Knowledge management (KM) is not a new concept – it has been around since the early 1990’s – but it is a concept which often suffers from ‘phrase fatigue’. Not only is it over-used, it is often unclear what it actually means. However, the benefits of effective knowledge sharing are undisputed.
Over the decades since KM was established, organisations have benefitted from introducing knowledge creation and sharing approaches. Increased efficiency and innovation, improved customer satisfaction and a motivated and expert workforce are oft-cited benefits of KM and are as relevant to the NHS as to the law firms, consultancies and oil companies in which KM originated.
The Knowledge and Intelligence Team, part of the Sustainable Improvement Team at NHS England, have been developing a suite of KM resources to highlight the benefits of KM for the health care sector. Now, a new KM report which we’ll publish in January, reviews the usage of KM approaches in the NHS since the 1990’s and identifies KM approaches which could benefit the future NHS.
KM is not a new phenomenon in the NHS. In the 1990’s, Sir Muir Gray, Director of the NHS National Knowledge Service, highlighted the importance of knowledge to the NHS:
“Healthcare and public health, we are knowledge industries. I know we have buildings, we have technology, we have medicines but it’s the knowledge that drives us.”
Over the years since then, what role has KM fulfilled in the NHS, and what successes have there been? Can we promote KM approaches to address the current challenges that the NHS is facing?
In order to answer these questions, I spoke to a number of individuals who are passionate about using KM approaches in the NHS and enthusiastically share their expertise with the service. Their observations provided a backdrop to the events of the NHS over the past two decades, and they provided examples of great knowledge sharing.
There are several reasons to be optimistic about the future of KM in the NHS: change is happening, and there is a widespread awareness that utilizing expertise and sharing best practice will enable the NHS to be more efficient and ensure continuous learning is part of everyone’s role.
The sheer size of the NHS makes it challenging to establish the culture of widespread trust and openness which is essential to promote knowledge sharing. However, the NHS is changing: there is now awareness that top-down, enforced approaches are not effective and that individuals have the skills and expertise to influence and support network driven change.
The network of NHS Library and Knowledge Services which underpin evidence-based medicine has developed over the past two decades despite frequent reorganisations. KM skills have become increasingly part of their professional skills’ base, and their focus includes both explicit knowledge sharing – research and evidence – and tacit knowledge sharing – skills and best practice examples. Actionable knowledge is seen as the way to support clinicians in accessing evidence and putting it into practice – addressing the challenge of ‘information overload’.
KM is not a ‘quick fix’ solution: the organisational trust required to promote knowledge sharing takes time to develop, and recent reorganisations have hampered this. However, widespread organisational change is not on the horizon and the NHS is working to a five year forward plan.
KM is most successful when knowledge sharing activities are widespread in the organisation and supported by management. The NHS currently has an aspiration to be a learning organisation and learning activities will ensure improved knowledge sharing. I discovered many examples of great knowledge sharing and these can be developed into a narrative to support learning ambitions.
The support required to develop knowledge sharing skills has often been overlooked in the past. The Knowledge and Intelligence Team have an ambition to support the development of knowledge capabilities. Our learning and intelligence handbooks provide a fund of resources, and the Team support challenges to develop Twitter skills to help the spread of knowledge.
Perhaps the most positive outcome of the KM report has been the new relationships established with KM enthusiasts in the NHS. The appetite and expertise to support knowledge sharing is undoubtedly present, and it would seem that now is a good time for it to move centre stage.
Look out for the KM report which will be published in the New Year and will develop the narrative.