'Choice overload and cognitive overload (when people are presented with too much information and in a way that is hard to understand, respectively) act as barriers as they seek and use information.' This is the main finding of a new paper in Global Health: Science and Practice. Citation, abstract and a comment from me below.
CITATION: What Drives Knowledge Seeking, Sharing, and Use Among Family Planning Professionals? Behavioral Evidence From Africa, Asia, and the United States
Ruwaida M. Salem, Anne Ballard Sara, Salim Seif Kombo, Sarah Hopwood and Tara M. Sullivan
Global Health: Science and Practice August 2022, https://doi.org/10.9745/GHSP-D-22-00036
Objective: To contribute to strengthening family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs by identifying behavioral factors that influence FP/RH professionals’ knowledge management (KM) behaviors.
Methods: We conducted an online survey, in-depth interviews, and cocreation workshops between July 2019 and June 2020 with a convenience sample of FP/RH professionals in Africa, Asia, and the United States to explore their KM behaviors. We used descriptive statistics to analyze the survey data and inductive thematic analysis for the interviews, and we synthesized participant inputs from selected cocreation activities.
Results: The samples consisted of 273 survey respondents, 23 interviewees, and 69 cocreation workshop participants. There were no significant differences in how professionals seek and share information by gender, role, or geographic region, except related to language barriers among Francophone professionals. FP/RH professionals reported using both digital sources and their professional networks to seek and share information. Choice overload and cognitive overload (when people are presented with too much information and in a way that is hard to understand, respectively) act as barriers as they seek and use information. Too many information sources lead to frustration and inaction and best practices are often not contextualized or specific enough for application. Positive KM organizational cultures help facilitate effective information sharing, but reluctance to share information persists due to fear of losing comparative advantage. FP/RH professionals noted that such barriers result in duplication of effort and lack of advancement in FP/RH programs.
Conclusion: To improve overall program impact, KM interventions in FP/RH and global health should reduce cognitive and choice overload, especially by curating and sharing practical, actionable information with essential details on context and how programs are implemented so that others can apply or adapt the learnings. Programs should use incentives to foster motivation to share this type of information.
COMMENT (NPW): If you put "information on family planning" into Google, you get 1,820,000,000 results: choice overload. The vast majority are in English (not understandable to the majority of the world's population). And I suspect the vast majority are unintelligible to those with low literacy. The top slot links to "Reproductive Health Research Using Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS)" - this is largely irrelevant to family planning information needs. Moreover, it is written by a commercial company that has paid Google for it to be in the top spot. In 2nd place is the WHO page on contraception, which is both reliable and relevant, and links to WHO guidelines (mainly for healthcare providers). The WHO page is available in the six UN official languages. How to reduce choice overload? The authors recommend 'curating and sharing practical, actionable information with essential details on context and how programs are implemented'. Is this a given, or are there other approaches to reduce choice overload? Maybe choice overload could be reframed as "difficulty to find reliable, relevant information among many options, together with an inability distinguish it from unreliable, irrelevant information"? In which case the priority is not to produce more options, but to make it easier for people to find the information they need. Search engines such as Google should be pointing us to content such as that provided by WHO and not a commercial company using next-generation screening.
In the future, I hope that search engines will actually help us find what we are looking for, rather than what gives them profit. Furthermore, it should eventually be possible to filter the search so that, for example, a French-speaking community health worker with low literacy can readily identify reliable and relevant family planning publications that meet their information and learning needs.
I look forward to your comments on any of the above.