Supporting efforts to adopt, develop and spread successful improvement ideas is a core part of our work. Over the years we have a learnt a great deal from the teams we have funded to spread their ideas more widely and also from teams who are trying to replicate improvements that have worked elsewhere.

Here are three key lessons we’ve learnt:

1. Understand how and why the intervention has worked

Trying to get to the heart of what made an idea or project a success isn’t straightforward. When describing your own work, or looking at that of others, our impulse is often to focus on the more tangible elements of the project – the product which was developed, or the data which led the team to take action – rather than the processes behind it and the context in which it was developed.

Yet the behaviours and attitudes of the people leading the project, the steps they took get buy in from others, and the organisation’s improvement history, are just as important to understand as the project’s technical components.

So when you talk, write or communicate about what you have done, or when you’re asking others about their work, don’t just think about the solution – look at how and why it happened.  

2. Take time to plan properly and don’t rush towards implementation

The temptation when you’re trying to replicate a solution that has been tested successfully elsewhere is to assume that most of the heavy lifting work has already been done for you, and that you can move quickly towards implementation.

This is almost always a mistake. Not only do you need to spend time re-framing the idea to fit the needs, attitudes and history of your organisation, you need to line up the right people, time and resources to implement it. Crucially, you have to ensure you’ve grasped the social, emotional and organisational effort required to deliver change.

3. Getting people involved and getting your communication right

Ensuring that your colleagues feel a sense of ownership of the idea you are trying to embed is vital.

Persuading people to take up ideas which are ‘not invented here’, can be very difficult: it’s important to make a case for action which appeals to the values and principles that motivate each of the professional groups you need to work with to make the idea happen. For example clinicians might be motivated to change their working practices by a powerful story, which highlights a problem in the way care is provided in their organisation.

Getting the right language for different colleagues, and building a network of respected and influential individuals to champion change, is also important. 

Find out more

For a more detailed look at the learning from our programmes and other research on this topic take a look at the following publications:

  • Using communication approaches to spread improvement - Our most recent quick guide on spread draws on the learning from our improvement programmes, and empirical evidence, to provide practical information about how communications approaches can be used to spread improvement ideas. 
  • Evidence scan: Spreading improvement ideas, tips from empirical research - Our evidence scan from 2014 provides examples from the published empirical literature of techniques for spreading innovation and improvement. The focus is on identifying practical things that teams and organisations can do to publicise and spread new ideas and ways of working.
  • Learning report:  Lining Up: How do improvement programmes work? - Our 2013 report looks at lessons from our Lining Up research project – an investigation into interventions to reduce central line infections. It explores the reasons why potentially promising improvements might fall short when implemented in a new setting.
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