Communities are made up of smaller communities

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.

Mute button on phone

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.

Learning Labs as a Layer of Influence - Picturing a Red OnionToday 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:

A listing of the things we want people to be able to do as part of our commonsThe 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?

Communities take risks together.

I am writing this having just returned from several whirlwind days in Chicago at the first ever ImproveCareNow Community Conference. The ImproveCareNow Network has come together in person twice a year for seven years, but this was the first time this gathering was not called a Learning Session—the traditional Quality Improvement Collaborative term for in-person meetings. We changed the name for several reasons, the most important being that ImproveCareNow is now indeed a community. Here are some reasons why:

ImproveCareNow is a community

We have each of these things in ImproveCareNow and in future LOOP posts I will share examples of each. But one that I didn’t list,which became very clear to me at the conference, is that the best communities take risks together. I want to share a bit more about that here.

One of our conference goals was to brainstorm new interventions—in QI-speak, “changes to test,” – that will help us get even more kids with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis into remission. Prior to the conference, we developed a new list of key drivers—or focus areas—that we thought were most important to improvement. Now it was time to crowd-source the best ideas for interventions to tackle in each area. This tends to be the most fun part of the process!ImproveCareNow Key Driver Diagram with Primary Drivers and Space for new InterventionsThe ImproveCareNow Network has developed interventions together before. But this time, we wanted to make sure our incredible diversity and stakeholder engagement was really reflected in these new interventions. In the weeks leading up to the conference, each center interviewed patients and parents to get input on challenges and opportunities in each Key Driver area. In doing so, they opened themselves up to a variety of feedback; I know this felt risky to some centers.

Pre-work from the Spring 2015 ImproveCareNow Community Conference: Learning from Patients and ParentsBut as a community we took the risk together. Prior to the conference, nearly all of our 254 participants chose the three Key Drivers that most interested them. Once we received their choices, we put together small groups (6-9 people) that were as diverse as possible-blending people from different centers and with most groups including at least one patient, one parent, and others from several clinical roles. Planning this felt risky even as it felt like the right thing to do. Would people want to spend almost two hours of valuable conference time in an informal exercise with people outside of their peer groups? Would lone parents and patient at the tables feel overwhelmed, ignored, or vulnerable? Would conversations stall with the minutes ticking by slowly?

It ended up being a risk well worth taking. Between 2:00 pm and 4:30 pm on Saturday the low, quiet, steady buzz of conversation eased all of my concerns about people diving in and learning with those very different from themselves. Many observers noted that as  groups tackled the provided questions, the first thing they did was turn to the parent or patient at the table—deferring to their expertise. When each of the three 40-minute discussion periods ended, we worked harder than expected to get each group to wrap up and move to their next tables. And the notes that were shared—and will guide our work in the months and years ahead—are full of some of the richest, most diverse insights I’ve seen in my quality improvement career.

Example of Notes from the Small Group Discussions about ImproveCareNow Key Drivers and InterventionsWe work hard to make sure all participants in this community have the quality improvement structure, skills, and tools to achieve their goals. Even more important is making sure the right centers and people connect so they can do more together than alone. We foster this online on our ICN Exchange knowledge commons, on monthly webinars, and at our Community Conferences. Admittedly, this gets a bit more challenging as we grow and we don’t always get it right. But what these collaboration sessions showed me is that community members desperately want to keep connecting across roles and centers and that they embrace the expertise of everyone at the table. They are building their own momentum and will continue to do so even as we get bigger and push our network infrastructure to keep up. So thank you to the ImproveCareNow community for taking risks together, leaving roles and titles aside, and creating a better today and tomorrow for and with kids with IBD.

This is not goodbye.

Samantha Kennedy – outgoing Patient Advisory Council (“Pack”) Co-Chair – is heading off to medical school in the Fall. In an inspirational message to Community Conference attendees – and indeed the whole ImproveCareNow Community – she thanks everyone for working within ImproveCareNow and for believing we can make a difference together. And she reminds us that our work (with patients specifically, and in general) may not be easy or quick or tidy, but ‘it is the future, and we need to be the same sort of brave you ask patients to be as we pave that road.’

Sami’s words are inspiration on-tap. Enjoy!

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