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NADRA 2014: Q&A with Professor Alison Ritter

Public health

28 Apr 2014

Professor Alison Ritter is an internationally recognized drug policy scholar and the Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP) at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales. She is a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Senior Research Fellow (2012 to 2016) leading a collaborative, multi-disciplinary program of research on drug policy. The goal of the work is to advance drug policy through improving the evidence-base, translating research and studying policy processes.

Professor Alison Ritter, what is the theme for your presentation at the Nordic Alcohol and Drug Researchers’ Assembly?

I will be talking about research translation through the lens of evidence-based policy. One model that is popular is that of the “knowledge broker”. The many aspects of effective research translation can be usefully examined from that perspective. But I am also critical of it and of evidence-based policy paradigm. The second half of the paper will argue that the evidence-based policy paradigm and knowledge brokerage privilege certain types of evidence and can silence important voices. So I end on a note of caution.

Can you briefly explain the concept of knowledge broker?

Knowledge brokerage has been defined as “All the activity that links decision-makers with researchers, facilitating their interaction” (Lomas, 2007). It represents an ongoing dialogue between researchers and decision makers. Good knowledge brokers are entrepreneurial (networking, problem-solving, innovating); trusted and credible; clear communicators and culturally astute.

What is the benefit of using the knowledge broker approach?

The benefits of the knowledge broker model are that it focuses on the ongoing dynamic relationship between the decision-makers and the researchers. This means that it should engage both parties before the research starts, throughout the conduct of the research and into the dissemination and active translation phase. It is premised on relationships. The model also acknowledges that not every researcher is actually able to or good at translation – it is a special, specific role that requires a certain set of attributes.

What are the limitations of knowledge brokerage?

The underlying premise of knowledge broker model (and by default the evidence-based policy paradigm) is that only experts are knowledgeable and only research evidence is translated. This does not sit comfortably with the major models of policy processes and misunderstands the relationship between decision-makers and policy processes. So the problem is that certain types of evidence are privileged and other voices are silenced (such as drug consumers, general public, the third sector).

How is the concept of knowledge broker affected by the today’s abundance of available information and/or knowledge?

There is certainly an abundance. As argued above, not all the information is regarded as ’evidence’ and as researchers we have an obligation to note our bias and the ways in which we select and appropriate certain types of knowledge as ’evidence’ and dismiss other types of knowledge as not relevant. Knowledge brokers, whether they come from the research field or the policy field, need to be alert to how we construct the nature of evidence and knowledge.


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