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A Comparison of European and North American Approaches to the Management and Communication of Environmental Research

Interpreters and Intermediaries

The main role of interpreters and intermediaries is to make science information available to users in a form and at a time that is useful.  Respondents were asked to discuss what is involved in the translation and transfer of information, to what extent interpreters and intermediaries are involved in this process and what skills are necessary to ensure science information is successfully transferred to users. 

  • Interpreters and intermediaries are necessary because policy makers and analysts typically do not have the time to proactively seek out science information, while researchers often do not have the inclination, skill sets or incentives to communicate.  Also, there is often a need for impartial professionals and organizations to help reconcile contrary views on the science and its implications.
  • Though more is needed, it is apparent that Environment Canada and the U.S. EPA have much higher levels of in-house interpreter expertise than is the norm in Europe.  “People are slowly waking up to knowledge transfer and translation, and that you need to go beyond the science push. It is very sporadic at the moment and this field could benefit by bringing together a community of practice,” was the thought of one interviewee. 
  • For the U.S. EPA, the issue of where interpreters best fit organizationally has been approached by instituting a network of interpreters housed in the Office of Research and Development, the regulatory programs, and in the regions.  In Canada, there is no consensus on whether intermediaries are better positioned in science or policy units, to optimally carry out their activities.
Identified skill sets of intermediaries
Familiar with science and policy
Sound science background with breadth and depth
Synthesize a clear message from a broad set of inputs
Network with the information user to understand their needs
Collaborate to ensure information reaches a broader level
Strong communication skills
Good interpersonal skills
Ability to build trust and confidence


 In Canada
  • The importance of interpreters and intermediaries was stressed.  Researchers, in spite of subtle changes to promotion processes, remain focused on scientific productivity for career progression; whereas policy analysts have competing priorities and short timelines giving them little time to fulfill this function.
  • Some organizations have acknowledged that the mobilization of knowledge should be funded.  However, this is not the norm and it is felt that more institutional recognition of the important roles of interpreters and intermediaries is needed.
  • The concern was expressed in Canada that the role of intermediaries (or knowledge brokers) does not fit easily into existing job classifications and descriptions, and that there needs to be better institutional recognition.
  • A successful approach--the consortium model--brings together interested users to help focus the research needs, fund research and communicate to end users. It is a demand-driven model, and a major brokerage function.
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