we are learning?

I suspect Travis picked up much of his training on the job. Perhaps with more formal training and a more recognized career path he might not be so terrified at parties answering the common question, “So….what is it you do?”.


David Phipps