Public Release: 

From ideas to action: World experts meet on better mobilizing knowledge in the age of information

UN University Institute in Canada convenes global knowledge brokers

United Nations University

Every year, billions of dollars are spent worldwide advancing knowledge in areas of public interest ranging from health and the environment to education and agriculture. Yet much of the information generated fails to reach many of those who could benefit -- from policy makers to the general public.

How to better mobilize knowledge and maximize its usefulness is the focus of 60 experts from 20 countries and spanning a score of disciplines convened by the Canadian-based United Nations University - Institute for Water, Environment and Health to a meeting in Hamilton, Canada April 24-28.

A Green Paper under consideration at the conference is available for preview online at The event programme is online at and proceedings may be followed live online (for instructions:

Worldwide a growing number of individuals and organisations work in the fields collectively given the acronym K*, embracing Knowledge Mobilization (KM), Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT), Knowledge Brokering (KB), and Knowledge Adoption (KA) among other terms.

They work to address the challenges of, for example:

  • Practitioners in one sector unaware of relevant work going on elsewhere;

  • International donors who find it difficult to assess the policy impact of their research funding;

  • Policymakers who need access to authoritative resources for decision-making

The international conference is designed as a forum for sharing ideas and practices to broker knowledge effectively, to air a variety of perspectives on knowledge management, and lay the foundation for future work, including establishment of a global community of interested parties and mechanisms to sustain it.

As well, the conference, chaired by Alex Bielak, Senior Research Fellow UNU-INWEH, will create a legacy document, capturing ideas on reducing the gulf between knowledge and action.

Citing the work of expert Peter Cullen, Dr. Bielak says senior policy makers are time poor, information overloaded and don't read much.

"Policy makers tend to gather only what they need to know when they need to know it. They have a very short-term, reactive perspective and deep content knowledge is rare as they frequently move jobs. There is an appetite to summarize information into one page for the top brass. Policy makers are averse to anything too complicated. They default to trusted sources even when they suspect those sources may be out of date or incomplete. They may have a jaundiced opinion of science believing it is too slow and expensive and that it is answering questions no one has asked."

"The worlds, values, norms and languages of science and policy are very different, and arguably divergent. Scientists and policy makers are both time poor. Few have the aptitude, skills, commitment and time to excel in both domains at the same time. There is a real need for intermediaries dedicated to work between knowledge generation and its use. This works best not as an add-on but in a comprehensive supportive system. This is where knowledge translation and knowledge brokering enter."

Adds UNU-INWEH Director Zafar Adeel: "The world is confronted by rapid, unpredictable global changes with huge implications for economic and societal development, which demands smarter policies."

"Intermediaries are of growing importance to improve the science-policy interface and we hope this conference will advance the art of knowledge brokering and translation within a broad variety of domains. The implications for global policy-making are great, particularly as we prepare for a gathering of world's leaders for the 'Rio+20 Summit' in Brazil in about two months."

Louise Shaxson, a Research Fellow at the UK's Overseas Development Institute, and Vice-Chair of the Conference commented that the problems under discussion are universal.

"Policymakers in developed and developing countries alike are hampered by the need to respond rapidly to pressing concerns, and rely on the actions of intermediaries to help them interpret complex information. Both in developed and developing countries, intermediaries broker knowledge into policy and practice. Working with civil society organisations, NGOs, the private sector and academia, these intermediaries help ensure that the best available knowledge is used to make effective policies."

"There is a growing community of people interested in this emerging field of knowledge brokering and this conference is an important step in building a global forum within which intermediaries, wherever they come from, can learn from each other, avoid reinventing wheels, and ensure that their actions are as cost-effective as they can be."


United Nations University

Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973, United Nations University is an international community of scholars engaged in research, advanced training and the dissemination of knowledge related to pressing global problems. Activities focus mainly on peace and conflict resolution, sustainable development and the use of science and technology to advance human welfare. The University operates a worldwide network of research and post-graduate training centres, with headquarters in Tokyo.

UNU-INWEH began operations in 1997 to strengthen water management capacity, particularly of developing countries, and to provide on-the-ground project support. With core funding from the Government of Canada through CIDA, it is hosted by McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada.

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