Background: Knowledge brokers (KBs) work collaboratively with key stakeholders to facilitate the transfer and exchange of information in a given context. Currently, there is a perceived lack of evidence about the effectiveness of knowledge brokering and the factors that influence its success as a knowledge translation (KT) mechanism. Thus, the goal of this review was to systematically gather evidence regarding the nature of knowledge brokering in health-related settings and determine if KBs effectively contributed to KT in these settings.
Methods: A systematic review was conducted using a search strategy designed by a health research librarian. Eight electronic databases (MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL, ERIC, Scopus, SocINDEX, and Health Business Elite) and relevant grey literature sources were searched using English language restrictions. Two reviewers independently screened the abstracts, reviewed full-text articles, extracted data, and performed quality assessments. Analysis included a confirmatory thematic approach. To be included, studies must have occurred in a health-related setting, reported on an actual application of knowledge brokering, and be available in English.
Results: In total, 7935 records were located. Following removal of duplicates, 6936 abstracts were screened and 240 full-text articles were reviewed. Ultimately, 29 articles, representing 22 unique studies, were included in the thematic analysis. Qualitative (n = 18), quantitative (n = 1), and mixed methods (n = 6) designs were represented in addition to grey literature sources (n = 4). Findings indicated that KBs performed a diverse range of tasks across multiple health-related settings; results supported the KB role as a 'knowledge manager', 'linkage agent', and 'capacity builder'. Our systematic review explored outcome data from a subset of studies (n = 8) for evidence of changes in knowledge, skills, and policies or practices related to knowledge brokering. Two studies met standards for acceptable methodological rigour; thus, findings were inconclusive regarding KB effectiveness.
Conclusions: As knowledge managers, linkage agents, and capacity builders, KBs performed many and varied tasks to transfer and exchange information across health-related stakeholders, settings, and sectors. How effectively they fulfilled their role in facilitating KT processes is unclear; further rigourous research is required to answer this question and discern the potential impact of KBs on education, practice, and policy.