Working on a single challenge for 12 months, the Q Improvement Lab is an exciting opportunity to bring together organisations and individuals from across the UK to pool what is known, uncover new insights and develop and test ideas about a major challenge facing health and care. The Lab’s pilot project has achieved a lot over the last year and I’m delighted to share our exciting plans for the second project starting in September 2018. 

Find out more about the Lab in our 90 second video:

Over the last 12 months, a diverse group of almost 200 people (Lab participants including service users and those from the NHS, charity sector and housing) have been working together to explore how to make peer support more widely available. (Peer support in health and care is where people with shared experiences, characteristics or circumstances support each other to improve health and wellbeing.)

We have seen promising signs of success. We have amassed in-depth learning about peer support, conducted the largest (to our knowledge) survey in the UK to date on the topic, and funded a new online evidence hub for peer support – an opportunity identified and developed through the Lab process.

The Lab is also now equipped with 12 months of learning about the approach itself; learning that will be relevant not only to the Lab, but to others working to deliver cross-boundary change in health and care. 

How does the Lab work?

The Lab goes through a three-stage process to unlock progress on complex challenges. 

Firstly, the Lab draws together existing evidence, and generates new insights to develop a deep understanding of the topic. We do this by convening a diverse group of people who have expertise on a topic, including those with experience of providing and receiving care and relevant organisations and Q members.  

People involved in the Lab then move into a phase of developing and testing ideas, often acting at some pace to prototype or test ideas that appear to be well placed to make a difference. 

The third strand of activity is collating and sharing the learning widely. Spreading new ideas is notoriously difficult and a recent Health Foundation and Innovation Unit report Against the Odds makes recommendations about the conditions needed for spread. Building on this report, the Q Lab focuses on creating ‘receptivity’ (see page 10 of the report) and using the power of networks to take forward new ideas. Involving wide numbers of people throughout the Lab process and supporting them to develop new skills and collaborations is a key part of this process. The Lab uses the connections developed between Lab project participants and the wider Q community to help share the learning from the Lab, for people to adapt and adopt.  

Shoots of success: making progress in peer support

Together with Lab participants, we made progress on areas that showed potential for improvement at scale. We also supported people involved in peer support to collaborate and share learning and good practice. 

What else have we learned?

The Lab is our attempt to try to design an approach to making progress on complex challenges in a way that has the right mix of participation, creativity and structure to accelerate progress and enhance the chance of wide uptake. This is a big challenge, and there is much more for us to learn, but as we continue to generate insights on how to support improvement at scale we will share our learning and reflections. In August we will publish three additional essays on the Q Lab Essays website which will cover both theory behind the Lab approach and also some practical tools and approaches for people to adapt and use in their own work. 

Looking to the future

We are excited to announce that the next Lab project will be in partnership with Mind – the mental health charity. 

The specific topic for the project will be agreed over the coming months, and the broad focus will be supporting people who have both a long-term condition and a mental health problem.

Mind will bring topic expertise, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with local Minds across the UK. When combined with the thousands of members of the Q community and building on the learning from the peer support project, we’re in a great position to make some progress on this important issue. 

The Lab will provide opportunities for Q members and non-Q members alike to be involved at various stages of the process. We will share more information shortly, however if you are interested in getting involved, get in touch at QLab@health.org.uk

Learn more about the Q Improvement Lab or contact us at QLab@health.org.uk.