BY VICKY WARD

Over the past 3 years I’ve been studying how groups of health and social care staff share knowledge with one another here in the UK. My work has been funded by a National Institute for Health Research ‘Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship’ which provides an opportunity for a unique blend of knowledge mobilisation research and practical, useful activity.

You may wonder what that has to do with applied education research, but during my project I discovered that all of the teams I was working with were essentially trying to work out how to deal with difficult situations (in their case how best to support people with complex lives and healthcare needs). That doesn’t seem all that different to groups of teachers and educationalists trying to work out how best to support students (or deal with any of the other tricky situations which they often face)!

So I’m delighted to be able to share with you some of the key insights from my project and hope that these resonate with and are useful to you.

What helps people to share knowledge?

One of the main aspects of my project was examining how the teams I was working with shared knowledge during multi-disciplinary meetings. Unsurprisingly, I found that all of the teams encountered some difficulties when trying to share knowledge, be it having too much knowledge and information to share or lacking the motivation to go looking for knowledge from elsewhere. Many of these insights are captured in a series of stories about knowledge sharing which can be found here. But I also found that there were a number of key things that seemed to help members of these teams to share knowledge with each other. These include: 

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  • Having a shared aim (which included improving the situation being discussed or simply making a decision about how to deal with the situation)
  • Admitting unease, uncertainty and concern
  • Asking ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions
  • Making connections between the situation being discussed and previous situations
  • Being open and receptive to knowledge from various sources and willing to learn from others with different backgrounds
  • Taking time and space to think, reflect and tell stories about the current situation and past experiences

 

These insights are useful in themselves, but don’t necessarily help to improve knowledge sharing. Cue the next part of my project…

How can we improve knowledge sharing?

Previous research has shown that when groups of people are trying to work out how to deal with a difficult situation their knowledge sharing falls into five main areas. These can be usefully grouped into three sets of activities:

  • Identifying the main area of concern
  • Identifying and sharing relevant knowledge
  • Considering how to access and use knowledge

It was common for the teams I was working with to struggle with one or more of these and so I developed a series of questions designed to help them to share knowledge and remind about activities they may have forgotten or overlooked. The questions can be seen below and more detail (and a guide for using them) can be found here.

I tried these questions out with the teams and asked for their feedback. I found that the questions were best used in a relatively unstructured, or fluid way, usually in response to a discussion that was already taking place. Teams agreed that the questions should not necessarily be used in a structured way and definitely didn’t support their use as a ‘checklist’! Overall the questions were seen as a valuable tool for helping them to think and reflect together, share their knowledge and experience and make use of that knowledge.

I hope that you will find my insights and this tool useful and that they will help you (and those who you work with) to think and reflect on how you share knowledge and how to get better at it.

 

Questions about:

The main area(s) of concern

What is known

Accessing and using knowledge

Example questions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the biggest/ underlying issue?

What are we worried about?

What is the issue we want/need to address?

Why is this an issue?

What are we struggling with?

Why do we want/need to do something?

Who is this an issue for?

 

 

 

 

What do we know/think/ feel about this situation?

What do other people affected by the situation know/think/feel?

Do we all know/think/ feel the same?

Have we tried to do something about this situation before?

Have we dealt with a similar situation before?

What do we know about how to address this situation?

What do we usually do about this type of situation?

How do we capture what we know?

What do we need to know to move forward?

How do we find the knowledge we need?

Who else might know something about this situation?

Who do we need to talk/ listen to?

Has anyone else tried to do something about this situation?

Has anyone else dealt with a similar situation?

How do we use what we know/find out to develop a solution?

What might influence our ability to use knowledge?

How do we share what we know with others?

 

Ask these questions when:

 

 

 

 

 

There is a lot of generalised worry, concern or frustration about a situation

The discussion is going round in circles without any forward movement

Lots of questions are being asked and/or ideas are being put forward which seem to address different aspects of the situation

 

 

During discussion people are using phrases like ‘I don’t know’, ‘I’m unsure’

The main area of concern comes up frequently when discussing other situations

Few team members are involved in the discussion

People are only passing on factual information about the situation

There is little consideration of what is known by others who are outside the immediate discussion

The main area of concern relates to another part of the system/another service

The discussion is going round in circles without any forward movement

Few decisions are being made about how to move forward

  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vicky Ward is an Associate Professor in Knowledge Mobilisation at the University of Leeds, UK. She focuses on how healthcare staff and academics can be supported to learn from and share their knowledge with one another. Her recent work has focused on developing a service user feedback framework for improving integrated care, how health and wellbeing managers from different organisations share and create knowledge, how collaborative relationships between academics and NHS managers develop and how knowledge is exchanged within service delivery teams. In 2014 she was awarded an NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship to focus on how knowledge is mobilised across health and social care boundaries in community settings. She is part of the organising group for a new online learning network – the Knowledge Into Practice Learning Network (for more details and how to join visit https://knowledgeintopracticenetwork.wordpress.com/). Before branching out into health research, she had a career as a clarinet teacher and ran her own teaching practice. Find out how (and why) she made the move into health research on her blog.