Post 4 | The Transformation Essentials series
There is no shortage of knowledge in the New Zealand health system – our challenge is how to best use it. How can we qualify it? How can we share it? How can we use it to improve the health of our communities?
First, let’s look at the term knowledge. The simplest definition I have come across is ‘knowledge is the capacity for effective action’. Powerful words for what is, or should be, a powerful tool.
With a CV that inlcudes being NHS Chief Knowledge Officer, Sir Muir Gray is particularly well qualified to speak about knowledge, and you can hear him do this in his podcast What is knowledge? He talks about the sources of knowledge – statistics, research, and experience – and reflects that we should perhaps place more store on evidence from experience, rather than be so heavily reliant on evidence from research. He also provides some thought-provoking quotes, including this one from Manuel Castells:
Information has not much value per se, without the knowledge to recombine it for a purpose.
CMDHB is rich in knowledge. However, because we are such a big organisation we don’t always know what we know. For example, knowledge applied in one part of the organisation may not be leveraged in another. One may argue that with all the knowledge in the world at our door step, it means little if people don’t know what to do with it, or how to pass it on to others. You may have heard the expression ‘knowledge is power’. I think what we should be saying is sharing knowledge is power!
Sharing knowledge is simply essential for transformation. Muir says, ‘ nineteenth century health was transformed by clear, clean water. In the twenty-first century, health will be transformed by clean, clear knowledge.’
So how do we get people to share ‘clean, clear knowledge’? Do we offer a monetary reward or a prize for getting people to share, or does it come down to helping people to understand that sharing knowledge helps them do their jobs more effectively, aids their personal development, and brings more personal recognition? Is this all it takes? What do you think?
Here’s another common expression: ‘if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’. I think this applies to knowledge. If you don’t make use of your knowledge, then it rapidly loses its value.
You may be thinking, how is our knowledge managed, where is it being stored (apart from in our heads), and how is it being transferred to others? These are valid questions. What can we do to draw more value from our knowledge?
One thing we are doing is hosting a regular knowledge sharing forum where people come together to hear about new ideas and innovations and to hear from the ‘experts’ (locally and overseas). We recently held two sessions with Sir Mansel Aylward who led discussions on key population health challenges and the greatest impacts on New Zealand’s health system.
More knowledge sharing and collaborative learning took place in May at the 20,000 Days launch and learning session. We really are very fortunate to have such tremendous meeting places, and we are developing an online meeting place through this web site, which is for all our voices. So please speak up through the comments facility, or put your hand up to write a guest blog (contact Janet Haley).
We are also thinking about creating a special kind of people directory that captures and shares our talents and expertise, not just our roles and reporting structures. Often we will have valuable expertise within our organisation that we just don’t know about, like the ability to design and create an innovative people directory! What are some other things we do to better share our knowledge?
Knowledge needs to be cultivated, harnessed, and managed, and the term knowledge management has now been around for a number of years. As with leadership, there are numerous definitions. A common definition is ‘the collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination, and leveraging of knowledge to fulfil organisational objectives’. Another useful one, put forward by the American Productivity and Quality Center, is ‘the systematic process of identifying, capturing, and transferring information and knowledge people can use to create, compete, and improve’.
Ultimately, gaining utility from knowledge is key, and that cannot happen when knowledge is stagnant or unused. So we need to think about what kind of environment allows knowledge to gainfully flow and flourish.
Before I close, I think it is important to also ask the question, what stifles knowledge sharing? Writing expert, Simon Hertnon, who has been spending some time at Ko Awatea, believes the single greatest barrier to knowledge sharing is the prevailing attitude that more information is better. He says that the effort spent generating and negotiating unnecessary, unhelpful information leaves almost no energy left for effective knowledge sharing. Do you agree?
Knowledge management is no short-term quick fix. It is a long-term, sustainable commitment to changing the culture of healthcare to become more collaborative, more transparent, and more proactive. It is a commitment we need to make together.
I will close with a challenging question and an inspiring quote. The question: What helps and what hinders the sharing of your own knowledge? The quote, appropriately from Muir Gray:
Knowledge is the enemy of disease, the application of what we know will have a bigger impact than any drug or technology likely to be introduced in the next decade.