Mobilising Knowledge in Healthcare Technology Projects through Storytelling

Klaus Veil1 Chivonne Algeo2

1 Western Sydney University, Narellan Rd & Gilchrist Dr, Campbelltown, NSW, 2560, 

2 Monash University, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East, VIC, 3145,

The management of knowledge in technology-driven contexts often neglects the human factors (To Err is Human, NIM, 2000) to enable the delivery of appropriate, and often life-saving outcomes in healthcare settings.  Rather than relying on yet another technical solution, we believe that the active management and dissemination, or ‘mobilisation’, of clinicians’ knowledge during critical junctures through verbal means in healthcare service provision is an essential complement to technology-based systems.

Storytelling can be an effective vehicle to ‘mobilise knowledge’, that is share knowledge and lessons learnt with the goal of achieving successful outcomes.  Telling stories to share knowledge ‘… is just as effective today as any time in history.  People think in terms of metaphors and learn through stories’ (Martin 2000, p. 10).  The capacity to extend an organisation’s capability to make informed, rational decisions can be enhanced by mobilising an individual’s personal knowledge through dialogue, discourse, sharing, and storytelling’ (Dalkir, 2005).  This approach can be applied to the management of technology projects in healthcare, with the aim of improving outcomes and expanding knowledge.

The mobilization of ‘… essential knowledge, including technical knowledge, is often transferred between people by stories, gossip, and by watching one another work.  This is a process in which social interaction is often crucial’ (Pfeffer & Sutton 1999, p. 90). In these interactions, tacit knowledge is often mobilized through conversion.  According to Nonaka, Toyama and Konno (2000, p. 9) explicit knowledge is converted to tacit knowledge, resulting in an anticipated expansion in the quantity and quality of knowledge, in this case for healthcare technology projects.

Initial research has found that developing and sharing research-based products; emphasising brokering; and focusing on implementation are knowledge mobilisation approaches that have been used by healthcare agencies (Davies, Powell & Nutley, 2015).  While participants found a formal evaluation of knowledge mobilisation activities as highly challenging, they reported rich formative experiences.

A recent critical literature review focusing on knowledge management and knowledge mobilisation within healthcare organisations found that while the industry has absorbed some generic concepts, notably Communities of Practice, other more management and performance-oriented perspectives are still developing (Ferlie, Crilly, Jashapara & Peckham, 2012).

Notwithstanding the early stages of adoption of knowledge mobilisation through storytelling and similar approaches, we believe that these resource-efficient methods would benefit the delivery of projects in the healthcare technology domains through an increase in ‘sensemaking’. This approach is how the majority of healthcare workers apply their experience to formally learnt knowledge.  Storytelling offers one way to make sense of what has happened, and may even capture a level of meaning that was only partially grasped before (Mattingly 1991).  This process of sensemaking also involves the ongoing rationalisation of what people are doing (Weick & Sutcliffe 2005).

We will outline how the process of rationalising and organising knowledge enables participants in healthcare technology projects to retrospectively make plausible sense and bring order into ongoing developments, and then use storytelling to mobilise (e.g. pass on) this knowledge to others.  We believe this is a vital activity where healthcare technology and domain-specific knowledge continually and rapidly changes and develops in complex environments.