Do academic knowledge brokers exist? Using social network analysis to explore academic research-to-policy networks

ABSTRACT

The potential for academic research institutions to facilitate knowledge exchange and influence evidence-informed decision-making has been gaining ground. Schools of public health (SPHs) may play a key knowledge brokering role—serving as agencies of and for development. Understanding academic-policymaker networks can facilitate the enhancement of links between policymakers and academic faculty at SPHs, as well as assist in identifying academic knowledge brokers (KBs). Using a census approach, we administered a sociometric survey to academic faculty across six SPHs in Kenya to construct academic-policymaker networks. We identified academic KBs using social network analysis (SNA) in a two-step approach:

First, we ranked individuals based on (1) number of policymakers in their network; (2) number of academic peers who report seeking them out for advice on knowledge translation and (3) their network position as ‘inter-group connectors’. Second, we triangulated the three scores and re-ranked individuals. Academic faculty scoring within the top decile across all three measures were classified as KBs.

Results indicate that each SPH commands a variety of unique as well as overlapping relationships with national ministries in Kenya. Of 124 full-time faculty, we identified 7 KBs in 4 of the 6 SPHs. Those scoring high on the first measure were not necessarily the same individuals scoring high on the second. KBs were also situated in a wide range along the ‘connector/betweenness’ measure. We propose that a composite score rather than traditional ‘betweenness centrality’, provides an alternative means of identifying KBs within these networks.

In conclusion, SNA is a valuable tool for identifying academic-policymaker networks in Kenya. More efforts to conduct similar network studies would permit SPH leadership to identify existing linkages between faculty and policymakers, shared linkages with other SPHs and gaps so as to contribute to evidence-informed health policies.

KEY MESSAGES

There exist Kenyan academic faculty at schools of public health (SPH) who engage in activities and relationships that place them in unique positions as knowledge brokers and conduits for policy influence.

Using social network analysis to identify knowledge brokers can provide insight into who the advisors/resource persons for faculty in the SPHs are, who have relationships with policy makers, who can be supported and leveraged for bridging the research to policy (and vice versa) divide and which members can convene to collectively influence public health policy.

More efforts to conduct similar network studies would permit leadership at SPHs as well as government policymakers to identify existing linkages between faculty and policymakers, shared linkages with other SPHs and gaps so as to contribute to evidence-informed health policies.

SELECTED EXTRACTS

Researchers and decision-makers are often characterized as ‘distinct communities’ whose infrequent interaction, varied priorities and incongruent timelines, amongst others, impede the flow of evidence (Innvaer et al. 2002)… One way to narrow the gap between researchers and decision-makers is to find and maintain opportunities for interaction.

Academic networks, like policy networks, are nebulous and therefore difficult to assess. Relationships are likely to be informal and dynamic in nature.

National government could utilize recurrent SNA studies to: identify the location and distribution of academic expertise in a country; leverage existing relations for the purposes of influencing health systems research and policy decisions; build strategic networks in areas where gaps exist and understand shared interests for the purposes of engaging in multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral governmental collaborations.

Below are the citation and abstract of a new paper in Health Policy and Planning. The full text is freely available here:

http://heapol.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/11/03/heapol.czv107.full

CITATION: Do academic knowledge brokers exist? Using social network analysis to explore academic research-to-policy networks from six schools of public health in Kenya. Nasreen S. Jessani, Marc G. Boulay and Sara C. Bennett

Health Policy Plan. (2015)

doi: 10.1093/heapol/czv107

Corresponding author. 615 N Wolfe Street, E8132 Baltimore, Maryland 21205. USA. E-mail: njessani@jhu.edu

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