Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dialogue: a new tool for librarians to facilitate the sharing of knowledge

Today’s environment for sharing information and knowledge is complicated. The variety of tools, styles, formats available affect our ability to communicate clearly and efficiently. Time is an issue as well. Nonetheless, with the plethora of technologies that can be customized for our specific needs, one would think communicating ideas would be easier – but alas, its not.

One method often relied upon to share the information and knowledge (Depending on how you define it) is the written text – in whatever format it is delivered. The management of explicit items is certainly the "mental model" most conjured up when librarianship is mentioned. But is that the only way we can contribute to knowledge sharing? Think again. I recently had a colleague profess that librarians needed to embrace dialogue as a tool to share knowledge rather than just providing articles and other explicit knowledge artifacts. He saw this as a way to remain viable in today's information rich environment.

This is an intriguing concept. It certainly builds on the KM notions outlined by Nancy Dixon in her book Common Knowledge (ISBN: 0875849040) where she present a structured process of team discussion and feedback as a mechanism for knowledge transfer in the corporate environment. So let’s think on how this concept might play out in health care.

Certainly the idea of transferring knowledge in small groups rings true in safety circles. With the recent interest in debriefs, daily huddles, collaborative rounding, walkarounds, and regular team / unit meetings, meeting to share "what the knower knows" enables a richness of exchange that helps create a mindfulness around both the work at hand and bigger picture issues that affect the safety of care. In addition, mindfulness is enhanced by these communication mechanisms that facilitate knowledge and information to be shared in real time in a context that allows for visible impact of that exchange.

In response to my colleague, then, can and should information professionals in health care facilitate and contribute to this activity? If you like this idea, then, what is the best marriage of our skill set with the function of dialogue? I recognize that it can’t happen always – especially at the sharp end of clinical care -- but the closer librarians are to the clinical team -- the more likely it is to happen. Certainly participating in these front line information exchange activities from time to time will inform any dialogue that takes place regarding information services. Having regular dialogue with front line staff may help improve the reliability of care process through more effective evidence delivery. A bridge to the "sharp end" dialogue process may be to participate in committee work. We should do this not only from a information service perspective but as an information and knowledge strategist. In addition – don’t forget to set up opportunities to talk to patients and families. Even if you don’t serve them directly, their needs and ideas should be folded into any health care knowledge sharing initiative: nothing about them, without them.

To close -- dialogue is also a key systems thinking tool. If info pros are to seen as systems thinkers, shouldn't’t they be comfortable demonstrating AND explaining the art of dialogue as a tool in THEIR information and knowledge sharing arsenal? I think so.

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