Friday 7 April 2017

The school research lead and Mission Impossible 2

In a previous post I argued that we may be asking individual school research champions to do an almost impossible job.  Given the skills required to perform different aspects of school research champion role; the tensions between different types of knowledge; the tensions between different types and sources of knowledge; the 'in-betweenness' of the role of the school research champion; and, a number of unintended consequences – the school research champion role is almost impossible for any one individual.   So we need to look at alternative approaches and (Kislov et al., 2016) as argues we need to move from knowledge brokers to knowledge brokering – or in the case of schools – research champion to research championing. So the rest of this post will: first, explain how team-based knowledge brokering may address tensions within knowledge-brokering; second, identify the steps required to develop school research championing; third, consider the implications for empirical research, especially within Teaching School Alliances and Multi-Academy Trusts.

Note – as in the last post I will use the terms knowledge broker and school research champions synonymously

Addressing the tensions in knowledge brokering a team-based approach.

(Kislov et al., 2016) have developed a useful table showing knowledge brokering can address some of the tensions generated by knowledge brokers

Questions to be addressed by knowledge brokering teams
Tensions between different aspects of brokering
·      Does the team have the combination of skills required for the realisation of all three aspects of brokering?
·      What skills are currently lacking and how can their development be supported?
·      What incentives can be provided to support the engagement of a school, department, MAT chain in capacity building activities?
·      What arrangements are in place to ensures the mobilisation of the brokered knowledge into actual practice?

Tensions between different types and 
sources of knowledge
·      How will the brokered knowledge integrate with existing ways of doing things within a school?
·      How can an adequate mix of research, school data, stakeholder views and practitioner expertise and other forms of knowledge be achieved in the team?
·      Does the team have credibility with teachers, support staff, managers, leaders, governors, trustees and external researchers?
·      How can individuals already playing the role of informal knowledge brokering roles locally be identified and engaged?

Tensions caused by the 
‘in-between’ position of brokers
·      Are the interests of all stakeholder groups taken into account in the process of brokering
·      What procedures are in place to support the recognition, promotion and career development of knowledge brokers?
·      What arrangements are in place for the spreading of the knowledge or more experienced brokers to novices?
·      What social support structures (professional learning communities, peer support groups, mentorship groups are available?
Adapted from (Kislov et al., 2016) p110

Putting together a team-based approach to knowledge brokering

(Kislov et al., 2016) suggests two key steps.  First, is to develop a brokering team which is drawn from different professional backgrounds and having complementary skills.  This will allow the brokering team to have access to the skills necessary to the different activities associated with knowledge brokering – information management, linkage and exchange and capacity building.   In all likelihood this will involve drawing on the skills and expertise of school leaders, heads of department, teachers and support staff.  Ideally, the compostion of the group will contribute to the group’s credibility with the school or MAT.

Second, the leaders of schools seeking to develop the championing of research need to recognise that knowledge brokering is a fundamental part of their ‘champion/broker’ core –role, and is not something which should be bolted on to other duties.  Research championing needs to be seen to be as important as other aspects of the brokers full-roles.  In doing so, it is essential that resources are invested in the capacity building for the individual research champions/knowledge brokers.    Finally, it needs to be recognised that developing the skills, knowledge and experience to be a successful member of knowledge brokering team will take time, and will not happen over-night.  So senior leaders will need to display patience.

Questions for future research and investigation
  • How do knowledge brokering teams manage the tensions associated with knowledge brokering?
  • How do successful knowledge brokering teams operate across multi-academy trusts?
  • How do ‘successful’ knowledge brokering teams operate?
  • What happens to the careers of knowledge brokers?
  • How is new ‘knowledge’ integrated into the repertoire of the knowledge brokers?
  • How do the practices of a knowledge brokering team develop over time?
To conclude

The role of the school research champion is almost impossible, innovative approaches to the championing of research within schools are required.  Teams which are involved in the championing of research within schools or MATs may be one way forward, and is possibly worthy of further consideration within the changing educational landscape.


KISLOV, R., WILSON, P. & BOADEN, R. 2016. The ‘dark side’of knowledge brokering. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, 1355819616653981.


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