Expressions of shared interpretations - Intangible outcomes of continuous quality improvement efforts in health- and elderly care

Sammanfattning: This thesis is anchored in improvement science, the research field of improvement. Improvement science describes and explores improvement in real-life contexts and “system of profound knowledge” (Deming, 2000) is a cornerstone. Performance measures, including their variation over time, are fundamental in the research and evaluation of outcomes of continuous quality improvement efforts (CQI efforts). However, the strong emphasis on operationalisations and measurements risks overshadowing other kinds of outcomes to which CQI efforts can lead.Research has shown that it is advantageous that those performing change have some kind of “sharedness”, e.g. shared cognitions, understanding, knowledge, interpretations or frame of reference. Despite the diversity of concepts and scientific studies, “sharedness” is mainly described as a prerequisite for change.This thesis addresses the call to broaden the scientific approach in improvement science and to take advantage of knowledge developed since Deming's time. It has a point of departure in the presumption that CQI efforts also lead to intangible outcomes; qualitative effects that are not easily captured with traditional performance measures. The concept “Expressions of shared interpretations” is used to study “sharedness” as intangible outcomes.The overall aim with this thesis is to explore Expressions of shared interpretations as intangible outcomes of CQI efforts from the perspective of clinical microsystems and healthcare professionals. The specific aims are to examine and establish how Expressions of shared interpretations develop, influence CQI efforts and change over time.Using a qualitative approach, this thesis comprises four papers, based on three studies. The empirical context is healthcare and welfare organizations providing care: hospital clinics in county councils/regions and nursing homes in municipalities. The studies include time periods from one to three and a half years, totalling six years. Expressions of shared interpretations inherently mean that the methods for data analysis need to be based on commonalities or patterns in the data. In this thesis three methods are used: qualitative content analysis, thematic analysis and directed content analysis. To examine time-related changes, year-to-year comparative analyses of themes and categories are done.To explore Expressions of shared interpretations, different theoretical frameworks are used: team cognitions (Paper 1), sensemaking theory (Paper 2), cognitive shifts (Paper 3) and programme theories (Paper 4).A directed content analysis is applied in a meta-analysis of the results presented in the four papers. The results indicate that Expressions of shared interpretations develop as intangible outcomes of CQI efforts and a general programme theory of CQI efforts in health- and elderly care is developed, illuminating how Expressions of shared interpretations change and influence CQI efforts. The general programme theory incorporates the PDSA cycle and describes the complex, interconnected and continuous development of Expressions of shared interpretations. It also illuminates how Expressions of shared interpretations provide change performers with momentum to engage in forthcoming PDSA cycles and how sensemaking is a central activity.CQI efforts in health- and elderly care are characterised by a “just get on with it” attitude, while in this thesis, thoughtfulness is emphasized. Existing improvement tools support collaboration, creativity and analysis of critical aspects of the operations, yet none of the improvement tools help change performers gain understanding of the CQI effort as such. To address this, this thesis suggests that change performers complement the use of improvement tools with an inquiring mind, that they collaborate in thoughtful dialogues and that leaders function as inquirers. To support this posture, the widely used Model for improvement is complemented with a fourth question: What are our assumptions? The question pinpoints the need to be thoughtful in every step of the CQI effort, not just in the analysis of the problem at hand.