NHS IQ attend the European Conference on Knowledge Management (KM)

Earlier this month members of our Knowledge and Intelligence team attended the 16th annual European Conference on Knowledge Management, to link with others in the international knowledge management community. Over 200 delegates attended from 47 different countries around the globe and the team not only heard from a number of interesting speakers, but were given the opportunity to share their lessons learned via two presentations and one roundtable discussion.

Throughout the two days, a number of thought provoking challenges arose – we have outlined these below and welcome any thoughts or comments.

Knowledge sharing for leadership capability

The majority of KM practice and research driven literature vouches for the fact that engaged and visible top-down leadership leads to more effective and perceptible knowledge sharing across organisations. Colleagues in Portugal however found through their research the reverse is also true:  that there is a strong correlation between knowledge sharing practices within an organisation and the effectiveness of leaders.

As we know in health and care, effective leadership plays a large part in achieving positive change, by establishing direction, developing a shared vision and ensuring the organisation is equipped with the right skills and resources to deliver on this shared vision.

Knowledge sharing amongst employees for the benefit of the organisation can support leaders to carry out these duties. Not only can leaders ensure they have an ‘ear to the ground’ and better understand the day to day issues faced by employees, but additionally, they are able to understand the journey of an organisation, leading to  better strategies and narratives by which to engage and motivate employees.

One keynote speaker added to this, claiming that knowledge sharing not only supports leaders to better engage and communicate with audiences, but on an operational level, it can lead to improved organisational resilience, promoting increased capacity for change.

Think about it: large organisations such as Apple and Facebook aren’t successful simply because employees buy into a vision.  Their leaders are tuned into the behaviours and happenings of their organisation, learning from past experience to safely steer their organisation in the right direction.

The above messages are highly relevant to the current health and care landscape. With transformational change high on the agenda, most recently with further calls in the Smith and Rose reports for increased leadership capability, it can be questioned as to whether or not a leader’s ability to deliver change correlates with the knowledge sharing activities of their colleagues.

Knowledge sharing = knowledge quality?

One presentation in particular raised a great deal of questions in regard to capacity building vs. capability building. Hearing from a representative of a well-known broadcasting company regarding their knowledge management strategy, it was clear that technological solutions e.g. a lessons learned repository, lead to an increase in formal knowledge sharing between individuals and teams.

However, whilst technology may be used to better support staff to share lessons learnt, the human element of knowledge management cannot be ignored – increased knowledge sharing as a target alone is unlikely to support effective quality improvement or innovation, as the quality of the knowledge shared is unknown. In fact, storing and sharing irrelevant or outdated knowledge can do more harm than good.  Without the skills to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ knowledge, initiatives to promote increased knowledge sharing can lead organisations down the wrong path.

This raises questions for the improvement community in the health and care sector.  How can we not only support staff to share knowledge and develop the learning organisation cultures in which they feel safe to share, but also support staff to identify the high quality, relevant and shareable knowledge which will make a difference?  How can staff become the effective knowledge brokers sharing their knowledge to improve outcomes and reduce variations?

Learning from the future, not just from the past

Whilst learning from the past is recognised as an effective way of ensuring previously lived mistakes are not repeated, colleagues from Vienna made the case for not only looking back, but also looking forward.

They state that learning from the future can increase innovation, by encouraging teams to look beyond current assumptions and boundaries. Looking to the future can help employees to detach from said assumptions and constrictions, enabling radical thinking and the development of new, previously undiscovered knowledge.

Early findings show that their model, Learning from an Envisioned Future, which merges both traditional learning from past experience and learning from the future has seen to, when implemented, produce significantly more radical outputs that traditional learning.

With this in mind, it can therefore be argued that to increase the prevalence of transformational change in health and social care,  it is important for organisations to not only learn from risks and issues they have already faced, but look ahead to a 5 year forward view-enabled future. Without activities such as horizon scanning or scenario planning, change will remain constrained by existing paradigms, leading to incremental change that will continue to mark health and social care as a sector unable to keep up with the increasing pace of change.


One thought on “NHS IQ attend the European Conference on Knowledge Management (KM)

  1. Great points. Regarding the question of “staff becoming effective knowledge brokers to improve outcomes”, to me that’s at the heart of the challenge. As you mention, technology is great because it allows access to many more people, ideas and knowledge these days, but too often people assume access will lead to improvement, when we all know how hard it is to find useful knowledge these days amongst the vast amounts of ‘stuff’.

    In a previous KM role I held we went back to basics – looking at the original knowledge transfer model of apprenticeships, and at the outcome being action and skill, not just knowledge. We realised the problem was not the technology but the sequence of transmission i.e.

    – first the ‘teacher’ has to know how to recognise a quality outcome in context and be able to define/explain it as such
    – second they then need to be able to identify what, out of all the things they did, made the difference, when most of what they did was probably unconscious and hard to explain
    – which leads to the third challenge – if they recognise the quality outcome, and can tell how they did it so its repeatable, can they explain it to other people in ways that make it clear when to apply this knowledge, and how to practice?
    – and if they can explain it and ‘document’ it somehow, can people find it, at a time when its useful?
    – and if they find it, can they understand how to apply it and when?
    – and finally can they put it into practice, for them in their context (when it may need adapting)

    Which is why apprenticeships used to mean putting the apprentice alongside the professional 🙂

    One insurance organisation I know has tackled this by categorising key work outcomes, and then interviewing their best people and posting those videos internally -there is software to help with this 🙂 It’s not perfect but its a lot better than reading documents, and of course its easy to contact the person after watching the video and ask questions.

    Improving outcomes though needs an extra step even beyond all the thoughts of knowledge sharing above. Which is how people with different experiences and perspectives collaborate effectively to decide how to make use of the knowledge and change their processes, behaviours, and maybe even their beliefs, building on experience and creating new possibilities. In the end, outcomes come down to what people do, and other pressures often get in the way despite what they know.

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