Negotiating understanding: supporting dialogue in knowledge interaction

The Research Unit for Research Utilisation (RURU) held an informal event on 9 November 2015 to explore how supported dialogue can facilitate knowledge interaction and practice change. Around 30 participants from a range of fields – including health, education, social care and justice – came together to share and discuss the issues and challenges of supporting such dialogue. Invited speakers presented their experiences and each presentation was followed by small-group discussions examining the implications for knowledge sharing and practice change.

Three short presentations from different fields were used to provoke reflection and open up discussions.

Presentations [pdfs]

1) Nick Andrews, from the School for Social Care Research at Swansea University. “Developing Evidence Enriched Practice (DEEP) in social care: ‘it’s a bit like making a cake’“.

2) Vicky Ward, from the Academic Unit of Primary Care at Leeds University. “Helping health and social care practitioners share knowledge – the trials and the tribulations“.

3) Martin Marshall and Laura Eyre, from Improvement Science London and UCL. “Evaluating an integrated care programme using the Researcher-in-Residence model“.

The presentations, small discussion groups and a final plenary session generated lively discussions which continued into the evening over an informal dinner.

Summary of observations from discussions

 On blending knowledge:

  1. There are many different sources and forms of knowledge that need to be part of the mix when supporting dialogue. How these are labelled tends to matter (e.g. hard and soft).
  2. It is important from the outset to clarify the purpose of any knowledge interaction event as this is likely to effect how different forms of knowledge are ‘weighed’ against one another, although it is always important to acknowledge and value differences in perspective.
  3. Blending different sources and forms of knowledge may be easier in the context of frontline practice when compared to operating in policy settings.

 On facilitating dialogue and action:

  1. There is a need for explicit and skilled facilitation which confronts and seeks to alter power differentials as appropriate.
  2. The power of stories in facilitating dialogue should not be underestimated (although it was also noted that careful use of numbers can be powerful and persuasive).
  3. The link between dialogue and action is not always clear but participation in enacting change was also considered important, possibly via a process of co-design.

 On knowledge brokering roles:

  1. The set-up arrangements for brokering roles really matters, in particular whether the broker is embedded in normal team functioning or whether the arrangements support the creation of special protected reflective spaces.
  2. The language used about the role can have critical influence – embedded researcher, facilitator, broker or critical friend, to name just a few – because this is associated with different connotations and role dynamics.
  3. When the role of broker as “change agent” is mixed with a role as “researcher” significant tensions can arise.
  4. There are evident risks and discomforts that can arise in brokering roles, suggesting the need for broader support and debriefing for those taking on these roles.