Beginning in 2001, EBL targeted selected public health professionals to train as power information users (PIUs)—members of the public health community with an advanced understanding of information use and resources and the ability to share their knowledge with others [8
]. Potential PIUs were identified by state health department officials based on aptitude for learning, willingness to act as a peer resource, position as community leaders, or position on project teams that could benefit from information integration. Though five candidates were initially targeted for the PIU training, conflicting schedules and changing resource demands allowed investigators to work extensively with only two PIUs, both of whom held influential positions in their departments.
Using ethnographic methods, EBL investigators observed PIUs at work in numerous workgroup settings. Nearly 100 hours of observation over the project period enabled the development of need-driven process analyses, breakdowns of critical work functions that supported the essential goals and objectives of the targeted group and enabled investigators to identify key areas of workflow that would benefit from information integration. The appendix shows one such analysis.
Training and consultation in the post-observation period combined a theoretical focus on concepts of information seeking and data- and evidence-driven problem solving as well as applied training in relevant resources. The process analyses typically focused around specific PIU tasks and, informed by the investigators' observation of workgroup meetings and general workflow, guided the development of highly relevant, context-specific training. This contextual training generally occurred over multiple sessions and involved investigators' querying PIUs to determine the sources they would ordinarily use to accomplish their assigned tasks. Investigators then focused the task by dissecting major concepts and formulating specific research questions. Framing a research question was an unfamiliar exercise to the PIUs, but, in many cases, this process identified the primary sources for needed data—a surprise for the PIUs. illustrates several of the resources and concepts discussed in training sessions.
Table 2 Selected material from power information user (PIU) curriculum
Similarly, while the PIUs had extensive knowledge of public health agencies and the data and publications produced by these agencies, they often did not understand how the digital information environment was organized or how they should select and use optimal retrieval tools. Training helped to coalesce the PIUs' knowledge and make more evident the links between information needs, specific strategies for information seeking, and sources of information. This dual focus helped to promote a mindset embracing lifelong learning as well as key skills needed to navigate the information environment.
Evaluation of PIU training and information integration included qualitative measures such as feedback via questionnaires, interviews, and a survey of PIU progress expressed by work products. Investigators collected data using taped interviews, questionnaires, and a survey of Websites and bookmarks on PIUs' computers. As noted in other studies, a combination of methods yielded both a longitudinal perspective on PIU information use as well as assessment of recent activities [9, 10
Whereas the PIU model proved to require a greater time commitment and attention to logistics than investigators anticipated, PIUs reported incorporating many of the information fundamentals they learned into their workflow. For example, PIUs noted locating, assessing, and synthesizing more than seventy-five unique journal articles and documents that directly contributed to the development of a statewide report on health care access for individuals with limited English proficiency. PIUs also altered their work practices to better incorporate knowledge sharing and reuse. In addition to establishing a central repository for work products, PIUs also shared information with their communities by contributing information expertise and resources to work products in responsibilities beyond their immediate purview.
Though PIUs were interested in knowledge management practices, evaluation of the PIU model's efficacy in this small group also underscored the importance of an organizational culture that supported learning to achieve optimal diffusion of gained knowledge. Knowledge management practices, such as sharing a central server housing materials for reuse in producing or enhancing work, were an innovation for PIUs. Previously, groups worked on project aspects— such as collecting primary data, interpreting resources, and synthesizing and applying gained knowledge—in isolation from other potentially useful resources or data gathered by others. Depositing individual materials to create a pooled collection accessible to all members transferred ownership and raised concerns about individual contributions and recognition. PIUs, however, acknowledged productivity gains from such knowledge sharing.
Additionally, investigators conducted extended evaluation of the PIU model by examining the impact PIUs had on peers' information seeking through interviews with individuals identified by PIUs. Given changes in the political structure of the state and health department, few individuals who had worked directly with PIUs were still employed by the Tennessee Department of Health at the time of this evaluation. Investigators were, however, able to interview nine individuals identified by the original PIUs.
Interviews revealed that the PIU concept raised awareness and use of resources and helped to make primary literature more easily accessible to this small, targeted group. Interviewees remarked on locating and accessing documents to support work in areas such as bioterrorism and grant writing and noted using novel resources. PIU interaction also facilitated interest in concepts of information organization and management. Individuals who had worked with PIUs expressed an understanding of and further interest in advanced concepts such as knowledge management and data analysis.
Moreover, sustained consultation with PIUs should continue to promote information sharing. Such continuing relationships with librarians have been cited as key to long-term use of information in practice in other areas of health sciences [11
]. Transitioning the PIU model from onsite consultation to remote, just-in-time conferencing has enabled librarians to keep abreast of issues and needs in the public health community and should allow PIUs to continue to build their information skills.