A reflection from David Stewart
“Knowledge Management (KM), what’s that then?” A question I used to dread. That “crunch” moment in the lift when a very senior person asks you a question that really takes more than 30 seconds to answer. I had never heard of knowledge management until the later 1990s; it certainly did not feature in my librarianship course in 1981, but then neither did computers!
Once I heard the term, I started to try to find out more. There was a bewildering array of theoretical articles some of which promised to supercharge our workplace; others were very dismissive; “knowledge can’t be managed” I collected them together and soon had two box files full and was none the wiser. Then someone pointed me to a local academic, Dr Jim Hughes at Salford University who was lecturing in KM. Jim ran a whole series of seminars for North West NHS librarians in the early 2000s, helping us to understand where it came from and what it might be. We also worked with Dr Chris Mimnagh, a GP and commissioner who was very enthusiastic about the potential of KM. Chris now works with The Innovation Agency in the North West.
Over the next fifteen years KM appeared to come and go, sometimes being treated as a “nice to have” and not a priority in financially constrained times. Nevertheless, it became an important strand as we wrote and published Knowledge for Healthcare in December 2014. The Mobilising Evidence and Knowledge workstream has been our programme for bringing Knowledge Management to the centre of our offer into the healthcare system. This firmly twins our long-established role in disseminating and providing access to evidence from research and practice with a corporate responsibility to better manage and use knowledge and shared learning.
Five years on, and reviewing what we have achieved, I believe we have moved significantly on the KM front. Almost all NHS library and knowledge services (note that we now refer to knowledge services as an integral part of our function) have been able to demonstrate, via their Library Quality Assurance Framework (LQAF) returns, that they are actively involved in some aspect of KM within their trust. We have recently published a new edition of the KM Framework postcards describing learning before, during and after techniques; more and more of us can run a knowledge café and understand what the goldfish bowl technique is. More NHS organisations are using the Health Education England self-assessment tool to assess how well they are using evidence and organisational knowledge, working with health library and knowledge specialists to prioritise KM activities. We are about to initiate market research on potential demand for an e-qualification in KM for NHS staff.
I believe we are in a very different KM space than even five years ago. Listen to my recent Webinar on the background and context of Quality and Improvement Outcome Four of the new Quality and Improvement Outcomes Framework where I say that KM “will become the every-day core of what we do” – delivering Knowledge and Library Services to ensure that organisational knowledge and best evidence are mobilised to achieve excellent healthcare and health improvement.
David Stewart, Head of Library and Knowledge Services North, Directorate of Innovation and Transformation, Health Education England