Ignorance management in hospitals

Maximiliane Wilkesmann (Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences, TU University of Dortmund, Dortmund, Germany)

VINE Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems

ISSN: 2059-5891

Publication date: 14 November 2016



The purpose of this paper is to investigate how professionals, like doctors, deal with their ignorance? Which strategies do they apply? How can the organization support activities that encourage dealing with ignorance in a positive way? The paper shows how ignorance can be managed in professional organizations like hospitals.


To explore this touchy subject, the research follows a sequential mixed method design. The advantage of combining research methods is the opportunity to explore an uninvestigated research field. In the first exploratory research sequence (empirical study 1) preliminary questions were defined by means of 43 qualitative semi-structured interviews with hospital physicians and literature analysis. The results of the qualitative content analysis also served as a starting point for the development of a Germany-wide online-questionnaire survey with more than 2,500 physicians (empirical study 2).


The results show that breaks, a lack of negative organizational constraints, collective learning, positive role models and intrinsic motivation have the highest impact on ignorance sharing of physicians in hospitals. In reverse, negative organizational constraints, distrust, a lack of intrinsic motivation and omitting the implementation of evidence-based insights in terms of collective learning have the highest impact on hiding ignorance. These findings help to manage ignorance in a positive way.


Physicians all over the world have to deal with incomplete information and ignorance in their daily work. Mostly, they have no time and/or resources to gather all relevant information before they make a diagnosis or administer a therapy. It is quite evident that scientific discourses on knowledge management and professions mostly emphasize the power of expertise and knowledge, whereas research on ignorance is currently more or less neglected. This paper is one of the first attempts to overcome this research gap.



Wilkesmann, M. (2016), "Ignorance management in hospitals", VINE Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, Vol. 46 No. 4, pp. 430-449. https://doi.org/10.1108/VJIKMS-08-2016-0046

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