Knowledge broker Professor Fiona Blyth is practised in the art of stepping into the shoes of a wide range of agencies as they seek the latest research evidence to help inform their future policies and programs.
Professor Blyth, Senior Adviser in the Sax Institute’s Knowledge Exchange Division, is one of the Institute’s most experienced knowledge brokers, who will soon conduct her 50th knowledge brokering session for the Institute’s Evidence Check program, which produces reviews on topics as wide-ranging as the safety of primary care and orthotics workforce planning.
“It requires the ability to step into policy makers’ world and really understand what they need evidence to do to help them” – Fiona Blyth
She says the success of the ever-growing program hinges not only on the network of experienced researchers who carry out the reviews, but on the expertise the Institute brings to the planning and knowledge-brokering process.
The power of the right question
When an agency commissions an Evidence Check ‒ a rapid review of the published evidence on a certain topic ‒ they firstly work closely with the Knowledge Exchange analysts to narrow down the key areas of the inquiry, a process that is aided by them completing a short questionnaire.
In a one-hour meeting, the knowledge broker sits down with those commissioning the Evidence Check to finalise the parameters of the review ‒ a process that Professor Blyth says is a key step to ensure the review is best designed to answer the agency’s questions.
Professor Blyth’s role as a broker involves assisting the agency to ascertain what is most important to them, to identify if anything is missing or being duplicated in their proposal and to help define what can be achieved within the time-frame and budget available.
“We spend a lot of time on definitions and scope,” she says. “You can’t underestimate the power of the right question and the importance of getting it right.”
Walking in the agency’s shoes
Professor Blyth, a public health physician and epidemiologist with a special interest in chronic pain, is also Head of Concord Clinical School at the University of Sydney.
She has a long association with the Sax Institute, having worked in a number of roles, and says she was keen to move into knowledge brokering because it was an “opportunity to bridge the gap between generations of evidence and its uptake into policy”.
“I see that as a very important thing to do. I also find it intellectually interesting because it requires the ability to step into the policy makers’ world and really understand what they need evidence to do to help them.”
The role also requires a good understanding of the way researchers think and the architecture of evidence, so that she can “walk in the agency’s shoes towards the evidence”, she says.
And she feels her experience as a knowledge broker has helped her as a researcher.
“Right at the start of a research project, I look at where is this going to make a difference and what can it be applied to,” she says.
“It has helped me to understand the importance of understanding the broader picture when designing research questions – like what is the policy context and who are the end users of the research.”