Saturday, 6 March 2010

To share or not to share?

I've spotted a proliferation of new initiatives within the NHS in England attempting to encourage staff to share their knowledge online. While this sounds like a useful and pragmatic action to take I wonder what the implications might be.

The main exhortation is about encouraging staff to share what has worked well for them. I expect there will be many who would like to share, though inputting your information into a fairly anonymous database is at the higher end of the perceived risk continuum. Without knowing who (as in a person) will be editing or reading the information, many people will be hesitant to "share" in this way.

The proliferation of different places to share is also confusing. In their own way, each organisation requesting sharing is doing so for the right reasons. However, how do you choose - NHS Networks, NHS Institute, NICE, own organisation's database... random sharing with colleagues using other online networks, professional groups?? Each organisation requesting sharing is doing so for it's own reasons and these reasons may not be easily identifiable by those who are targetted.

For some healthcare staff and their organisations the incentive to share may feel like a perverse one. In a competitive market there may be a disincentive to provide information about how well or how innovative you have been. In my experience the best results are seldom shared because of this restriction. So what we do get shared is often the less innovative and more obvious results of projects and changes.

I think the issue is not "to share or not to share". Sharing is only part of the story. Sharing is only of value if there is someone listening and looking. If the main group looking at what is shared is the group who owns the database then the value of what is shared is quite limited. The real issue is in encouraging staff to look and listen, to be curious and to accept that in just about everything thing they do and every problem they have, someone, somewhere has already addressed it - and this information is already available.

So if you're developing databases to captured shared information then a few pointers to consider:
a) how much of your time, budget and strategy is devoted to encouraging the look and listen?
b) how unique is your database? How will it be found and why should those who are searching use your database?
c) In what way can you build on or link to existing databases so you build a wider knowledge base rather than divide up a crowed space?
d) How can you move from the transactional share and disseminate approach to one which is based on the concept of interaction, dialogue and learning?

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