BACKGROUND: The English Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) program is one of the first concerted efforts to create a digital health learning ecosystem across a national health service.
OBJECTIVE: This study aims to explore mechanisms that support or inhibit the exchange of interorganizational digital transformation knowledge.
METHODS: We conducted a formative qualitative evaluation of the GDE program. We used semistructured interviews with clinical, technical, and managerial staff; national program managers and network leaders; nonparticipant observations of knowledge transfer activities through attending meetings, workshops, and conferences; and documentary analysis of policy documents. The data were thematically analyzed by drawing on a theory-informed sociotechnical coding framework. We used a mixture of deductive and inductive methods, supported by NVivo software, to facilitate coding.
RESULTS: We conducted 341 one-on-one and 116 group interviews, observed 86 meetings, and analyzed 245 documents from 36 participating provider organizations. We also conducted 51 high-level interviews with policy makers and vendors; performed 77 observations of national meetings, workshops, and conferences; and analyzed 80 national documents. Formal processes put in place by the GDE program to initiate and reinforce knowledge transfer and learning have accelerated the growth of informal knowledge networking and helped establish the foundations of a learning ecosystem. However, formal networks were most effective when supported by informal networking. The benefits of networking were enhanced (and costs reduced) by geographical proximity, shared culture and context, common technological functionality, regional and strategic alignments, and professional agendas.
CONCLUSIONS: Knowledge exchange is most effective when sustained through informal networking driven by the mutual benefits of sharing knowledge and convergence between group members in their organizational and technological setting and goals. Policy interventions need to enhance incentives and reduce barriers to sharing across the ecosystem, be flexible in tailoring formal interventions to emerging needs, and promote informal knowledge sharing.