Knowledge Café Open For Business at DCH Library

Jack Welch, Library Assistant, facilitated our first Knowledge Café

Jack Welch, our Library Assistant describes how he facilitated our first Knowledge Cafe:

“2023 has been one of firsts at DCH library. At the beginning of the year, I was looking ahead to the conclusion of my apprenticeship and, as part of this final stage, was to plan and deliver a project that would be the basis of a formal report. With the support of my colleagues, it was the perfect opportunity to host the first Knowledge Café (KC) inside the library itself and to invite colleagues around the hospital to be our first ‘customers’ (participants being the preferred term).

A Knowledge Café is certainly not an unknown or ambiguous activity – in fact, as part of our national strategic context, Knowledge for Healthcare (which oversees Knowledge and Library Services) champions KCs as a form of knowledge mobilisation. To put this in simpler terms, the purpose of mobilisation is to promote service improvement and build our knowledge base to support better decision-making.

The role of a KC itself is not too complex and not too many criteria to structure the event’s format of delivery. As described by David Gurteen, who is seen as the ‘guru’ of Knowledge Cafés “at its purest, [a Knowledge Café] brings a group of people together to have a conversation on a topic of mutual interest to understand an issue better.” It technically has no agenda, no minutes recorded and is not driven by facilitator-led discussion, as is a focus group – it is rather instead hosted. However, because I had to produce a report soon after this event, I did have to adapt some of those rules and have individual contributions captured in order to have the content written up and also harvested (more on that at the end).

To ensure the day went smoothly, there are some vital considerations that enabled the day to happen. The first of which was the question, which with the input of the library team, came to: How can DCH Library better work in partnership with other teams and support its diverse range of users across the organisation? How can we improve access to our services?

Secondly, is who to invite, and while it is important to try and have a broad base of potential participants, the reality is that a small number are most likely to engage. This can depend on the nature of the KC and the question which is being asked. As it turned out, while I welcomed a relatively small gathering, there was a mix of professions represented in the room such as Trainee Nursing Associates, Practice Educators and volunteers who support the work of the Research department.

Last, but also significant, if the KC is to be a success, is the space and presentation that makes participants feel welcome. Besides the relevant stationery and technology (where we incorporated Slido as part of our introduction) there has to be a feel of a café. Thanks to our combined efforts, the decoration of flowers on the tables and (aided by the baking expertise of our Library Manager) a homemade lemon cake to be the centrepiece of the morning, it creates a more authentic café atmosphere in the room.

While it is impossible to capture the depth of conversations that emerged in the course of the group exchanges, I soon identified some of the ideas to build for enhancing our library service:

  • Working with other teams to better understand what library resources they can access and what format.
  • Seeking collaboration with universities – students on placement should be better made aware of the library service offer.
  • Being proactive to better inform students about the training offer in the library, like study skills.

Although it might have been a small gathering, it was wonderful to hear of the enthusiasm participants had for the library and to continue seeing our service flourish and have a part to play in the wider Dorset health and care system. This has also sparked the development of future Knowledge Cafés to increase our scope in mobilising knowledge across different subject areas besides our own service. In the meantime, we’ll also be trying to act on the suggestions that this event provided and make changes where we can. It gives me great joy to know at least I have played a role in setting a new trend for the library.

(P.S. I also passed my apprenticeship soon afterwards!)”