Social Innovation

Innovating with Purpose: Semantic Saturation

By: Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH

This is the first in a series of blogs describing Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health’s journey to cultivate and nurture a culture of social innovation.   

Over the course of the last fiscal year, a small, multi-disciplinary team from Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office) worked to understand how we can cultivate and nurture a culture of innovation. Our goal, simply stated, is for the Office to innovate with purpose, rather than doing so just for the sake of innovation.

Innovating with purpose became one of my priorities after attending a national community health conference last year. I realized the word innovation was used frequently and decided to tally up how many times I heard it in one afternoon. After marking down each time I heard the reference, I was shocked after the first count. That couldn’t be correct – I must have counted wrong. Two recounts later, it was confirmed. I heard the word innovation 204 times in just one afternoon.

During the conference, the mandate for innovation was clear, but the motive, goals, and intended outcomes were not. What opportunities were we innovating solutions for? What type of innovations should we be developing? Who would design, test, implement, and scale the solutions? Who will provide the financial, administrative, and personnel support? And perhaps most importantly, why are we innovating?

While I recognize it was not feasible for the conference organizers to have answers to all of those questions, effectively setting the stage and explaining the motive and goals for innovating at the conference could have mitigated against semantic saturation. Semantic saturation is what you experience when you hear a word so much, it begins to lose its meaning. While I was not surprised to hear that the attendees I connected with at the conference were also experiencing semantic saturation, I was surprised to hear they were also experiencing it at their respective institutions. Through conversations with other attendees, I learned that, generally, they felt disconnected from their institution’s innovation efforts; didn’t feel resourced to ideate and test solutions to identified problems; and were unsure what the goals of innovation initiatives were. They felt their institution lacked a transparent idea review process; lacked effective feedback loops; isolated innovation to certain departments; and didn’t effectively operationalize innovation initiatives.

Read additional blogs on social innovation here.

Like many of the institutions attending the conference, the Office views innovation as an essential component of our work. We highlight innovation in our mission statement and business strategies, and have a program exclusively dedicated to supporting the cultivation, development, implementation, and growth of community child health innovations, which is Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program. We share lessons learned and best practices from our own experiences cultivating, implementing, and disseminating innovations, including the Help Me Grow system model, Easy Breathing, and the Care Coordination Collaborative Model. We leverage our experience and networks to disseminate innovations developed by our partners, such as Mid-Level Developmental Assessment and Well Visit Planner. We take pride in our ability to innovate systems and programs that promote children’s optimal health, development and well-being, and have successfully demonstrated our ability to do so. Yet, after hearing about the other conference attendees’ engagement with their institutions’ innovation initiatives, I couldn’t help but wonder how engaged and invested our team members are in innovation, and if they are experiencing semantic saturation. While innovation is woven into the fabric of the Office and we have a demonstrated capacity to support innovation, we have not yet identified our goals, articulated what resources are available to support ideas, or shared what we are doing to promote innovative thinking. Essentially, we have not defined the Office’s culture of innovation.

During the Office’s strategy deployment meetings last year, the need to cultivate and nurture a network of social innovators and innovation supporters emerged as a priority. During these meetings, program leaders and Office leadership came together to identify common priorities that will support the evolution and advancement of individual programs, as well as the Office as a whole. Task leaders facilitated the implementation of each priority, and small, multi-disciplinary, cross-program teams supported the work.

Erin Cornell of Help Me Grow, Susan DiVietro of Injury Prevention Center, Debra Dudack in Communications, Cabrini Merclean of Practice Quality Improvement & Maintenance of Certification, Marcus Smith of Healthy Homes, Danielle Warren of HYHIL, and I came together and considered how we might mitigate the risk of semantic saturation for innovation and actively cultivate and nurture a culture of innovation. We decided to focus our efforts internally by creating and nurturing a culture of social innovation within the Office that extends into Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The next blog will describe how we operationalized this task and our goals for the fiscal year.

Learn more about Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program here.

Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, is the program manager for Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program.

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