The role of knowledge brokers (also called intermediaries or connectors) is often highlighted as a key enabling factor in bringing together producers and users of weather and climate information to improve the understanding between both groups and work towards improving weather and climate services. Suzanne Carter and Beth Mackay, SouthSouthNorth (SSN), explore what knowledge brokers do in a co-production context and three criteria for success.
Knowledge brokers are individuals that straddle the divide – they understand the intricacy of climate science but also know how users apply climate information in practice. They create a link between the user (e.g. decision maker) and producer (e.g. scientist) and often help the two communities to understand each other’s needs and limitations. Often knowledge brokers are the ones that facilitate processes of co-production and build trust between the two different communities.
There are other definitions in the academic literature and the understanding of the role is evolving. What is clear is that knowledge brokers can come from many fields and that there is a range of actors that can play this role in various situations. A non-profit organization (like SSN), research institutes, civil society groups, government ministries and importantly the media all can play knowledge broker roles.
A recent Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) and Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) joint publication on co-production of African weather and climate services identified some key attributes of a knowledge broker.
‘They have an overview of the full spectrum of actors and the knowledge value chain within which climate services are delivered. Their functions are to:
- enable linkages;
- ensure meaningful interaction between actors;
- support ‘language translation’ so that producers and users understand each other;
- create or facilitate systems for knowledge access, combining different forms of knowledge (e.g. scientific and local), communication, and feedback on the use and impacts.’
1. Honest broker needed to build trust: Having no vested interest in the outcome allows a knowledge broker to facilitate but not overly influence the building of common ground between producers and users to co-identify the problem and co-develop solutions. Trust is a key element to successful co-production and often trust in the knowledge broker that they will responsibly guide the process of interaction between the user and producer is vital.
2. Creative but careful facilitation skills: Ensuring that co-production is a rewarding process that motivates and inspires the group of users and producers to work together is no easy task. Creative forms of facilitation that include role play and interactive activities can make the process more attractive and helps secure continued participation. The knowledge broker also needs to make sure that all the people involved in the co-production process are given an equal voice and that any hierarchies or other barriers to open discussion are reduced or ideally removed.
3. Accessible communication to promote joint understanding: It is important to tailor communication and activities to the specific groups that you are dealing with so that both groups are able to actively engage and participate in activities. For example the language, terminology, communication format and activities used will differ according to whether you are conducting co-production processes with farmers and scientists or government officials and scientists.
A practical example is the importance of knowledge brokering at a workshop supported by FCFA, which brought together climate journalists and scientists. The aim was to create a two-way knowledge exchange on better communicating climate change. At this training it was important that both the knowledge producer (scientists) and the knowledge communicator (journalists) began to have a dialogue and in particular for the scientists to breakdown their technical terms for the journalists to easily communicate to a non-technical audience. It also offered journalists the opportunity to ask any questions and pry deeper into the climate problem.
Important to this was the building of trust between both groups. “This took place long before the start of the workshop through the identification of the appropriate journalists and scientists and maintaining these relationships through Whatsapp, meetings, and in-country trips,” explains Diana Njeru (Project Director, BBC Media Action).
Additionally, careful facilitation of appropriate activities at the workshop such as regular icebreakers and group work helped to drive continued engagement and equal involvement of all participants. To ensure information was easily understood by both groups and that participants were comfortable to participate and engage, all communication was in the local language of participants with translators on hand if needed.
Knowledge brokers play an essential role in creating, facilitating, and fostering links between climate information producers and users. They help to enhance the understanding between the two groups through co-production. Ultimately this understanding helps to improve the uptake of climate information and collaboration amongst a wider group of actors.
For more information on co-production approaches in weather and climate services, see the manual recently published by the WISER and FCFA programmes.