Knowledge management

The Knowledge and Library Services team are supporting knowledge management across PHE by providing and signposting a range of resources, tools and expertise to help us seek, share and use knowledge.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is about people and how we work together. It is about communicating, sharing and learning from others and building connections and networks which enable us to learn more and work better. It is about connecting people to the knowledge they need to make decisions and improve their practice.

Knowledge can be explicit (‘know-what’) and may be written down in manuals, procedures, lessons learned and research findings; or tacit (‘know-how’) residing in people’s heads and rooted in individual experience and which requires personal contact and trust to share effectively.

Knowledge management is the management of environment, cultures and ways of working to proactively stimulate knowledge creation, sharing and use.

Situations where knowledge is missing, or not used, can lead to more expensive and time-consuming training, a lack of learning from past practice, and costs through duplicating previous mistakes. Knowledge that is captured, shared and used helps with productivity, innovation and good practice, and allows new staff to become competent and self-reliant more quickly.

This short animation (4.5 mins) from the Environment Agency describes knowledge management and what it means for the way we work.

Our approach

We are using the Knowledge Principles for Government – a set of seven principles underpinning good KM practice – to help develop a common understanding of knowledge management and encourage the use of simple tools and processes to strengthen our approach to the way we seek, share and use knowledge.

Knowledge management is a component of the One PHE quality model and this provides a strong platform for building a cross-PHE approach to knowledge management. We are working with PHE quality hubs and teams as they work towards meeting the KM quality standard. Our work is guided by the international standard for knowledge management (BS ISO 30401:2018 Knowledge management systems).

We are using a KM maturity model – a self-assessment checklist – to enable teams to map their current KM practice, identify strengths and target areas for improvement to support their business objectives. The model helps teams have a facilitated conversation about what they are already doing to share and use knowledge and areas where they want to improve and suggest practical ways to do this. There are lots of examples of good KM practice across the organisation, this model helps highlight these, provide opportunity to share what works as well as to plan more systematically how to do it better.

The model has been adapted from a cross-government maturity model developed with and used in other government organisations. It is currently being piloted within PHE.

A network of Knowledge Advocates is providing local ownership and support to their teams, and will become an active community of practice. Knowledge Advocates will work across their Quality Hub and wider teams, working with us to learn more about knowledge management; represent their teams’ ideas and ongoing requirements; spread good practice throughout the team; and shape a culture of knowledge sharing in PHE.

If you would like to know more about the Knowledge Principles, Knowledge Advocates, and/or the KM maturity model and how to use it, contact: victoria.richardson@phe.gov.uk.

KM tools, techniques and resources

There are a range of simple tools and techniques which help facilitate the processes by which knowledge is created, shared and used in organisations. These build on what many are already doing, but can help teams develop a more systematic approach.

The following describes some common tools and techniques and we are developing a short “toolkit” to provide more information and sources of support.

Learning before, during and after projects

The “learning before, during and after” approach frames a way of working that encourages us to learn before, during and after everything we do so that good practice can be replicated and pitfalls are avoided. It allows structured, facilitated time for reflection, knowledge gathering and capturing and knowledge seeking and sharing.

Learning before

Peer assist A facilitated meeting with peers from previous similar projects to share experience, knowledge and insights. Gives a clearer understanding of potential challenges and options for responding to them.
Before action review Supports a team define what knowledge it has, what knowledge it needs, and therefore determine its knowledge gaps. Informs a plan of action to access the knowledge content and know-how from the available knowledge and evidence bases so the team plugs its knowledge gaps, and gets the project off to the best possible start.

Learning during

After action review A short structured discussion for all those involved in a discrete activity (e.g. an event, a key task), including where the outcome differed significantly from expectations; the AAR captures the team’s learning in a fast and agile way, looking at what worked well, what didn’t work, and what could be done differently next time. Leads to a set of recommended actions and know-how that support the team to replicate the success, or better deal with the same challenge, in the future.
Communities of practice or interest Link people together to share ideas, develop expertise and solve problems around a specific topic.
Knowledge café Encourage productive conversations to help people learn from each other. Often nothing is captured. The real outcomes are what people take away in their heads and the relationships that are developed.
Randomised coffee trials People are paired up at random and given the opportunity to have a coffee and a chat together either face-to-face or virtually. They are a way of building relationships, enabling you to meet new people with different knowledge, experiences and connections.
Action Learning Sets A structured method enabling small groups to address complicated issues by meeting regularly and working collectively. This tool is geared to learning and personal development.
Knowledge assets Knowledge and experience, captured and packaged for use by others to learn from in future. These might be key lessons, guidance, practice examples, stories. 
Mentoring Enables an experienced colleague to help someone develop or experience new skills by shadowing or sharing advice, knowledge and experience. (Find out more about PHE’s Coaching and mentoring scheme on PHEnet.)

Learning after

Retrospect A structured, facilitated meeting or workshop at the end of a project to capture the knowledge before the project team disbands.
Securing knowledge from movers and leavers A structured, proactive way of securing documents and capturing key insights and know-how from someone who is leaving a role. This may involve a range of techniques from handover checklists, work shadowing, knowledge transfer discussions, or ‘audience with …’ sessions.

More information about these tools is available in the Knowledge management toolkit (NHSE Knowledge for Healthcare) and their set of KM framework postcards

Useful resources

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