Guest Blog – Two UK Participants discuss their experience at the Canadian Science Policy Conference

It is with great pleasure that I publish our first written external guest blog (actually a co-guest blog, to be specific)! Louise Shaxson of Delta Partnership and Michelle Burns of Department for International Development discuss their experience at this years Canadian Science Policy Conference:

Louise 

 LOUISE KTKB2010

Louise Shaxson running her session at the KTKB2010 workshop October 20, 2010. (Photo provided by Scott Unger of the Environment Canada – Science and Technology Liaison Division)

I’m a director of an international management consultancy company based in London (Delta Partnership), which focuses on enabling better public services. My particular area of interest is evidence-based policymaking and the links between research and policy: I work mainly in Whitehall departments, but am increasingly going back to my roots in international development. Over the past few years I’ve come into contact with a group of Canadians who share my interest in evidence and policy, and in knowledge translation & brokering. The group has been unofficially but very effectively led by Alex Bielak, formerly of the S&T Liaison branch at Environment Canada and currently at the UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health based in Hamilton, Ontario. Alex and I have met at conferences, co-authored a book chapter, done a joint assignment for the Department for Environment and Tourism in South Africa, and generally bounced ideas off each other about what this thing called knowledge brokering actually is, how you put it into practice, and whether there are particular tools and techniques you should and shouldn’t use.

A few months ago Alex asked if I’d like to facilitate a session at a special workshop he was pulling together to link in with the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Montreal – bringing together Canadians from many different sectors and provinces to get to grips with real issues about knowledge brokering and translation. Of course I jumped at the chance, and spent a very stimulating and enjoyable afternoon with a broad range of people looking at a variety of knowledge translation and brokering tools in some depth. We ended the session discussing whether it was possible to put them all together into a recognisable toolkit which would help people better understand why they might want to invest in knowledge brokering, what shape that investment might take and what return they might expect to see on it. I’m writing that up at the moment, and will post the final paper on http://researchimpact.othree.ca/ktkb2010 when it’s done. [Coincidentally, at around the same time Alex asked me to come to Montreal, I was also asked to facilitate a workshop on research communication and uptake in London in late November. This is being jointly funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Aid programme (AusAID) and the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS). Both research communication & uptake and knowledge translation & brokering are flipsides of the same coin: they’re both about improving policymaking processes by enabling a better use of the available knowledge, be that research or other forms of evidence, or even the tacit knowledge we gain from experience of what works. So the outputs from the Montreal workshop will feed into the London workshop and help make connections between the various international dialogues around knowledge translation and brokering. I’m pleased to have been able to make this connection.]

The rest of the CSPC was fascinating – interesting keynote speakers, great panels, an unanticipated visit from a Quebec Minister who I thought made a substantive speech on the role of science in Quebec’s policymaking, and some conversations in the margins of the sessions that I hope will lead to lasting relationships and many more excuses to visit Canada. Speaking at a panel about Federal-state-local science policy with three ADMs gave me a few butterflies, but I think what each of us said was complementary and there was a good discussion afterwards. And Montreal did us proud eating-wise, with some great dinners with friends both old and new. But even better, I got to introduce another Brit to the Canadian science policy world and in particular the Canadian take on knowledge translation and brokering…which is a cue for Michelle to introduce herself…

Michelle

… Thanks Louise, I am one of the three new evidence brokers working in the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK. The positions are relatively new (or a new experiment as the head of Research and Evidence Division in DFID, Professor Christopher Whitty likes to call us).

We have been tasked with supporting the delivery of a quite a big ask; mainly encouraging our colleagues who work in DFID policy can access and make the best use of evidence in order to make better informed decisions about international development. Evidence can come in many forms and we are as keen to draw on findings from DFID’s research portfolio as well as the wider international development community. In practical terms this means not only producing evidence based products and tools but also working with our colleagues to build capacity to ensure they become better consumers of evidence.

DFID have six research streams: human development (which includes health and education), growth, agriculture, climate and environment, governance, conflict and social development and research uptake. More about each of the teams research portfolios can be seen on the Research4Development website. Ok, enough about me and DFID.

This was my first time to Canada and although everyone kept telling me that it was the ‘wrong’ time of year to be visiting I found Montreal, and by extension my fellow knowledge broker colleagues, to be fabulous and intellectually stimulating hosts. The conference workshop on Knowledge Brokering was informative and inclusive (this last point was very important for me as I have only held my current position for nine months and was fearful that I would meet individuals who knew everything but were sharing nothing due to the publication backlog). During the conference I was very much struck by three things (1) the sheer variety of work that is conducted in the ‘knowledge broker’ field; (2) many of us are struggling with the same challenges around monitoring impact and legitimating the work of those who work in knowledge brokering and (3) the willingness of those who attended the conference to share experiences and approaches developed in their field. I look forward to meeting many of the delegates again and also visiting Canada…which if I visit under the ‘right’ circumstances I fear I will never leave.

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