Knowledge Management Case Study

Holistic KM at the Department of Health

This is a good example of how a KM strategy embraces several inter-related dimensions including people, processes, technology, content and also top-down, bottom-up and middle-out approaches.

Organization: Department of Health, UK

Keywords: KM strategy


In 2001 the UK's Department of Health (DoH) had 5,000 staff in over 50 office locations as well as home workers. It installed its first intranet in 1996, which was followed in 1998 by an electronic record management system (MEDS) and later by the UK's first implementation of the ministerial briefing system, the Knowledge Network. These developments provided a solid base on which to embark on its own KM initiative.

A major departmental review in 2001 underlined the need for better knowledge management. It highlighted the fact that knowledge underpinned the work of the department, but that there were issues of accessibility, quality, relevance and usability. Consultants were appointed and a KM strategy developed.

Overall approach

Consultants Fujitsu/ICL applied a four-part KM consultancy framework used with other clients:

  • Understand KM drivers and how they related to organisational strategy
  • Develop of a knowledge strategy
  • Design and plan a KM implementation programme
  • Map the benefits and measure the results.

Development of the strategy started with the creation of a clear vision that articulates the role of information and knowledge. There was also an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of processes, practices and ICT. Also identified were the skills, roles, processes and technologies needed to implement the vision. Finally the gap between capabilities and vision provided a basis for planning the implementation programme.

The approach adopted was evolutionary, building on existing department initiatives and using tools already in use and applying "practical, manageable changes".

Main activities

Karen Lewis, a section head, identified three crucial aspects of changing the DOH from what it was to the desired 'KM-enabled' organisation:

  1. Recognise that KM is not just delivering more IT.
  2. Convey the notion that KM is not a passing fad, but a way of improving effectiveness.
  3. KM is not "done to people" but actively engages them in the process.

Activities in the KM programme followed four main strands:

  • Leadership and accountability: gaining senior management support, identifying roles, responsibilities from both top-down and bottom-up; aligning KM activity to directly support departmental initiatives.
  • People and change management - motivating employees (a key focus), establishing appropriate knowledge sharing behaviours; for example KM principles were incorporated into a new e-induction package.
  • Content and processes - reviewing how knowledge is managed over its life cycle; application of knowledge harvesting techniques. A key element of this was developing a lessons learned knowledge base.
  • Information infrastructure - improving support and tools that give people access to information, need specific attention to interfaces with external partners.

The approach adopted was evolutionary, building on existing department initiatives and using tools already in use. The aim of continuous improvement is addressed through a set of "practical, manageable changes".


  • A realistic KM strategy that was applied in an evolutinary fashion and built upon on existing foundations.
  • Front-line staff have easier access to knowledge and are able to deal with queries more directly, rather than diverting the time of busy specialists or policy advisors.
  • The department's knowledge base is continually enriched by users' feedback and updating.
  • A flexible and customisable approach that gives attention to what works and what doesn't in different work groups and contexts.


  • Obtain senior-management support at an early stage. Overt endorsement helps.
  • Avoid over-use of KM jargon - staff need to know about the benefits to them, not KM theory.
  • Identify and work with complementary pre-existing initiatives.
  • Find and work with a broad base of stakeholders (actual or potential).
  • Take a phased approach - look for 'quick wins' but as part of a longer-term plan.
  • Don't see (or promote) IT as the solution, but as a tool.

Additional Reading

'Holistic KM at the Department of Health', K. Lewis, Knowledge Management, Ark Group (December 2002/January 2003)

Last updated: 12th April 2011


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