Following the Trail from Knowledge Sharing to Improved Service Delivery

Do what works. Do it well. Share your “know how” with others. Repeat.

These sentences give an over-simplified view of a complex issue: how to scale up evidence-based, high-impact maternal, newborn and child health practices in low-resource settings. MCHIP aims to do just that—and by doing so, reduce maternal and child mortality by 25% across 30 priority countries.

My field is Knowledge Management, and so one sentence in that first paragraph is especially significant to me: “share your ‘know how’ with others.”

With increasingly complex global health programs, effective use of aid funds requires a rigorous approach to knowledge management—the systematic use of people, processes and technology to capture and share “know-how.” The flow of knowledge needs to occur within and among partner organizations, and across geographic and language boundaries, so that program teams can learn from each other and function as a cohesive whole. Ultimately, global programs aim to scale up the adoption of high-impact health practices for better health outcomes of populations. Meeting this goal requires that the right information gets to the right people at the right time—one of the basic tenets of knowledge management—in a way that will grab their attention, motivate them to act, and be compatible with the environment in which they act.

Given MCHIP’s global reach, I became interested in finding out if I could follow a virtual knowledge sharing pathway. I wanted to see if there was a trail from MCHIP knowledge sharing interventions, to knowledge sharing behavior of participants, and from there to use of high-impact health practices. I came to find out that there is a trail, though with twists and turns.

Take the case of MCHIP’s Postpartum Family Planning (PPFP) Online Forum series. Since 2007, the MCHIP-sponsored PPFP community of practice has hosted more than 10 forums. Each forum consists of a two-week, moderated discussion by e-mail and “mini-lectures” by five to 10 global health experts. In 2012, a study team conducted an online survey with follow-up in-depth interviews of forum participants to determine how they used knowledge from the forums in their work and with whom they shared knowledge gained. The survey invitation was sent to 1,038 community members.

The online survey received 61 responses from 25 countries. Most respondents shared knowledge within their own organization (92%) or with other professionals they knew (63%). Those working in program development or management (94%), or teaching or training (85%) were most likely to share knowledge. They reported mostly sharing scientific information and expert opinions.

In-depth interviews with 16 respondents from 8 countries filled in more of the knowledge trail.

One participant, a program officer in Nigeria, noted that he works in healthcare facilities that do not have Internet connectivity. He acts as the liaison between the forum participants and the frontline healthcare providers, passing along reports of field challenges to the forums and tapping into expert knowledge during the forum to gain insight into solutions. For example, a forum discussing women’s misperceptions about return to facility led the program officer to include the topic of return to fertility counseling in a service delivery supervision checklist.

Other respondents incorporated forum knowledge in national program design, behavior change documents, and job aids. A respondent from India spoke with particular pride of using forum knowledge to convince leaders to expand beyond a focus on no-scalpel vasectomy to offering a variety of family planning methods.

Could the knowledge trail be reconstructed for other sharing approaches? I had to know, so I began another study—this time of participants in a series of regional conferences on pre-eclampsia/eclampsia and other maternal health challenges. Watch this space for more from the study.

Do what works. Do it well. Share your “know how” with others. Repeat. Sounds like a plan.

Theresa Norton
Knowledge Management Director, Jhpiego

Note: More on the PPFP study and knowledge management can be found in: Norton, T. Enabling Knowledge Exchange to Improve Health Outcomes through a Multi-Partner Global Health Program. In: Knowledge Management Handbook: Collaboration and Social Networking, Second Edition. J. Liebowitz (ed.). Taylor-Francis. 2012.
Tagged under: