Knowledge management in practice


Nov 6, 2013 (4 years and 6 months ago)



Knowledge management in practice

Published by IRISS

June 2012

Charlene Tate, Development Director, Scottish Autism

describes the process of sharing
knowledge to improve practice within Scottish Auti

This forms part of the
IRISS evidence informed practice case study series

designed to help
practitioners share their experiences of using different types of eviden
ce to change the delivery of

Transcript of video interview with Charlene Tait, May 2012

Charlene Tait

I am Charlene Tait and I am Director of Development for Scottish Autism. Scottish Autism is a
large service provider for people with autism,
we have services all across Scotland, we have a
school, a residential school for pupils with autism, we have a number of day opportunities, respite
and short break services and we support individuals in their own tenancies in a number of
residential type s
ettings. As well as direct service delivery, our mission if you like, as an
organisation is to enable people with autism throughout their life journey and an important part of
that is to ensure that people have good information about autism that people ha
ve access to
support and advice, and so we offer a helpline service where anyone who, professional, parent,
individual on the spectrum can call us and ask a question, they can be pointed, you know
signposted if you like to information.

Scottish Autism i
s a long established organisation, we have been service providers for over 40
years and in that time we have accumulated enormous amount of knowledge and understanding of
people with autism, families who live with autism, the needs of professionals who are

people with autism, and what we are trying to do is recognise that that knowledge is relevant and
important to a wider audience. And as well as enhancing our own practice and our own
understanding, it's really valuable and useful information f
or people in the wider autism community.


So one of the ambitions that we have is to develop a knowledge management strategy within our
organisation where we recognise that knowledge is an asset and where we make much more use
of the learning that we accum
ulate, the data that we accumulate, the insight that we accumulate,
and use that to inform and enhance our own practice as well as that of other people.

Lisa Pattoni, IRISS

Okay, can you tell me a bit about the process you have gone through to try to enab
le all that useful

Charlene Tait

Yes, we have gone through a fairly rigorous process I think in the last year, when I arrived in the
organisation a Knowledge Management Group had already been formed and I think that that was
the beginnings of t
he recognition that knowledge was a useful area to look at and really to break
down our understanding of what do we mean when we talk about organisational knowledge and
learning in the organisation. So one of the first things that we set about doing was a

audit across the organisation and that was really important because what we wanted to do was
understand what our practitioners who are in day to day contact with people with autism,
understood about their own knowledge, about how they use knowle
dge and how they perceived
knowledge to be valued and used and developed in the organisation. So we carried out a fairly
extensive process really in that we had the sort of 3 pronged attack, if you like, not quite an attack
but a 3 pronged approach where
we ran a number of focus groups across the organisation, we
plumped for, we found a sort of knowledge management tool if you like and we adapted that to our
own situation, because we are not a business environment and we are not an academic
environment, a
lthough bits of that come in, you know obviously we have business processes and
we support our staff in academic development and learning in development, but we are not strictly
those disciplines, we are a kind of blend of everything. So what we did was,
we adapted this tool,
the sort of focus if you like, the different focus areas that were in that tool for our own areas of
focus in that tool for our own organisation, and so we set about having a series of focus groups
across our different service areas,
and that involved me really meeting with groups of staff, and in
those groups we asked questions like, ‘how does knowledge flow around the organisation, who
holds the knowledge in the organisation, is there a strategic approach to knowledge in the
tion, is there a strategic lead in organisation,’ we also asked who were the key people in
the organisation. We also asked things about the culture of the organisation, is it open, can you
say I have an idea, can you take things forward, are you enabled t
o develop ideas and concepts,

you know we asked about collaboration and communication across the organisation and generally
had a good look at who we are, what we do, how we do it, and that was very, very revealing and
we engaged with staff at all differen
t levels, senior managers in the organisation, people who had
been with the organisation for a long, long time. Within Scottish Autism we are very fortunate that
we have quite a significant number of long term staff, staff who have stayed with us for a nu
mber of
years and the blend of that was very new staff was very interesting. We also asked about
conceptual things around autism, about whose work influenced our work, things about the
language that you use around people with autism and the technical lang
uage of autism, so we had
quite a thorough going over of the issues in the focus groups. We then did a sort of asset survey if
you like where we asked people to identify the tools, the knowledge tools so things that they used
day to day that were either g
enerated by them or by the organisation or resources that were freely,
publicly available that they valued that were influential in their work, and we sort of asked people to
dig about in their cupboards or think about the things that they used every day a
s what we would
call knowledge assets, knowledge tools if you like. And then the third thing that we did was our HR
department was doing a staff survey, so we worked with them to include some knowledge
questions in the annual staff survey and what that wa
s about was giving people a chance to talk
about their personal knowledge, because one of the things, the sort of intuitive things that when we
embarked on this was we felt that the vast majority of knowledge resides in peoples heads and
what where our mec
hanisms for unlocking that and leaving that as a legacy for the organisation if
people did move on. How did we ensure that the knowledge just didn't walk out the door with them
and everybody around them was left starting again, and I think that's a challe
nge for a lot of
organisations, there’s a bit of panic when a key individual has said ‘I am moving on’. So there was
this sort of three pronged approach of the focus groups, the asset audit if you like, and the
individual knowledge questions. So from tha
t, that gave us quite an interesting picture of our
organisation, we learned a lot about how people perceived their own knowledge and I think we are
not unique in that we have, you know, very committed, very dedicated practitioners who perceive
what they d
o as just doing their job and didn't see that what they did was, you know, actually
evidence of having significant knowledge and understanding in the area, so there was a bit of kind
of, the individuals kind of humility about their own role within the orga
nisation came out, there was
a bit about how we communicate or in some cases don’t communicate between ourselves when
things have gone well and we have got good models of practice. There was a thing about
sometimes having access to resources, sometimes pe
ople had lots of access to resources but felt
they didn't have time resources to look at things, and there were also issues of sort of perceptions
of the need for maybe a more strategic steer around just the general principles if you like, of the

ion, and people were able to articulate then in the focus groups and live those kinds of
things, but in terms of an overall strategy, people couldn’t really identify what that was coherently,
and so that was one of the major things that we wanted to kind o
f address ... I mean in terms of
knowledge, not the organisations aims and objectives, people obviously know what those are, but
this kind of specific thing around knowledge and the use of knowledge, so it was quite a revealing

Barriers to gettin
g knowledge into practice

The main barriers are about peoples perceptions of what we are talking about when we talk about
knowledge, the people I think often associate it with a kind of higher order thing, an intellectual
pursuit, something that is kind o
f disconnected to things that you do every day, but when we
started talking about it more in terms of what do you know about what you do, that made it more
accessible. I think that the thing that I mentioned earlier about people just feeling it was their j
and that it wasn’t that big of a deal and who was this woman who was asking all these questions
and what was that really all about. I think that was one of the barriers that there hasn’t been an
organisational focus on that before and so people were ki
nd of a bit, ‘why are we looking at this
now,’ and so there’s been a lot of change in the organisation over a relatively short period of time
and this seemed like maybe another change, so it was really important for us that we didn't
approach the knowledge

management strategy in an isolated way, but that it was joined up and
connected to all the other strategic activity in the organisation. A barrier for us is also we have
over 850 staff, we are very widespread, although we tend to cluster around the centr
al belt, our
services are throughout Scotland and so we are very widespread, and a huge challenge is
communicating the aims and objectives of what we were trying to do, communicate the outcomes
of the audit and for people to see that it was relevant to the
ir every day work.

What helped you succeed?

I think that being willing to go to those different areas and having the freedom within my role to do
that was certainly a great support and I dedicated a large amount of my time to doing that in the
first inst
ance. I also did quite a lot of research about what is knowledge management and what are
we talking about and trying to get the kind of terminology right and we tussled around all these
issues a lot, we formed a knowledge management forum which I think is

really essential, there are
representatives from all the different parts of our organisation on that knowledge forum and that's a

big resource in a sense, and peoples time that we have dedicated to that, we meet every 6 to 8
weeks, we debate, we argue, we

tussle it all out, you know what really are we talking about, what
are we doing, and I think that that sort of natural process, what is it ... forming, storming, norming,
performing, I think I can definitely say the knowledge management forum went through

that, but it's
worth holding onto that because that's the buy in where people feel this isn’t just being driven by an
individual or a section of the organisation, that this is being driven forward by a forum that's
representative of the whole organisation
. So time to prepare and really think through what you are
going to do is really essential, good resources where you can help your own thinking, that was
really important, it was also ... I suppose useful to me that I had a bit of an academic background
nd I could see a sort of methodology if you like to this which is quite important to be quite
organised and quite systematic about it. Not least because you are suddenly drowning in lots of
information, you go from having no information to having lots of
information very quickly, so good
resources to help you sort that out are really, really important. I think those are the main ones.

Lisa Pattoni

So you have had all that data?

Charlene Tait


Lisa Pattoni

Can you tell us a little bit about the outco
mes then of your activities and what you did with all of the
stuff once you got it?

Charlene Tait

Well we did have a lot of data and I suppose we didn't wait until we got to the end of the process to
think about what the outcomes were, there were lots and

lots of common themes that emerged as
we were going around and that is gratifying and worrying in equal measure, but it gives you a good
sense that you are on the right track, that your perceptions match what you are hearing and that
there are commonaliti
es, there aren’t any kind of rogue traders if you like who think its one thing
and everybody else thinks its the other, so that in itself was quite reassuring. But what we did in
terms of outcomes, we looked for some longer term strategic developments and

looked for some
quick wins if you like and I get so tired of hearing that these days, everybody wants quick wins, but
I think it was quite important that our staff recognised that I wasn’t just doing a paper exercise with

them and that we as an organisati
on weren’t just paddling our feet in the water, we were in this, we
were buying into this. So one of the things that came out was that the staff really felt they needed
more contact with each other across the organisation, we have got lots of staff doing
similar work
in different areas and who are probably meeting the same challenges, almost maybe cyclically if
you like, and that they felt that they had not sufficient opportunity to know and understand that. So
one of the very early outcomes and one of th
e very first things that we did was decided that we are
going to have a staff conference and that we, as an organisation are quite famed for our national
conferences, but we took the decision not to go down that road this year and that what we would
do was

change that, that we would show a commitment to knowledge, management and
knowledge sharing by having some very small external knowledge sharing events, but that we
would have an internal staff conference that was populated entirely by our own staff, beca
normally we would bring in the big namer, the someone who knows, you know was well
established. But what we did was, we asked for a call for papers within the staff team on their
practice and we got papers on communication, social networking, transiti
on, support into housing,
getting it right for every child, using formalised assessment, so what we had was a whole chunk of
workshops that were going to be delivered by the staff, again this is where sort of collaboration
across our different, you know so
rt of senior management team if you like, was important, the
Director of Autism Services, the Director of Education at the school, really important that they were
willing to commit the resources to that, to release people to fund that, we got total buy in
also from
HR, complete buy in that we were doing this. So we had an event where everyone got 20 minutes,
except the CEO, he got 45 minutes because he was delivering the sort of overall business plan if
you like, the Chair of our Board did a little bit of i
nput in a sort of main stage setting, the CEO did,
our Director of Education did around our autism quality measures, and we also as an organisation
have bought into the Public Service Improvement Framework as our quality measure, and so the
Quality Risk Ma
nager just gave an overview of that. And then we had a sort of model of speed
dating if you like, where we ran all the workshops in the morning and then we run them again in the
afternoon and everyone moved around, 20 minutes, in, out, and from that we go
t tremendous
feedback from the staff about the value of that, and what we have done subsequently is, we have
asked everyone who delivered a workshop, because the nature of our work, we can’t have
everybody off the floor, you know we have people who are in
our full time, you know services full
time and who need members of staff with them full time, so what we have done now is, we have
asked everyone who delivered a workshop to commit to delivering a minimum of two and a
maximum of four times throughout the y
ear, and we have got a lovely internal knowledge share
calendar, which means people will continue to move around throughout the year and meet with

each other and engage, leading up to our next conference which will be March, and then it will start
all over

again. But what we also got from that conference was good feedback about the areas that
people wanted to know more about, so this year rather than just say, ‘what are you doing, tell us
what you are doing, throw in a paper’, we can ask for papers on very

specific areas of work and so
on. So that was one of the big quick wins that we got, and that's all underway presently and it’s
there, people have got the opportunity now, sometimes its just having a reason to go and visit
another service and be there, a
nd if its part of their CPD, then that's maybe seen as more
legitimate. So that was one of the quick wins, but what we have been able to do is really pull
together our longer term strategy about what we feel the real outputs can be from this and we have
ot a number of those. One is the development of communities of practice across our
organisation, and we are underway with some work in that area, we have engaged the support of 3
academics who are very involved in communities of practice in an academic se
nse, but in a
practice sense as well which is very important to us, so we are currently working with them to look
at ways that we can use that model in our organisation. We are looking at a sort of sub strategy if
you like around publication, and that's v
ery, very important because we hold a vast amount of
knowledge, we generate a huge amount of resources and its that thing as seeing them as being
valuable to other people, so we have already had two training packs commissioned by the British
Institute of L
earning Disabilities, packs that we would use to provide training for parents of children
in the spectrum, and as I trawl through our hard knowledge assets and seeing okay there’s a nice
something over there, we can do something with this, and really all t
hese outputs should be
connected because what we are hoping the Communities of Practice Initiative will do will enable
people to generate materials, share materials more effectively and that itself will lead the whole
process of developing the Communities
of Practice will lead to publication as well about that

We are looking at our knowledge management activities to impact on our internal policy
development around autism practice and what is good and what’s effective, and also to help us to
e more effectively in terms of external policy development, national policy development,
because it gives us a good basis, more of an evidence base to promote a particular ideology or
methodology than other, if we are able to draw on our own practice as a
sort of evidence base and
say well, you know, these are the principles really that are important when you work with people
with autism, so it helps us engage in that national debate a bit more. The whole internal, external
communications thing is huge, I
mentioned we have been doing these sort of mini knowledge
share events and that's part of, I suppose changing the culture a little bit so that people see their

work as valid and valuable and something that the external autism community and those interested

in autism in the community really want to hear. So again our external knowledge share events are
all delivered by our own staff, you know we are not at this stage bringing in specific well known
expertise, we are using our home grown expertise to populat
e those. We also want to engage,
give our practitioners access to those established, experienced, either academics or field
professionals, and so we are looking at a sort of academic/expert engagement strategy where
through Communities of Practice, the pu
blication development, all of that, we identify areas where
we really want to work with specific individuals and invite them into our organisation for short term
pieces of work around an individual or maybe around a service where there’s an issue, or maybe

just something that we want to develop. So that's kind of ongoing as well. And another key area
for us is research and we have got a number of thoughts around that, we want to enable and
facilitate research, so we have been much more open about, for exa
mple on our website there’s a
space where young researchers, students, novices can post stuff about their projects they are
doing for their MSC or their PHD, and we want to talk to them once they are done and hear what
they have found out and see if it is
of any use to us, so we allow them to .. they have to fulfil quite a
strict, I have to say, criteria before we post it up, so make sure they have got ethical approval and
all of that, but that's all standard in anybody in an academic environment, we should

have that and
we would expect it, so we are kind of encouraging people to use us if you like to attract attention to
their own research. We are trying to encourage more research minded approaches to practice in
our own organisation through the process of

gathering up the information that we have, we are
also hoping to engage some research expertise with our organisation so that we can provide
learning and development for our staff around evaluation, data collection, data analysis, structuring
a project if

you want to look at something and then examine it, and I think that's really important
that right from the start line, we are thinking about the end line, the finish line if you like, where we
say, well okay not only are we going to enable and support, pr
omote a good outcome for this
individual, we are going to have a learning outcome from this that's a product if you like, whether
its a presentation at a conference or an academic paper or a ... more likely for us a paper in a
practice kind of journal. S
o we are trying to promote all that, and again the sort of joining the dots,
that we are trying to encourage more presence at conferences, delivering more papers based on
practical work, and that's building and that's happening, we have had a number this y
ear and we
are aiming at more European and International conferences for the coming year.

Lessons Learned


I think we have learned and are still learning an enormous amount and I think that the key thing for
me was about making assumptions that we have go
t this excellent practice, that we have got these
excellent services, we enable excellent outcomes for people with autism, but that you can do so
much more with that, that you can add value to that, so my key learning has been to sort of feel the
fear and
do it anyway, you know there’s a lot of persuading and influencing involved in it in terms of
romancing the staff into seeing that this is a worthwhile process. I think that I have learned as well
that its really worth doing your groundwork, I could have
walked into the organisation, locked my
office door, produced a lovely piece of paper and said ‘there’s our knowledge management
strategy’, but I think the main learning point has been that it has to be alive, people have to buy into
it, that's the way we
are going to encourage people to say, ‘do you know what, I think we could do
something with this piece of work here, I think we could develop that’, or have people ... now I am
getting emails from people saying, ‘is this the kind of thing you are intereste
d in’ and really ‘is this
what you are wanting from us’ ... To keep up the engagement with people we have been sending
out all staff emails, monthly updates for people to stick on their ... they are not quite monthly if I am
honest, but updates for people
to stick on their staff notice boards. I am in the middle of a tour of
the services just to update them on the strategy, where we are at, things that are happening. I also
think that delivering the quick wins, that that's important, that people instantly

see something
changing as a result of what you are doing. In terms of tips for people, I think it’s about being very
open about what you are doing, allowing people to say what it is they feel and not challenging it in
those focus groups. You will hear t
hings that your perception of your organisation will be very
different from another person in the organisation, and its not that its not true, its just their different
perception, and there’s a wee bit of kind of getting over yourself in it and not thinkin
g, you know not
expecting to go out there to hear its all wonderful, but be ready to hear the warts and all, because
in my experience they weren’t that dramatic, you know there were things that you probably
expected to hear and I think its very validating
for people just to acknowledge them and accept
them and not try to have an argument with them about them, just say ‘right okay, lets note that
down and move onto the next thing.’ I think the timing is important as well, you know that people
are not in a p
eriod where they think, oh I have got enough to do and here you are waltzing in, so it
was very much about me trying to fit in with their schedule of events, you know there was no 3 line
whip of, you know, everyone must appear here at 10 o’clock on Monday
morning, I was kind of
like, ‘well when are you having meetings, I will come along,’ so if you are the person leading it and
doing it, you have to be ready to be flexible. But I think the main things are the quick wins, the
communication, open, be open to

what you are going to hear, and don’t be defensive about it, and
to really adapt your tools. One of the things that I found when I started looking at ‘what kind of

things could I ask people’, the language was very business driven, it would not fit well wi
th the
culture of our organisation, so I had to think a lot about, well how would I get to that information but
ask it in a different way, and so its very much thinking about who your audience is, and feedback,
feedback all the time, I mean what we did was

we pulled together ... for the staff conference, all the
feedback and we put that in a document and sent that to everybody and put it as a document on all
the staff notice boards so people could see the evaluation, it was very transparent, so you know, I
am being held accountable for the structure of next years, why would I have something on, I don’t
know, medication, when everybody has asked for something on communication, so its very much
about a measure of accountability in terms of that whole process.

So I think its just about having a
structure, don’t make it up as you go along because you need room for flexibility but you have to
have the whole process start to finish in mind before you start.