It's no secret that health and care systems all over the world are under pressure and organisations are facing increasingly complex challenges. Some of the current approaches to tackling these challenges are proving inadequate to meet the scale of change required and we know that learning from collective experience and expertise is hard.

Enter the Q Improvement Lab – a new initiative that will be launched as a pilot this year. The Lab will bring people together from all over the UK to understand complex problems and collaborate on solutions, supporting cross-organisation and cross-disciplinary working. The idea emerged from the Q Initiative – a community of people involved in improvement across the UK. 

We’ve been working on the concept of the Lab for a while now, but it’s finally starting to take shape and we're looking forward to launching this ambitious pilot. It’s not all there yet but to find out more about how it will work and how you can get involved, read on…

1. Blending improvement science with methods for social change and innovation

Through the Lab, we’ll support people to work at multiple levels across the UK health and care system to make progress on complex issues. Sometimes this will be about iterating and improving existing ideas and processes, and in some cases it might involve re-imagining a future system and developing ideas from the bottom up. The Lab will support people to put patients and service users at the centre of thinking, and will draw heavily on design thinking and user-centred methodologies.

2. Mixing pace with rigour

We’ve given quite a bit of thought to how long the Lab will work on any one 'topic' or challenge. A 30 day learning cycle didn’t feel long enough to exploit the opportunities for collaboration and cross-sector working that the Lab can offer. And a two-year intensive change process didn't feel versatile enough.

So here’s how we see it working: the Lab will work on a topic for 9-12 months, and we’ll give people a choice in how to get involved. Some people and organisations will work intensely with the Lab over 9 months, perhaps accelerating and developing existing work. Others may dip in and out, perhaps drawing on some of the key insights or ideas that emerge. We’ll test this during our pilot year and, like all good improvers, learn as we go along.

3. Reflecting the priorities of hundreds of people working in health and care

The process for choosing what the first Lab will work on is kicking off today. We’re surveying all 447 Q members, asking them to vote on an overarching theme for the first Lab and to suggest ideas for specific topics. We’ll then work with a range of stakeholders who are active in this area to develop a deep understanding of the challenges, priorities and evidence, making sure that our plans are resonating with service users and the voluntary sector. At the moment, we think this process will take two months from beginning to end, which seems like quite a while. But we believe that understanding the topic well and engaging people widely in the work will stand the Lab in good stead as it moves to action.

4. A London base, but on the move too!

Through our planning and research phase for the Lab it became clear that having a dedicated, physical space for the Lab is crucial. The Lab needs to inspire people to think in new ways and feel comfortable bouncing ideas around, providing tranquillity and space away from the ‘to do’ list. It also needs to be easy to get to so that we can involve as many people as possible. So we’re setting up shop in King’s Cross and are in the process of shortlisting options. More on this soon.

But the space itself is just one aspect of the Lab – while it will support creativity and relationship building throughout the Lab project, this will be in service of enabling and accelerating work to improve care right across the UK. It will be those of you working at the front line who will use the outputs of the Lab to support your local work, or those of you in national policy roles who will be building on relationships and contacts that have been established through the Lab project. The Lab will certainly travel!

5. Independently evaluated

The Lab methodology is informed by evidence and practice but it will also move beyond widespread approaches for achieving change. We see it as vitally important (and, indeed, part of our responsibility) to independently and rigorously evaluate the Lab approach and understand more about its potential to support change within the health and care sector (find out more about our tender for a provider to undertake this work).

Over the coming weeks and months there’ll be more news emerging about the Q Improvement Lab – the chosen topic, its definite London home, and so on – and opportunities for you to connect with the work. If you'd like to learn more about the Q Improvement Lab, check out the website. We’re excited. Are you?

Tracy Webb (@tracywebb007) is a Senior Improvement Fellow at the Health Foundation

This blog was update on 6 February 2017 to remove a link to an invitation to tender which is now longer open

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