Today we talk with Peter West, a management consultant in London, Ontario, Canada. To learn about Peter's work, go to ContinuousInnovation.ca. Peter frequently uses Twitter (@WestPeter) and Delicious to share citations, books, proceedings, etc. that will interest knowledge workers. And he has profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and SlideShare.
The Five Questions.
#1. What got you interested in evidence?
From an early age, I had an insatiable curiosity, something my parents nurtured and for which I will always be grateful. When contemplating career choices, I gravitated to the research world. In the hopes of making a difference and contributing to society, I chose to focus on the health sector. My first career exposure was in Respiratory Research. It was an incredibly formative environment. I learned how to formulate complex and highly-relevant questions; engage people, practices and resources in the pursuit of solutions; think broadly; listen deeply; and share freely. The value of creating and using evidence in innovative ways had real world implications.
A brief career history will provide a context for my responses to the remaining question. I have spent the majority of my 35-year career in the health sector, engaged in roles that include researcher (respiratory, sleep and cancer data capture and analysis), consultant (health information systems planning, procurement and implementation), manager (health informatics), economic developer (intellectual property, vendor contracts, and health data) and change agent (health reform). I am currently working as a management consultant, specializing in knowledge management – helping clients and organizations to create the conditions whereby the right knowledge becomes available to the right individuals in the right situations (or contexts) in order that the right actions be taken, adding value and positively influencing outcomes.
Knowledge processes play an important role in the creation and mobilization of evidence.
What types of evidence do you work with most often (medical, business research, statistics, social science, etc.)?
All of the above. Client- and project-specific.
What is your involvement with evidence: applying it, advocating its use, researching/developing it, synthesizing/explaining/translating it, communicating it?
All of the above. I apply evidence-oriented skills across a range of domains, working with clients in the public and private sectors.
As one example, I have acquired a strong reputation for representing complex evidence in one-page infographics that help stakeholders to see issues, opportunities and themselves in new ways.
Where do you go looking for evidence, and what types of sources do you prefer? (formally published stuff such as journals, or something less formalized?)
Projects typically require me to look inside and outside the organization. Internally, awareness of the historical record associated with the project promotes deeper awareness and nurtures credibility with internal stakeholders, both of which are critical to the success of internal evidence-gathering interviews and meetings. The external evidence gathering process is comprised of a detailed environmental scan supplemented with targeted interviews with subject matter experts and practitioners. Synthesis and analysis skills are used to frame the issue and expose potential solution pathways.
#2. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10=‘It’s crystal clear.’ and 1=’We have no idea why things are happening.’, how would you describe the overall “state of the evidence” in your primary field? I would rank the overall state of evidence at ‘5.’
Which of these situations is most common in your field?
a) Much of the evidence we need doesn’t yet exist.
b) People don't know about the evidence that is available.
c) People don't understand the evidence well enough to apply it.
d) People don’t follow the evidence because it's not the expectation.
For most of the organizations I am involved with, the existence of evidence, awareness of its availability, understanding of its implications and expectations for its use are best described by a normal distribution (or bell curve).
#3. Imagine a world where people can get the evidence they need, and exchange it easily and transparently. What barriers do you believe are preventing that world from becoming a reality (data incompatibility, lack of research skills, information overload, lack of standard ways of presenting evidence, lack of motivation to follow evidence-based practices, ...)? And what would you recommend as possible solutions?
All of the above [barriers], plus these:
- Government will, commitment, continuity, execution and sustainability. Possible solution: Evidence leadership, evidence-enabling infrastructures, citizen engagement (and accountability), etc.
- Legal obstacles, including liability, intellectual property rights, etc. Possible solution: Evidence-friendly regulatory, policy and governance standards, practices and behaviours, etc.
- Financial constraints. Possible solution: Greater stakeholder engagement in making the difficult decisions about funding allocations
- Social awareness, practices and trust. Possible solution: A comprehensive suite of communication tools that enhances stakeholder engagement, dialogue and decision-making.
- Source/Media hype (How often is evidence contradicted? How/what are stakeholders to believe? or do? Rampant stakeholder scepticism is understandable). Possible solution: Greater stakeholder awareness of the evidence lifecycle, greater source/media responsibility in framing and communicating evidence, etc.
- Discipline-specific professional arguments regarding accepted theory and practice. Possible solution: Greater stakeholder awareness of theory and practice maturity.
- Time (to reflect on evidence needs and interact with stakeholders). Possible solution: New participatory vehicles for framing research questions and their execution.
- Language. Possible solution: New resources that make it easier for researchers to translate evidence into plain language that stakeholders can mobilize.
- Boundaries (and related behaviours). Possible solution: Complex issues require multidisciplinary approaches that span boundaries. More resources need to be made available to researchers to make the transition to multidisciplinary practice.
- Reward systems. Possible solution: The current reward system is broken. A reward structure that promotes openness, interaction and application of evidence needs to be evolved.
- Mobilization practices. Possible solution: Holding individual stakeholders accountable for evidence mobilization practices is not working. There is a pressing need for the availability of a generic evidence mobilization framework.
Where do you see technology making things better?
Technology has the capacity to enhance evidence mobilization by making evidence more social, ambient, embedded, sensed, remembered, anticipated, workflowed and applied. As a tool, technology enhances the availability of evidence and its interaction with stakeholders.
For example, in the health sector...
For researchers: A 24/7 electronic professional evidence assistant that proactively networks the researcher with other research professionals (maximizing the potential for a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach) and directly links the researcher to evidence stakeholders and beneficiaries (sensitizing the researcher to stakeholder evidence needs, and the stakeholder to the researcher’s environment). Collectively, the assistant enhances the researcher’s capacity to optimize the formation and execution of research questions.
For policy-makers: A 24/7 electronic professional evidence assistant that ensures that for any given policy or regulatory issue, all relevant evidence is available in a form that is understandable and usable. Stakeholders also have access to the evidence. Greater awareness, dialogue, accountability and applicability are possible.
For practitioners: A 24/7 electronic professional evidence assistant that “listens” to practitioner-patient interactions, “reviews” electronic medical records and provides current, context-specific evidence. A more holistic encounter and targeted outcome are promoted.
For individuals: A 24/7 electronic personal evidence companion (based upon a private, secure and integrated view of your genetic, environmental and behavioural profiles – adapting its advice to every nuanced change, and shared with people, professionals and organizations in strict accordance with your pre-authorization) focused on maximizing your health and well-being.
#4. How do you prefer to share evidence with people, and explain it to them? Do you have a systematic way of doing it, or is there a format that you follow?
The process that works best for me encompasses, understanding what the stakeholders need, anticipating and managing their expectations, presenting evidence in a form they can digest and apply, learning from successes and failures, and continuously innovating.
What mistakes do you see people making when they explain evidence?
Often, there is a failure to take stakeholder contexts into account – framing evidence with sensitivity to their cultural, behavioural, procedural, and decisional drivers.
Insistence upon ‘evidence-based’ behaviour. In reality, evidence-related behaviour falls along a continuum, from ‘evidence-aware’ to ‘evidence-informed’ and finally, ‘evidence-based.’
#5. What do you want your legacy to be?
I’d like to be remembered for my passion and commitment. Helping individuals and organizations to leverage evidence – to represent it in ways that attract attention, understanding, commitment, action and positive outcomes.
Many thanks for your time, Peter. These responses give me lots of food for thought.
Programming note: I'll be taking next week off for the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.
Chime in. Would you like to be interviewed, or do you have someone to recommend? Drop me a note at tracy AT evidencesoup DOT com.