Social Innovation

Innovating with Purpose: A Tale of Two Healthcare Entities

By: Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH and Joann Petrini, PhD, MPH

This is the third in a series of articles describing Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health’s journey toward innovating with purpose by creating and nurturing a culture of innovation.

In the previous blog post, I described the top-down, bottom-up, employee-oriented innovation strategy our team developed, shared why it was important to deploy an inclusive process, and described the activities we implemented to engage program leaders and stakeholders. The culture of innovation team felt this strategy balanced a need to gain stakeholder buy-in while making progress toward our goal, which was to create a culture of innovation within Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health (the Office), and its programs, that extends into the medical center.

Our colleagues at Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) also embarked on a journey to nurture a culture of innovation within their organization under the leadership and guidance of Joann Petrini, PhD, MPH, who serves as executive director of innovation and research and holds the Bedoukian Endowed Chair for Innovation and Research. Joann facilitated the development of innovative and practical solutions to enhance healthcare by 1) inspiring a rewarding culture of innovation among employees, and 2) designing and building an innovation center to develop and test new ideas in collaboration with community, state, and national partners.

Two Organizations Innovating with Purpose

While Joann and I both engaged in nurturing a culture of innovation within a healthcare setting, the goals and intended outcomes of our work, as well as the strategies deployed to achieve them, are fundamentally different, as outlined in the table below.

Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health Western Connecticut Health Network
Goal: nurture social innovations that promote children’s optimal health, development, and well-being
Setting: community – where children and families live, learn, work, and play
Target Audience: program leaders and team members with a direct or matrix reporting relationship to the Office
Strategy: understand how team members within the Office want to engage and participate in a culture of innovation and implement strategies and tactics identified by team members
Goal: nurture innovations that enhance the quality, safety, efficiency, and value of health care
Setting: clinical
Target Audience: all Western Connecticut Health Network team members
Strategy: implement an Innovation Challenge to ignite innovative improvement ideas that will strengthen capacity to improve care and improve patient and clinical outcomes

Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health Approach

As described in a previous blog, Innovating with Purpose: Moving Beyond Semantic Saturation, the Office deployed a targeted, methodical approach to understand how team members want to participate in and support a culture of innovation. To do this, we spent a significant amount of time working with program leaders and team members to understand:

1) how and when people feel successful within the organization;

2) the degree to which it is acceptable to challenge what is commonly accepted;

3) how collaboration is happening across organizational boundaries;

4) the extent to which smart failures and rapid learning are celebrated and rewarded;

5) which behaviors are rewarded and discouraged at different operational levels; and

6) how program leaders and team members engage with one another.

While we are confident in the approach we developed and implemented, it is one strategy of many possible strategies.

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

Western Connecticut Health Network’s Approach 

Joann and her team deployed a strategy designed to generate enthusiasm, excitement, buy-in, and support from across all operational levels of WCHN, which includes 6,500 employees at three hospitals (Danbury, Norwalk and New Milford), a physician group, and a home care agency. With support from executive leadership, Joann and her team will implement an annual Spark Tank Employee Idea Challenge in which all WCHN employees and affiliated medical staff may submit innovative improvement ideas independently or as a team effort. The Spark Tank seeks to help staff develop, test, and implement new approaches to improve healthcare delivery, as well as patient and clinical outcomes. Its goal is to identify innovative solutions to high priority challenges, such as organizational culture and staff engagement; patient and/or employee safety; quality care and/or patient experience; cost reduction; organizational process improvement; and new diagnostics methods and/or treatments.

With support of the Spark Tank Steering Committee, comprised of staff from across the network, WCHN implemented the first Spark Tank Employee Idea Challenge in 2017. Employees submitted approximately 70 ideas. The steering committee reviewed each idea, assessing the 1) significance, 2) approach and innovation, 3) feasibility and 4) evaluation methods. The committee identified four finalists and assigned a WCHN mentor team to help them develop a business case, project timeframe, budget, outline of a pilot test, and other project details in preparation for the Spark Tank. Finalists addressed the following areas:

  • Connecting patients at high risk of falling at home with their primary care provider
  • Helping patients navigate our growing network with a GPS application
  • Connecting employees through communities of practice
  • Streamlining contraceptive options for high risk women

Each finalist presented their idea to Spark Tank judges at a live Spark Tank event attended by WCHN employees and affiliated medical staff, which was also available for viewing online. An innovative program called “Lift Assist for Fall Patients” won the inaugural challenge. WCHN has since implemented the program, which represents a connection between Emergency Medical Services and WCHN hospitals to assist patients who have fallen at home, but refuse to go to the hospital. The program links these high-risk patients with needed services, including a connection to a primary care provider.

Lessons Learned in Innovating with Purpose

Over the course of the past year, Joann and I were able to meaningfully support each other’s journey, share lessons learned, and collaboratively explore emerging best practices. Ironically, and equally surprising to both of us, were the similarities in the lessons learned, given the significant differences in our strategies and goals while innovating with purpose. Some of our lessons learned and important questions include:

  • Innovation includes key concepts such as technology, entrepreneurship, business, and the like. Some people who work in helping professions, such as healthcare, that have innovative ideas, may not identify as an “innovator.” How do we identify team members that have ideas, but may not leverage the resources available to them via innovation centers and initiatives?
  • Creative thinkers, changemakers, ideators, and those willing to challenge the status quo are a critical component to a culture of innovation and tend to be the focus of such innovation efforts. However, they are not the only resource needed for a successful culture of innovation. Successful efforts also need to leverage the skills and expertise of those experienced in planning, testing, implementing, scaling, as well as those with specific content area expertise. What skills and areas of expertise are critical and how do we meaningfully engage those within our institution who have those skills?
  • As we learned in the online master class, Innovation Leader – Tactics and Timelines for Changing Culture, there is a relationship between employee engagement and culture of innovation efforts. However, many leaders, those with formal leadership and managerial positions and those identified as leaders by their peers, are unaware of the relationship between the two. How do we meaningfully educate leaders about the relationship and encourage them to leverage innovation to promote employee engagement and vice versa?

WCHN has been and continues to be an invaluable resource as we develop, test and refine our culture of innovation efforts here within the Office, and we look forward to deepening our relationship with them as our respective innovation efforts evolve and grow.

In our next blog, we will share what we learned from program leaders and team members during our stakeholder interviews and engagement and innovation forums and how we are using that information to shape our culture of innovation efforts moving forward.

Read other blogs in this series, as well as additional social innovation blogs.

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

To sign up to receive E-Updates from Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, click here.

Leave a Reply