Acting on what we know and how we learn for climate and development policy

Brokers, translators and intermediaries: new roles and challenges for putting knowledge into practice

5-6 March 2013
Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, Sussex, UK
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The final report prepared by Lezette Engelbrecht is now available:

Knowledge brokers and intermediaries: DAY 1

General focus: Reflect on what we’re already doing; What else should we be doing? (underlying issues we’re struggling with); How can we better work together to move forward? Idea of transformational change – changing the way we work.

Key questions to guide this theme include: 1) How and why are particular actions/approaches promoted and what trade-offs and benefits are sought in the creation of knowledge? E.g. use of aggregated data like Reegle or using e-discussion formats for dialogues. 2) How do we identify what works and what doesn’t? (challenge of trying to measure impact and success in knowledge broker arena outside of formal indicators). With the explosion of new knowledge networks on climate change issues, where and how are knowledge practitioners sharing experiences and lessons learnt? 3) As open knowledge is being promoted, do we understand enough of how to create open systems, where knowledge continuously interacts and evolves in different environments? 4) What are the enabling environments needed to pursue different knowledge forms which includes addressing the issue of power of certain voices over others?


Brokering functions: Initial look at existing roles, practices and activities as knowledge brokers/intermediaries - ‘what are we doing?’ Groups break out and discuss examples and map thoughts/ideas along an axis from infomediary ( linear, disseminated information) to innovation broker (co-production) and automated, tech-enabled brokering to ‘barefoot’, low-tech brokering:

Some comments from group breakouts

Group A: In reflecting on an example of speaking to coffee farmers in Colombia, one group member said many farmers were very concerned that the old ways of doing things are no longer working (e.g. following cycles of the moon) - and are looking for new tools/knowledge/better ways to do their work. So at the same time as some organisations are trying to preserve indigenous knowledge and practices, farmers are finding that these methods no longer work and seeking new knowledge. They are also seeking new knowledge not only to respond to climate change but also to other stressors.

There’s a need to enable farmers to use climate information, and to blend scientific data with local knowledge for more specific local forecasts (to help reduce uncertainty). Also beware of no prescribing to people what to do but rather enabling them to make their own decisions based on information.

Recognition that people use information to claim rights or make demands on others; sometimes when we talk about information we have a narrow view of how people use information.

Also depends on institution’s approach – some are open to engagement/change but others have a recipe and go in with that.

Group B: Discussing games as a tool for dissemination and engagement with information – are games a form of ‘linear dissemination’ because they’re designed by developers, or is information co-produced as the person plays the game/since games are more interactive?. In response – the game itself is not really important – it’s the discussion that is generated as a result. If we don’t take the time to explore the relationship between the game and the real world, then it’s not really worthwhile. The role of the facilitator is also important – often people are sceptical going into the game, or have limited time – and it’s about knowing the audience and what you want to deliver. You need the right game for the right environment. The game is not the endpoint, the important thing is how you facilitate discussion.

Key points in feedback session:
- Role of peer-to-peer sharing (example of user-generated films on gender and climate change in India; material co-produced by farmers working in climate change adaptation in Kenya)
- Amalgamation of data from different actors – in above Kenya example = not one-way broadcast but audience members can text in own questions/thoughts
- The need for long-term, sustainable approaches – issue of ‘broken links’ between policy level and knowledge generators on the ground, who often don’t get to feed back into research or benefit from policy translations
- Also issues of language (terminology not translated into local languages etc)
- Timeliness of information
- Shift in actions/roles of actors based on the trust/understanding of source of information –e.g. as farmers grow more comfortable with using forecasting tool (but, need to emphasise uncertainty as tendency for e.g. met office to give deterministic info)
- Demand for information not only on climate but also for better decision-making skills, ability to interpret and understand info and act on it.
- Recognising that all processes/actions at a local level cannot be scaled up
- Vested interests – potential barriers to being involved
- Play different roles at different times
- To what extent are gender considerations being considered?
- What is the starting point of knowledge brokers?
- Issue of trust and risks of reliance on particular types of interventions. E.g. people become reliant on new approaches and abandon local knowledge.
- If context is so important, how scale up successfully, given ‘success stories’ are often embedded in the political economy?

More questions to think about that emerged from one group:
- How do we move from local “real world” examples to broader, non-specific contexts?
- Migrating lessons/conversations from one platform to another
- Lesson: developing profiles of our users
- Being demand-driven – how create incentives for people to engage?
- Gendered dimensions of info access (e.g. women access to radios)
- Could brokering be playing other ‘behind the scenes’ roles? What are they?

Issues that were ‘parked’ to think about and reflect on:
- The issue of trust and reliance involved in different types of interventions (risks?
- The role of gender and power in knowledge brokering activities
- The fact that activities are often ‘disruptive’ in various ways (positive and negative connotations) and the consequences of those ‘disruptions’, whether intended or unintended.
- The need to consider uncertainty in climate change data.

BREAKOUT 2: What can we do differently?

Questions/themes for different groups:

1 Risks and responsibilities of knowledge broker:
- Consider who has access to information/technology
- Transparency/robustness/quality of information
- KB as a resilient actor – needs to be flexible and respond to risks
- Acknowledge accountability (there are lots of justifications for how you work as a KB that you might not be communicating). Acknowledge, address and communicate your assumptions
- Understand context in which operating
- Acknowledge power differentials and address them

2 What does success look like?
- Success of what? Of the knowledge broker? Of the project?
- Is knowledge brokering a role or a function? Can different people be knowledge brokers along the process?
- Success depends on your staring point/goal/who your clients are
- Are knowledge brokers independent or do they build capacity for a particular group of people?
- Indicators of success? Linear - measuring one thing, versus resilience, which also includes failure
- Adaptive capacity success - as much a process as an outcome. Measure success not as a point to arrive at but the process of getting there
- Issue of objectivity as a KB – can you be objective as a knowledge broker in areas that may involve conflict (e.g. ‘win’ for one person/group is ‘lose’ for another)
- Can we be objective or do we acknowledge biases outright?
- Self-perception of knowledge broker/intermediary role – how do they perceive themselves and how do institutions define themselves and what are the limitations implied?
- Is ‘knowledge broker’ a role or a process? Is it a role in a certain phase of a process or a person that acts as a facilitator to create knowledge?

3 Can knowledge brokering lead to transformation or are we just re-circulating information?
- What do we mean by transformation? What kind of change are you driving as a knowledge broker?
- Role of information in that change – role of own experience versus being exposed to someone else’s experience
- Information can inspire change or oil the wheels of change (e.g. Arab Spring)
- Information versus knowledge – can we use them interchangeably?
- Information as enabling people to take advantage of opportunities as information changes; preparing people to deal with change

4 Scale and context – how do we take ideas to scale and what are the limits?
- Donors often have an incentive to scale things, and so KB also have an incentive (from donors) What needs to be done to begin the process of establishing whether to scale something?
- Scaling in a different way e.g. widespread media - why is that being communicated at mass scale? Want people to engage with example and see how it applies to their context
- Brokering processes rather than brokering solutions

AFTERNOON PLENARY: Reflections from brokers and intermediaries theme:

- What came up in all the breakout groups was the issue of roles, context of new media
- Role and responsibility of knowledge brokering (neutral? Value-laden? Imbued with power?
- Does knowledge brokering lead to change, is this incremental or transformational? Was there an impact and how did it come about?
- Issues of scale and context were important
- The role of the knowledge broker is not neutral but involves power, agenda, interests and objectives
- Need to improve self-perception and understanding. A lot of knowledge brokers don’t even know they are acting as knowledge brokers
- Importance of understanding starting point
- Role that KB play as enablers of information, trying to foster the ability of local stakeholders to take advantage of opportunities
- Concept of resilient KBs – characteristics of KBs that overlap with characteristics of resilience: be flexible in the face of change and inclusive in developing and sharing of knowledge
- Resilient knowledge in the face of uncertainty and change