Monday, July 7, 2014

Knowledge Brokering: the Think Tanks’ Approach and Opportunity to Policy Influence in Ghana


Ghana has a long standing history of democracy on the African continent, especially after the country paved way for multi-party democracy in 1992. The state has since undertaken development programmes with the consciousness of, and collaboration from many other stakeholders. Among these stakeholders are Think Tanks, a category of not-for-profit organizations that seek to influence government policy making in diverse range of sectors with the ultimate object of efficiency and effectiveness in delivering development.

Available to Think Tanks are a wide variety of tools, processes and mechanisms with which they influence government policy decisions. Prominent among these methods are publication of surveys and reports, media presence, advocacy, conferences, seminars and meetings.

In the conduct of their activities, Think Tanks have engaged in knowledge brokering in one way or another. This piece therefore seeks to explore the knowledge brokering role of Think Tanks in Ghana, and discuss ways to enhance these activities as Think Tanks seek to continuously influence government policy making.

Knowledge Brokering (the Concept and the practice)
Knowledge brokering is a concept that has been defined as the “use of information-packaging mechanisms and/or interactive knowledge-sharing mechanisms to bridge policy-makers’ and researchers’ contexts” (WHO, 2013). Lomas (2007; cited in Knight, 2013) expands the definition by indicating that knowledge brokering includes all activities that links decision makers with researchers, facilitating their interaction so that they are able to better understand each other’s goals and professional cultures, influence each other’s work, forge new partnerships, and promote the use of research-based evidence in decision-making.

Knowledge brokerage involves processes of translation, coordination, alignment, gate-keeping and representation between perspectives whiles requiring the ability to link practices by facilitating transactions between them (Meyer, 2010; Karner et al, 2011). It is obvious therefore that knowledge brokering is a borderline field/activity that brings together policy makers on one hand, seeking effectiveness of their policies but with limited knowledge summarization skills; and knowledge producers on the other hand, generating evidence that inform the effectiveness but with too much detail for the policy maker.

To this effect the WHO (2013) perceives a knowledge broker as an individual or organization that engages in knowledge brokering activities. Meyer (2010) agrees that knowledge brokers act in three different manners: as knowledge managers, linkage agents (between producers and users of knowledge), or capacity builders (through enhancing access to knowledge); and in doing so, they are involved in a broad range of activities: articulation work, communication work, identification work, mediation work, educational work, and so on.

The activities of a knowledge broker therefore require a variety of tools, such as organizing seminars or meetings, developing databases, and producing plain-language booklets (ibid). This implies that knowledge brokering is a core function of Think Tanks, acknowledged explicitly or not. Think Tanks therefore constitute a segment of knowledge brokers (see Smith and Torres, 2013).

An Overview of Think Tank Knowledge Brokering in Ghana
Think Tanks have been operating in Ghana and many other African countries for many years. Kimenyi and Datta (2011) acknowledge that during the early post-independence years, African governments reconfigured former colonial research institutions to promote growth and development, and invested considerable sums of money in expanding state infrastructure, including research and development (R&D). These activities served as platforms for invigorating research projects that were mostly implemented by academics (intellectuals) for informing policy making.

However, as the political climate became turbulent in the 1960s and 70s, policy making was dominated by ruling parties, particularly presidents or the ‘big man’, with little input from other groups in society. Post-independence African leaders sought primarily to consolidate power and extract economic gains, perceived intellectual criticisms as a challenge to their rule, and reacted by cutting support to intellectual development. African intellectuals therefore turned to civil society for international donor support and thereby provided indirect advice to their governments through research projects undertaken on behalf of the donors (see Kimenyi and Datta, 2011).

With a rich pool of human resources, Think Tanks have increasingly played pivotal roles in the development of the Ghanaian society, especially from the days of structural adjustment. Ohemeng (2005) attributes such great prominence to “the important role they play in the dissemination of ideas [knowledge] and their influence in the policymaking process in general”.

Currently, Ghana boasts of a great number of Think Tanks with prominence over a wide range of socio-economic issues. In fact the Global Go To Think Tank index registered 38 Think Tanks in its 2013 report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, 2014). Ghanaian Think Tanks have very broad sphere of influence ranging across parliament, the bureaucracy and the executive.

Moving Forward
In a current vibrant civil society environment in Ghana, Think Tanks have maintained a high profile for policy influence. However notwithstanding their number, these institutions need to step-up efforts in order to expand their influence on government policy making (reflected in global indices). To this end therefore, the following approaches are suggested;
1.    conduct a stock-taking exercise of all knowledge brokering resources within the country
2.    establish a portal for coordinating knowledge  brokering resources among Think Tanks
3.    encourage patronage of the portal through reward systems and indices/ranking
4.    establish standards for knowledge brokering resources produced by Think Tanks
5.    and convene national policy dialogues to discuss coordinated efforts by stakeholders at improving knowledge brokerage

World Health Organization (WHO). 2013. How can knowledge brokering be advanced in a country’s health system? Health Systems and Policy Analysis (BRIDGE series). Policy Brief 17
Knight, C. 2013. Knowledge brokers: the role of intermediaries in producing research impact. Evidence & Policy, Vol 9 (3), pp. 309-16

Meyer, M. 2010. The Rise of the Knowledge Broker. Science Communication, Vol. 32 (1), pp. 118-127

Karner, S., Rohracher, H., Bock, B., Hoekstra, F. & Moschitz, H. 2011. Knowledge Brokerage in Communities of Practice: Synthesis report on literature review [Draft version].

Smith, K.E. & Torres, J. 2013. Think tanks as research mediators? Case studies from public health. Evidence & Policy, Vol 9 (3), pp. 371-90

Kimenyi, M.S. & Datta, A. 2011. Think tanks in sub-Saharan Africa How the political landscape has influenced their origins. London: Overseas Development Institute.

Ohemeng, F.L.K. (2005). Getting the State Right: Think Tanks and the Dissemination of New Public Management Ideas in Ghana. Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 43 (3), pp. 443–465

Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program. 2014. 2013 Global Go To Think Tank Index and Abridged Report. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.


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