Imagine the first time you heard the word "brokering" used in an educational space. Is the term "broker" anything you've ever thought about? Who does the brokering? What exactly is being brokered? Where does the concept of brokering fit within K–12 education?
You are here, so you know that supporting the implementation of practices and programs is very important. But did you know that brokering is a key skill in providing implementation support? In this post, we'll explain what "brokering" is and its role during implementation change efforts, and highlight how a leader in one state education agency uses brokering to foster trust, cross-divisional collaboration, and knowledge sharing to support the statewide implementation of improvement initiatives. Keep reading to find out more.
What is Brokering? Why is it important?
Brokering has become a hot topic in the education sphere due to the ongoing challenges of translating research into K–12 classroom practice (Neal et al., 2018). Additionally, school environments are increasingly flooded with new initiatives involving a variety of partners including: curriculum purveyors, regional and state level support, external coaches or consultants, and others. Often a school might have that many players within ONE initiative, each with their own priorities, goals and agendas, all working towards the same outcome - to make things better for our students and teachers. As education agencies seek solutions to address these challenges, the need for implementation support practitioners’ involvement in brokering activities is becoming increasingly important.
Brokering enables knowledge exchange and information sharing among stakeholders to increase understanding of diverse perspectives related to the design and implementation of a program or practice (Metz et al., 2020). It requires attention to relationships, communication networks, and information (Van den Broeck et al., 2017; Metz et al., 2020).
Recall a moment when you were on the road and encountered a bridge. The purpose of the bridge was to allow users to cross a gap in the path between two locations. Bridges help people and products move from one point to the next.
Brokering is pretty much the same thing. Brokering brings people together in the spirit of forward movement, progressing from one point to another toward a common goal. For example, brokering in education could consist of bringing together otherwise separate groups such as administrators, content experts, teachers, data gurus, and university researchers to learn from one another, utilize data, and co-design what the implementation of a specific improvement intervention looks like in practice.
Who is brokering?
You might naturally ask, "Who does the brokering?” Implementation support practitioners, who are also called "implementation specialists," connect people to others with the expertise and knowledge to put a practice into action. Individuals holding this role may have the formal title or may emerge due to their commitment to enhancing the implementation of research-informed practices. Implementation support practitioners help bring together knowledge and resources to make it feasible for individuals and groups in education agencies to make decisions that positively impact outcomes for students, families, and communities. They help people share ideas, connect expertise, build trust in relationships, and look at options for extending the scope and scale of initiatives. Bottom line, implementation support practitioners act as brokers by bringing together diverse perspectives and creating an environment of shared learning and collaboration.
How is this done? In this exclusive interview, Dr. April Kiser-Edwards, the Virginia Department of Education's Implementation and Communication Coordinator, discusses how she brokers cross-divisional staff to exchange knowledge and resources to support statewide implementation efforts.
Brokering in a State Education Agency
Q: When did you start to recognize the need for brokering within your work at the state education agency?
A: We always understood the importance of cross-agency collaboration. It was when we began the implementation science work that it really got off the ground. We knew that if our overall goal was to support continuous improvement we all needed to be in the same room using the same language to really, truly enhance and impact the outcomes.
Q: What do you think are the key skills that implementation specialists need to bring people together?
A: First, you have to be inclusive. You serve as the bridge that brings people together so you have to come in with an inclusive mindset. This means you must also be aware of your communication. Effective communication is job one. Next, as the broker you must have knowledge and a good understanding of what your organization or agency is trying to accomplish. You have to be credible. For example, in our case, it was important to own the knowledge of Implementation Science and what it takes to support effective implementation of a practice or program. Lastly, you always want to make sure that you are building trust and listening to understand the needs of the group so that you can move the work forward.
Q: We know you are currently involved in the SISEP work focused on the effective implementation of a practice or program (literacy) as well as the work with the Network Improvement Communities focused on continuous improvement. Can you give us an example of ways that you've brokered or connected individuals within those two projects?
A: Yes. We established a space where we have leaders from across the state come into the room and actually learn and dig deep into improvement science and implementation science. Every leader that comes into the room knows exactly what's going to happen during that meeting. I feel like the biggest bang for the buck is to ensure that every one of the team members understands why they're at the table. We have a plan and use a protocol within sessions where people are able to truly listen and leverage their expertise and their experience to support implementation efforts. We have to honor what everybody brings to the table and have to be very explicit that we are honoring their knowledge, their expertise, even though we are still growing as a team because we're really building the system as a state.
Q: What advice would you give to a new implementation specialist or someone supporting implementation efforts?
A: I would say be comfortable with learning and being vulnerable. Value learning over knowing. Ask questions and always enter the room with the crown of collaboration.
Ken Blanchard got it right when he said, “No one of us is as smart as all of us.” Reducing the barriers impacting research and practice use in K–12 education is a collective effort. It requires skillfully bringing together individuals and groups with different expertise and perspectives to support implementation efforts. Like Dr. April Kiser-Edwards said, brokering involves engaging in a range of activities like co-learning, growing and sustaining relationships, and applying and integrating implementation and improvement approaches. It requires the intentional focus on connecting individuals and groups for the purpose of knowledge exchange and resource sharing while fostering collaborative relationships. Simply put, brokering in K–12 education is an investment in building the bridges that connect people and products for the purpose of improving outcomes for students, families, and communities. Now ask yourself, in what ways can I start building bridges?
Check out more on brokering on the Active Implementation Hub. Remember, as we say at SISEP at NIRN, “get started and get better.”
Metz, A., Louison, L., Burke, K., Albers, B., & Ward, C. (2020). Implementation support practitioner profile: Guiding principles and core competencies for implementation practice. Chapel Hill, NC: National Implementation Research Network at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Neal, J. W., Neal, Z. P., Lawlor, J. A., Mills, K. J., & McAlindon, K. (2018). What makes research useful for public school educators? Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 45(3), 432–446.
Van den Broeck, A., Van Hooft, E. A., & De Cremer, D. (2017). Brokering innovation: The moderating role of power in knowledge transfer and implementation. Journal of Business Research, 70, 186–195.