Knowledge brokering

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Imagine a "royal personage sitting on a golden chair, but with a cap-in-hand, asking for pieces of silver and bank notes from visitors and passers-by". That's the strong image that ECA in Central Africa used in its advocacy for natural-capital-rich but debt-ridden African countries to transform their economies using their natural resources. A few months later, at the intergovernmental committee of experts, the countries of region decided to create a consortium on natural capital in Central Africa. This is a typical illustration of the well-known fact that numbers alone are not sufficient to change people's behaviors: you need to tell them compelling stories.

In recent years, the scientific knowledge on economics, social and climate science has made great advancements, but we also learnt that simply reporting the facts does not change people's beliefs and behaviors. In the era of the so-called "attention economy" where people are bombarded with huge amount of information including, unfortunately, fake news, we know that the model of the “knowledge deficit” simply does not work. That’s when people who are considered empty of knowledge on a particular topic and the role of experts is to come and fill them with that knowledge. We know that people have a tendency to filter and process information in a way that makes what they are being told consistent with their prior beliefs. Reports full of data and hard facts are therefore useful but not sufficient influence policy. That's where we come in. Think tanks like the ECA are engaging in knowledge translation to amplify the impact of our research. In short, we are knowledge brokers and our blogs are part of that.

At the ECA, we are equipped with specialist knowledge which needs to be shared. In 2012, Science magazine listed knowledge brokering as an emerging profession and described it thus “The key attribute of knowledge brokering is facilitating a two-way or multiway exchange of information.” It went on to quote Morgan Meyer, a postdoc at the Center for the Sociology of Innovation at the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris "A knowledge broker … sits in between knowledge producers, [such as] scientists … and those who use knowledge, such as policymakers, the general public, or people working in the health domain. Knowledge brokers try to bridge the gap that can exist between those two worlds and build connections"

Knowledge brokering not only supports the translation of knowledge into policy and the improvement of policy making and implementation processes, but also encourages senior managers to make changes to their culture to remain competitive in their fields. This, in turn, fosters collaborative work within and outside the purview of a sub-programme, as it could encourage more individuals to take responsibility, contribute ideas, and feel a sense of achievement. It also assists leaders in finding innovative solutions to problems that might otherwise go unnoticed. Research has found that teams underestimate the number of brokers they need and the quality of the insights they will receive when engaging in interactive knowledge brokering (Bammer Michaux and Sanson, 2010, CBK, 2015, Hammil and al, 2013, Mackay, S. et al. 2019). A knowledgeable broker conveys insights by way of anecdotes and personal stories. From the perspective of the audience, knowledge brokering is best done by people who have extensive experience in the field and a thorough understanding of the key players and controversies. Knowledge brokers should also possess good knowledge management skills. It is often the experience of others that provides the most valuable information in the knowledge brokering process. Our aim at the ECA is to become good knowledge brokers in order to convey the knowledge of the Commission to our audience and to engage experts and civil society in member countries with the ultimate objective of transforming the ideas into policies for a prosperous Africa.

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