Taking the heat or taking the temperature? A qualitative study of a large-scale exercise in seeking to measure for improvement, not blame.
Social science & medicine (1982)
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Armstrong, N., Brewster, L., Tarrant, C., Dixon, R., Willars, J., Power, M., & Dixon-Woods, M. (2018). Taking the heat or taking the temperature? A qualitative study of a large-scale exercise in seeking to measure for improvement, not blame.. Social science & medicine (1982), 198 157-164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.12.033
Measurement of quality and safety has an important role in improving healthcare, but is susceptible to unintended consequences that are often linked to fear of blame. It is often argued. One frequently made argument is that optimising the benefits from measurement requires controlling the risks of blame, butyet whether it is possible to do this remains unclear. We aimed to examineexamined responses to a programme known as the NHS Safety Thermometer (NHS-ST) that measures). Measuring four common patient harms in diverse care settings with the goal of supporting local improvement, and thatthe programme explicitly eschews a role for blame. The study design was ethnographic. We conducted 115 hours of observation across 19 care organisations and conducted 126 interviews with frontline staff, senior national leaders, experts in the four harms, and those involved in developing and/or implementing the NHS-ST programme. Documentary analysis was leadership and development team. We also undertaken.collected and analysed relevant documents. TheThe programme theory of the NHS-ST was based in a logic of measurement for improvement;: the designers of the programme sought to avoid the appropriation of the data for any purpose other than supporting improvement. However, organizational participants - both at frontline and senior levels – were concerned that the NHS-ST functioned latently as a blame allocation device. These perceptions were influenced, first, by field-level logics of accountability and managerialism and, second, by specific features of the programme, including public reporting, financial incentives and ambiguities about definitions. that amplified the concerns. In consequence, organisational participants, while they identified some merits of the programme, tended to identify and categorise it as another example of performance management, rich in potential for blame. These findings indicate that the search to optimise the benefits of measurement by controlling the risks of blame remains challenging. They further suggest that a sound, well-reasonedintentioned programme theory, while necessary, may not be sufficient for achieving goals for improvement in healthcare systems dominated by institutional logics that run counter to the programme theory.
Humans, Program Evaluation, Leadership, Qualitative Research, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Middle Aged, State Medicine, Female, Male, Young Adult, Quality Improvement, Patient Safety, United Kingdom
Wellcome Trust (097899/Z/11/Z)
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External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.12.033
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/273855