Today the Q initiative launches the Q Exchange, which is an opportunity for Q members to apply for small grants (up to £30,000) to support improvement locally. So far, so ordinary … but this isn’t just another grant funding programme.

Let me tell you what’s special about Q Exchange, why my colleagues and I within the Improvement team at the Health Foundation are so are excited about it, and how you can get involved – whether you’re a Q member or not.

There is lots we hope to learn from this process and as a team we’ll be evaluating as we go to understand what we might be able to apply to other Health Foundation funding programmes.

Collaborating on the design of projects

Before formally applying, potential applicants will share their ideas online so others can comment, offer expertise and contribute best practice – with the goal of improving projects before they even get started. This is very different to other application processes where proposals are developed in isolation and there is no visibility of who is applying. By enabling potential applicants to share their ideas before they apply, teams can build on what is already known and support each other to develop better proposals. Although only Q members can apply, anyone can comment – so have a look at the Q Exchange website and see if there are any projects you think you can contribute to.

Maybe you have undertaken a similar project in a different department and can share your experience. Or maybe you have a great idea about how a project can be strengthened by involving patients in a different way.

We hope to see projects change and grow over the time they are available online, so that when the final application is submitted the project is evidence-based, described well, and the team are confident in their proposed approach. We know that patients and those working in the health and social care system have huge amounts of expertise to contribute, and we’re looking forward to mobilising that experience to improve the conception and design of projects. 

Using collective wisdom when making decisions

Perhaps even more excitingly, members of the Q community will be making the final funding decision by voting for their favourite projects at the Q community event in September. We want to activate the collective wisdom of the Q community. By enabling the community to decide who receives funding, the selected projects will best meet the needs of the health and care system.

We’re modelling this approach on participatory budgeting principles and are interested to see how people vote and why. Will patient leaders and clinicians have wildly different views on which projects to support? And how will the selected projects compare to those we might have selected as the funder? It’s not just about voting either – we expect Q members to pledge their support for projects as well. Whether that’s help with devising and testing a measurement framework, or just a friendly ear when things aren’t going as well as hoped, we anticipate Q members will offer practical support as well as their votes. 

Increasing impact and scale

The selection of projects isn’t the end of the connection between teams and the Q community. Instead of written reports to us as funders, projects will report their progress directly to the community. We will encourage teams to think about how their learning can best be shared in ways that can help other Q members. Equally we hope that members will be able to tap into their local quality improvement networks to support the spread and scale of projects beyond Q. Having a community of more than 2,000 members across the UK actively following and supporting a cohort of improvement projects has potential to increase the uptake and impact of those projects.

So how can you take part?

If you’re a Q member, you can put together a project team, submit a project page online (here is a handy guide to what makes for a winning bid) or just join in by commenting on other people’s proposals. If you attend the Q community event in September you’ll be able to vote for your favourite project and follow its progress.

If you’re not a Q member, you can also play a vital role. Anyone can comment online, so do look at the project pages and offer your expertise. If you have a great idea yourself, why not find a Q member in your local area and see if you can put together a proposal? Finally, consider joining Q when recruitment opens again in the summer – then you can be even more involved in the projects as they deliver and in potential future rounds of funding.

If this isn’t the funding opportunity for you, then many of the Health Foundation’s other funding programmes are also open this year – for example, Advancing Applied Analytics is currently open for applications and Innovating for Improvement round 7 will open in June. Q Exchange is just one way that we give grant funding, but we’re excited by what we might learn from it.

Sarah Henderson (@sarahjhhen) is Assistant Director of Improvement Programmes for the Health Foundation

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