K is for Knowledge and M is for Mobilisation. Why bother with Knowledge Mobilisation in healthcare?

Published on 24 May 2021, by Alison Day

Mobilising evidence and knowledge

About the importance of knowledge mobilisation in healthcare

At a recent workshop the statement was made that no-one understands the term knowledge mobilisation explaining that it needs to be translated to have meaning within the specific cultural context of a particular organisation.  So what words do you use to describe knowledge mobilisation for your own organisation? 

Sharing ideas; reflecting; connecting; experiential learning; networking; using organisational knowledge; sharing information; learning lessons; using evidence; managing knowledge; translating knowledge; organisational learning; using know-how; learning before, during and after; transferring knowledge; sharing good practice and ideas; connecting people. 

The good thing about the term “knowledge mobilisation” is that it encompasses all of the above but this also makes it tricky to define.  Breaking the term down may help. 

KNOWLEDGE:  That which is explicit or documented – research, data-sets, guidelines and that which is tacit – the know-how and values held by individuals and within organisations based upon wisdom and experience  

MOBILISATION:   Organising and preparing for action – considering how knowledge is to be used to achieve a particular purpose.   

Knowledge Mobilisation is about connecting and encouraging people to share explicit and tacit knowledge  AND  to  USE  this knowledge to inform their decision making.  

This definition was reflected on a discussion board by participants at the recent UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum

  • “Getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time so they can use it in a way to aid in their decisions and sometimes this right knowledge is also about getting the right people to the right people at the right time” 
  • “Knowledge Mobilisation is about bringing together different communities to share knowledge to catalyse change” 
  • “Joining up /connecting different forms of knowledge (from research, from practice, from experience, etc) helping people make sense of it all and how it joins up to build a clearer picture” 

 An easy-read description 

Within Knowledge for Healthcare (HEE, 2021) one of the key strands of work relates to mobilising evidence and knowledge.  In the easy-read version of the strategy (HEE, 2021) this is simply described as “Getting the right information from different places and sharing it” and this “right information” can be from reports, research , the  internet and from the things people know but haven’t written down.  People can then use this knowledge to help inform their decisions and actions.   

What about knowledge management? 

Some prefer the term knowledge management but this too lacks an agreed definition (BSI, 2018) and often gets confused with information management (Payne, 2020).  Knowledge management has been described by Nancy Dixon as evolving through three eras over the last 20 years.  The first era relates to leveraging documented knowledge, creating a collection and connecting people to it.  The second is concerned with leveraging experiential knowledge which is primarily concerned with connecting people to people and the third era is about leveraging collective knowledge and is primarily about creating new knowledge and innovation often from conversations (Dixon, 2018).   More recently there has been discussion about  the evolution of a fourth era, some consider that this will reflect technological changes with increased use of artificial intelligence whereas others feel there is a further stage of collaboration emerging (Henley Forum, 2020; CILIP, 2020)   

Knowledge Mobilisation incorporates all of these phases as described by Dixon and many of the processes, tools and techniques commonly associated with knowledge management are part of the knowledge specialists’ toolkit to mobilise knowledge.  The decision to substitute the word mobilisation for management is however very deliberate.  Rather than control and organise knowledge our role as knowledge specialists is about enabling others to actively use knowledge to inform their decisions and actions. 

Where does evidence fit into all of this? 

Knowledge Mobilisation is also concerned with enabling the use of evidence.  Evidence comes in many forms and varying degrees of quality and volume depending on the topic. It is often research published in peer-reviewed journals, or as reports. Evidence based practice emphasises the importance of understanding and applying the evidence taking into consideration other factors including expert knowledge and values.  Decisions must take account of the best available evidence and individual and organisational knowledge.  Enabling evidence-based practice must consider the capture and mobilisation of knowledge as well as evidence. Knowledge specialists enable decision makers to take account of this full continuum.   

The valuable role of the knowledge specialist 

The Knowledge Specialists’ role is crucial, not only providing access to evidence, perhaps as books or research databases, but also gathering examples of good practice and connecting people to actively encourage knowledge and insights to be shared.  To mobilise knowledge the knowledge specialist translates and transforms all of this knowledge so it can be easily used and applied in practice by the people working within healthcare organisations, services and systems.  Sometimes described as a “knowledge broker” the knowledge specialist uses their expertise to ensure healthcare organisations, services and systems are effective in mobilising evidence and internally generated knowledge. They also ensure  that healthcare staff can: 

  • Apply and use evidence 
  • Build know-how 
  • Continue to learn 
  • Drive innovation 

They do this by: 

  • Connecting people to people  
  • Connecting people to knowledge and the evidence base  
  • Connecting people to good practice
  • Ensuring  people  keep up to date 
  • Facilitating shared learning 
  • Connecting people to corporate knowledge
  • Enabling collegiate working 

Aligned to multidisciplinary teams, embedded knowledge specialists release the time of health professionals by seeking out evidence and good practice. They are often asked to synthesise and summarise information, working with clinical or management teams to deliver decision-ready evidence and knowledge.  They promote tools and techniques so teams can capture, share and re-use staff know-how and organisational knowledge; enabling teams to learn continuously and work collegiately.  Mobilised in this way knowledge is used to underpin strategy, operations and innovation and helps to foster a learning culture. 

But, another team does this in my organisation. 

Some of the aspects of knowledge mobilisation may be carried out by other teams within the organisation.  Chris Collison describes it as one country bordered by many, including organisational development, research, project management, quality improvement, informatics, education and training, transformation to name but a few (Collison, 2014).  One role for the knowledge specialist is therefore to build bridges with these other disciplines and to work in partnership with these teams to align knowledge mobilisation activities.  Recently an example of how knowledge mobilisation activities mapped to a quality improvement cycle was shared on Twitter (Gibbons, 2021):


Tweet on knowledge mobilisation activities
Andrea Gibbons tweets about using knowledge mobilisation techniques locally

A picture says more than a thousand words 

If we use “knowledge mobilisation” with conviction to describe the valuable work knowledge and library specialists do then there will be less of a necessity to reach for an alternative for each separate NHS organisation or system.  You may find that a single image encapsulates all of this much more effectively. 

Image of the mobilising evidence and knowledge journey to making decisions for better care
Image of a road with way points showing different types of evidence and knowledge. At the end of the journey better decisions have been made.

The bottom-line is that knowledge mobilisation, when done well, encourages NHS bodies, their staff, learners, patients and the public to use the right knowledge and evidence, at the right time, in the right place, enabling high quality decision-making, learning, research and innovation to achieve excellent healthcare and health improvement.  

For further information about knowledge mobilisation please refer to  the  NHS Knowledge Mobilisation Framework.   To get ideas for knowledge mobilisation activities take a look at the Mobilising KNowledge ToolkitKNOWvember or start a conversation of your own on the KM Community of Practice. 


UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum 2021 – discussion board at forum 

Health Education England (2021) Knowledge for Healthcare: Mobilising evidence; sharing knowledge; improving outcomes

Health Education England (2021) A plan to make NHS Library Services in
England better.  Knowledge for Healthcare Easy Read Version.

BSI (2018) BS ISO 30401: Knowledge management systems – Requirements.  London: BSI 

Payne, J. and Fryer, J. (2020) Knowledge management and information management: A tale of two siblings. Business Information review 37(2): 69 -77 

Dixon, N.M.  (2018) The three eras of knowledge management.  In: J.P. Girard and J.I. Girard (Eds.) Knowledge management matters:  Words of wisdom from leading practitioners (19-47). Macon, GA: Sagology

Henley Forum 20th Annual Conference 2020, Collaboration for Innovation.

CILIP (2020) Conversation Café Webinar with David Gurteen

Collison, C (2014) Mapping the KM Landscape.  Knowledgeable Blog Post 

Gibbons, A. (2021) E4QI Meeting Tweet re presentation by @PhoneixAutumn Weaving evidence, horizon scanning and knowledge mobilisation through the QI journey


Alison Day
Knowledge for Healthcare Project Manager
Health Education England