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The Organisational Practices of Knowledge Mobilisation at Top Manager Level in the NHS

The Organisational Practices of Knowledge Mobilisation (KMobilis) project is a National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) SDO-funded project that investigates how chief executives in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) use and engage knowledge and 'evidence' in their daily work, as well as the nature of their work itself. It runs from March 2011 to May 2013 and is being conducted by a multidisciplinary team from the IKON (Innovation, Knowledge & Organizational Networks) Research Unit at Warwick Business School, and Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick.

Project summary

Ongoing challenges concerning ‘evidence-based’ decision-making have meant that improving the ways in which healthcare organisations exploit available evidence continues to be important. Though notable work has been done to understand knowledge mobilisation in the wider healthcare context, we have relatively less insight into the practices of knowledge sourcing and use by a critical group of healthcare practitioners: top NHS managers.

The study will thus chart in detail the organisational processes through which knowledge and evidence enter the routine work of these executives. In doing so, and by observing closely the daily working practices of NHS trust chief executives via shadowing and other in-depth methodologies, we also aim to shed light onto a much-debated, yet little understood domain: managerial working lives in the highly turbulent context of today’s NHS. By doing this, we hope our findings can inform the practice of executive ‘evidence-based’ decision-making in the future, as well as scholarly and public discourse concerning contemporary executive careers.

Context and methods

Research data for this qualitative study was collected via interviews and daily observations at seven NHS Trusts, representing a cross section of different trust types (acute, mental health) and locations, as well as chief executive characteristics (e.g. years in post, professional background, career trajectory). The focus was on individual trust chief executives and their daily working practices via shadowing over an extended period of time (a minimum of five weeks), though other organisational members and individuals were also engaged during observation of meetings and/or interviewing. All individuals and bodies participating in the study did so under promises of strict anonymity and confidentiality.

Engagement activities

Though our sample is limited to seven chief executives and their organizations, we aim to engage a broader range of stakeholders in addressing both knowledge mobilisation and daily managerial working realities as key matters of interest. In particular, we are working with the NHS Confederation's Health Services Research Network to organize two focus groups of 10 to 15 NHS chief executives toward the end of the study as means of disseminating our emerging findings, as well encouraging discussion in the context of broader debates concerning management and leadership in the NHS. These meetings are scheduled for April 2013, and will take place in London and Manchester (see side bar for further details, including information on our earlier presentations to CEO Forum meetings). In addition, we are seeking to engage other relevant actors, such as the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement and the National Leadership Council, with a view to sharing practitioner-relevant insights for current and future executives and managers in the NHS. Furthermore, we are organising a final dissemination event on May 24 2013 for policy makers, practitioners and academics, to present emerging findings and discuss their practical and scholarly implications. Finally, our Advisory Board (see side panel for more details), consisting of academic, policy and sector experts, have acted as crucial guides in shaping the research and ensuring its relevance for key audiences.

Follow this link for regular project updates and progress reports

The Project Team
Davide Nicolini

T: +44 (0)24 7652 4282
T: 024 7657 4883
Warwick Medical School
T: 024 7615 0909
Bart Johnson


To contact the project team please phone or email the IKON Research Coordinator, Dawn Coton
T: 024 7652 4503

Further information


Executive Research Summary (PDF Document)

Advisory Board (PDF Document)

SDO Presentation March 2011 (Powerpoint Presentation)

Project News