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Arden & GEM CSU > Case Studies > Establishing the Global Digital Exemplar Learning Network

Establishing the Global Digital Exemplar Learning Network


The Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) Programme, launched by NHS England in 2016, is designed to accelerate digital transformation, reduce unwarranted variation and deliver quality improvements in patient safety, clinical outcomes and service user experience. By investing in selected digitally advanced sites, and then sharing their learning and experiences, other trusts will be enabled to follow in their footsteps as quickly and effectively as possible.

To support this objective, NHS Arden & GEM CSU was commissioned to establish, lead and facilitate a GDE Learning Network. Over a 16 month period, the Learning Network has created a collaborative environment where 1,500 professionals have been engaged, through 59 events and three specialist networks, to support and advance the programme objectives.

The challenge

Optimal use of information and technology is fundamental to the transformation needed across the health and care system to ensure sustainability and improve quality. Previous national and local programmes had delivered much needed digital capabilities to the NHS but significant variation in the digital maturity of providers still needed to be reduced.

The GDE Programme represents a substantial investment in improving digital maturity, through making funding available not just for digital capability investment but also for national and international sharing of knowledge, insight and broader learning linked to digital transformation.

In order to enable learning to be identified, captured and shared, both within the emerging GDE community and across the wider health system, a programme Learning Network was needed.

Our approach

NHS England commissioned Arden & GEM to establish, lead and facilitate a Learning Network across the 51 GDE acute, mental health, ambulance and partner sites. Having previously undertaken a baseline evaluation of the GDE programme, the CSU had already formed a trusted and professional relationship with the programme team and original 16 acute GDE sites.

The knowledge and insight from this baseline evaluation had identified a number of themes that the Learning Network would need to address.

Design and inception

The first step was to engage stakeholders in setting common goals and purposes. In order to gain a rapid picture of existing good practice and willingness to share, all sites were asked to complete an online questionnaire and rank learning needs based on digital capability and organisational readiness. The top three areas of interest were identified as:

  1. Building a digitally ready workforce
  2. Usability and the application of human factors
  3. Clinical notes, assessments and handovers of care.

In response to this insight a programme of webinars and face to face sessions was initiated, with outputs curated, logged and shared with participants.

Initial stakeholder engagement also highlighted a desire for an online interactive space to share materials and learning. The Future NHS collaboration platform was chosen as the best option, in a drive to establish this space as the strategic platform for all provider digitisation programmes across the NHS. The specific GDE community workspace went live in April 2018 with materials including site digital snapshots, webinar presentations and recordings, and event outputs.

Development and delivery

To develop the new learning community in the most effective way, an organic, incremental approach was chosen. A database of contacts was established and connections were built and strengthened with GDE sites, in order to draw out learning and widen participation to all staff involved with the deployment and optimisation of digital solutions.


Regular webinars were delivered, led by a range of staff – including frontline clinicians – with themes, attendance, hosting and follow up all coordinated by the Learning Network. As awareness of the support available became widespread, sites actively came forward to share their experiences.

The process was well managed and supported by the Learning Network team and, as such, the time commitment was kept to a minimum. The format and structure of the session was less intimidating than first feared and the coordination of questions without interruption to flow was very helpful.

Kevin Joisce, Consultant in Emergency Medicine & Associate Medical Director at City Hospitals Sunderland

Specialist networks

Three vibrant specialist networks were established and coordinated, focusing on:

  • Medicines optimisation – supported to organise events, collate outputs and share learning in a systematic way
  • Mental health – developed a vibrant and well-attended network (including partners) with facilitated three-monthly events
  • Nursing and midwifery – established an emergent network and enabled members to develop a unified nursing voice to progress national and local agendas.

Arden & GEM has maintained regular contact with key stakeholders and delivered realistic action plans to ensure we are all clear on what needs to be achieved, culminating in the successful delivery of nursing and midwifery network events.

Sue Clarke, Clinical Specialist at NHS Digital

Usability and the application of human factors

Identified as a priority area from the online questionnaire, the Learning Network was able to facilitate two face to face events focusing on this topic. The events delivered practical ways to optimise usability of existing solutions quickly, efficiently and without the need for substantive investment. Attendees left with a deeper understanding of how to identify usability and safety challenges, and tools to immediately deploy.

The outcomes

Over a 16 month period, the Learning Network has successfully engaged more than a thousand individuals – within and beyond the GDE sites – through 59 events (19 face to face and 40 webinars). The GDE community workspace has evolved to over 261 members, representing 100% of acute and mental health sites.

The Learning Network has created a collaborative environment where the experience and lessons generated in one site are captured, shared and available for others to benefit from.

As contract sponsor, I would like to thank Arden & GEM for their hard work and determination in developing the Learning Network; this will provide a firm platform as the Learning Network forms part of a wider digital learning community across the Provider Digitisation Programme and beyond.

Michael Folan, Clinical Informatics Lead at NHS Digital


CCG BI teams have faced a number of significant challenges over the last year, from both a governance and operational perspective. The DSCRO team have proved to be very approachable, flexible and innovative in supporting us to overcome these challenges.
Head of Performance, NHS Wigan Borough CCG

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