A pathway approach to developing and managing innovation

Source: NHE May/Jun 17

Gill Husband, lead for service improvement and innovation at the Institute for Learning, Research and Innovation at South Tees Hospital NHS FT, explains how taking a pathway approach is helping to unlock innovation and allowing people the space to sometimes ‘fail fast’.

Being an ‘Innovation Scout’ felt new and exciting, a different type of improvement work, although I did feel slightly daunted with the challenge in front of me. The scheme was set up through the AHSN for the north east and north Cumbria to promote innovation and encourage NHS staff to share their ideas with a view to improving care for patients. I was working with colleagues who had previous experience with innovation, who seemed to know what the next steps were. 

What I couldn’t pin down was that exact process, so myself and my Innovation Scout colleague set about mapping, using the time-tested tools of brown paper and post-it notes. And we developed a process which appeared robust and replicable. We also believed it would not only help us guide our innovation work, but assist colleagues to see where their idea was on the pathway. The Innovation Pathway was built from our experience of working through over 90 innovations, so we were fairly confident we’d developed a useful process which reduced practitioner variation and strengthened compliance. 

By creating a process built on evidence, we were able to assure ourselves and the organisation that any innovation highlighted to a Scout would follow a process that was not only equitable but also gave the organisation maximum output for minimum effort. A standardised approach means consistency is applied, there is quick identification of ideas that won’t succeed and assurance each idea conforms to the priorities set by our organisation. 

Engaging staff 

The start of the pathway encourages our staff to identify an idea or unmet need, but the next step is really important. Being creative means taking a risk – sharing an idea if it is not fully formed risks embarrassment or worse, loss of credibility. Ideas must be treated with respect and the response from the innovation team is key; we take each idea seriously and never reject an idea outright, we ask questions and have conversations working with the innovator so they always feel ownership for the idea and the process they are following. Investment at this stage is important; even if this idea does not progress, it is likely that, if nurtured, they will develop other ideas and hopefully turn into serial innovators. 

The next step 

The stage gate approach requires a decision at each ‘gate’ either to continue with the innovation or ‘fail fast’, an approach that has been used when developing vanguard models of care. The notion behind this approach is to learn from failure, so it is critical to have clear and unambiguous information which shows the limitations of an idea. 

We encourage innovators to ‘Google’, which can tell us if there is a process or device that can be adopted rather than developing our own. Discussing this with the innovator and the options that are open to them form the next step. Whether the decision is to go no further at this point or move onto the adoption part of the pathway, the innovation team will support the innovator. As the idea develops we talk through the decision points: is this a service improvement or device development? Does this require research before we can move forward? Do we need further investigation of the idea to understand its potential to go to market, do we need a peer review? 

The pathway has been and continues to be an iterative process. Sections of the pathway require further work and development and we are committed to regularly reviewing our work in order to learn and apply new knowledge where appropriate.




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