Recently I shared several characteristics of communities that I believe are a key part of what makes ImproveCareNow more than an improvement Network, but a real community. One of the characteristics is that communities are made up of smaller communities.
In ImproveCareNow there is no shortage of smaller communities. The wonderful thing about some of these is that they have developed organically. For example, if you are a physician, nurse, parent, dietitian, improvement coordinator, or social worker, you are now part of a small but vibrant community that includes others in that same role. Members of these groups help on-board and mentor each other, take on small projects that help the whole Network focus on issues related to IBD care that might be overlooked by other roles, and provide a social support system that helps make each individual’s ImproveCareNow journey just a little bit more inclusive and fun.
Many of these small communities emerged from the interest, motivation, ideas, and leadership of their members. They are now largely self-driven and are even beginning to branch out in inter-community collaborations as a result of a “project pitch” session at our Spring Community Conference. There are also groups of like-minded people who have common interests and want to take on a project together, small committees that form to address a specific issue, and groups of people working together to plan aspects of our webinars and Community Conferences.
Some of our other smaller communities have been developed by design. In ImproveCareNow we talk a lot about our “Learning Labs”, which are small groups of ICN care centers with similar characteristics like size or organizational structure. Learning Labs enable centers to work more closely together to catalyze improvement and—perhaps more importantly—maintain that “small town” feeling that is such an important ingredient in our Network.
Why did we decide it was important to create Learning Labs? Back in 2008, there were eight ICN care centers. Everyone knew one another, all were aware of the projects that other centers were working on, the volume of messages on our listerv was not overwhelming, and our monthly webinars were full of lively, uninhibited conversation. Sharing was easy and the conversations were manageable; I like to say that we didn’t need the “mute” button on our webinars.
But as we grew these conversations became harder to manage; the background noise from many clinical settings was more distracting, the volume of e-mails in which centers shared updates and ideas was becoming frustrating to our participants, and there were more faces and names to remember. As a result, ICN leadership found ourselves doing more talking and the ICN care center teams doing more listening and less teaching and responding. Literally and figuratively, the Network was getting noisy and quiet at the same time. The most concerning side-effect was that big ideas that needed to be shared were getting drowned out by the noise—from a nurse who didn’t want to speak up on a large conference call to a parent partner who had a great idea but was concerned about putting it out there for the whole Network to see. It became challenging to maintain our ability to collaborate and share seamlessly. So we decided to try breaking out into smaller groups – much like we do during our Community Conferences – to increase our capacity for active and meaningful participation.
And so the ImproveCareNow Learning Labs were born.
Today we have seven Learning Labs. Each lab is guided by an assigned quality improvement coach and meets via webinar every other month to share lessons learned from quality improvement projects, share and discuss their center-specific data and outcomes, and develop ideas for collaboration. The labs spend time working together and sharing their progress at our Community Conferences; and they review written summaries of the best quality improvement ideas and barriers taking place within their Learning Lab on a regular basis so they can identify ways to accelerate their progress as a group.
We apply quality improvement principles to everything we do in ImproveCareNow, including testing changes and observing the results to determine whether they result in an improvement. The same is true for our Learning Lab model. What have we observed about the Learning Labs so far? We have seen stronger relationships form in these groups and have seen centers that would not previously have collaborated share ideas and launch projects together. We have seen nurses, improvement coordinators, and patient and parent partners speak up and teach on Learning Lab calls in ways they were not previously comfortable doing. The Learning Labs have also helped our leadership team achieve some key community-building goals:
The Learning Labs have become a fun and meaningful part of the ImproveCareNow journey. But there is so much more to learn about their impact on our centers, our Network outcomes, and on the participant experience. And knowing this community, they will look very different two years from now than they do today!
I am hoping that readers from our ImproveCareNow centers will share their experience with being in Learning Labs in the comments section below. How have they enhanced your experience? How would you change them for the better?