Kate Flewelling is the Outreach Coordinator for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine’s Middle Atlantic Region (NN/LM MAR), which is located at the University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library. For those unfamiliar with the NN/LM, libraries and organizations join the network to help promote health information access and use. The program is funded by the NIH National Library of Medicine, and NN/LM MAR is one of eight regional medical libraries that coordinate a region of the network. These eight health sciences libraries partner with member organizations and sometimes fund their health information outreach activities.
After attending an NN/LM Outreach Evaluation Resource Center training session, Kate was inspired to conduct an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) evaluation project to explore how NN/LM MAR could attract health professionals into the NN/LM and provide them with useful services. In March 2015, she conducted eight 30-minute interviews with health professionals. She recruited interviewees from among health professionals who served on a special NN/LM MAR advisory committee or represented health organizations that received funding from NN/LM MAR. She chose interviewees from three states where NN/LM MAR works (Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware), with representation from organizations in both rural and urban areas. Her interview guide was modeled after one presented in an OERC blog post.
Kate agreed to talk with the OERC to share her experience using Appreciative Inquiry.
OERC: What motivated you to do an Appreciative Inquiry project?
Kate: “I wanted to see why health professionals got involved with us and have been so committed to us. We wanted to come up with selling points to tell other potential health professional members why they should join our network.”
Kate also chose an AI approach because she wanted stories, not numbers. She was working with a small but diverse group of representatives, so interviews seemed to be a better approach than surveys for getting unique perspectives. She also believed an AI assessment was simple enough to be completed in about a week. In fact, she completed all eight interviews in eight days.
OERC: Did you believe you got responses that had an overly positive bias?
Kate: “I only asked people who loved us, but they also know us. So they have an idea of what we’re doing and a much broader understanding of what we do with outreach because they hear about the whole outreach program. But I got really good feedback. Not criticism, but stuff we could do to improve our services.”
In AI, it is not unusual to interview an organization’s champions, because they often can provide the most informed advice about improving a program. Kate understood that her interviewees had favorable opinions about NN/LM MAR, but she said her interviews still identified holes in their outreach efforts to health professionals. They provided good advice on how to attract other health professionals to the network.
OERC: What did you want to learn from the study?
Kate: “The experience was great! It gave me good ideas. I realized we weren’t using them [health professional colleagues] as much as we could. They told me ‘I will pass on whatever you need me to pass on.’ It gave me great ideas for how to use them, use their connections and develop target outreach materials and messages for special audiences.’”
She realized that NN/LM MAR could send regular postings to the health representatives, just as they do to health sciences librarians. The postings just needed to contain more context so that they were targeting a public health or clinical audience.
Kate: “The project also made me realize how far [NN/LM MAR’s] reach has gone in the past four years…It felt like, during our first and second year, throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it was working with health professionals. But we were trying to make the connections. Now we know, for our most engaged people, what they value about their relationship with us.”
Most of the staff joined the NN/LM MAR in 2011, when University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library was awarded the contract to coordinate the Middle Atlantic Region. So the AI project was a member check with their public health and clinical health partners, to see how well the relatively new program was meeting their needs. Before the AI project, Kate said she knew what NN/LM MAR staff was getting from their relationships with health professionals. Afterwards, she understood what the health professionals were getting from NN/LM MAR.
OERC: How did you use the information you gathered?
Kate: “Just starting to talk to people at exhibits, I have a sense of what’s going to grab them.”
Kate developed a brochure targeted to health professionals with a summary of NN/LM selling points on the front (gleaned from her AI interviews) and resources of interest on the back. She plans to share the brochure with the other eight NN/LM regional medical libraries. She also believes the NN/LM MAR staff will tap into this information in the future when they plan programs for health professionals.