Opinion

Supporting Adult Social Care Innovation

Dr Valentina Zigante
Dr Juliette Malley

by Dr Juliette Malley, Principal Investigator LSE and Dr Valentina Zigante, Researcher, LSE

In the last two years everyone has needed to find ways to respond to the new challenges they’ve faced. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important it is to innovate; and that some people and organisations find innovating easier than others. As part of the Supporting Adult Social Care Innovation (SASCI) project, we wanted to understand what capabilities organisations need to successfully develop, scale and spread innovations and how organisations can build them. Here we summarise the learning for social care organisations from our review of studies of adult social care innovations.

What is innovation?

We can think of innovation as the implementation in practice of an idea, practice or invention that is new to the organisation or system. To be an innovation as opposed to an improvement, some people argue that the new idea, practice or invention must be a step-change for the individuals, organisation or system. There is, however, a fine line between innovation and improvement; and they require many of the same qualities and skills.

What role does innovation have in the future of social care?

Innovation is a tool to create value for the person being supported and cared for. It is key to becoming the provider of choice for people who need care and support. Innovation can help us to realise the ambition of transforming social care to create a new and better future. In short, every organisation should be thinking about innovating.

Who should be interested in innovation?

We know that leadership matters for innovation. Critically, it is great leadership throughout the organisation and at every level that matters. Everyone in the organisation should be interested in innovation, because innovation happens when everyone feels empowered to make and lead change.

How can the sector get better at developing and nurturing innovations?

First, know that every organisation can do a lot to help itself, by getting the conditions right. We’ve mentioned leadership, but a culture of learning is also important. This means understanding both whether the new things you try are working, and how and why they are making a difference. Are some skills critical, or was it strong existing relationships that made all the difference? This knowledge is important to nurture and spread innovations.

Second, recognise that innovations need constant work and are always changing; people, partnerships, and even the goals for the innovation may need to shift over time in response to changing values, evidence, politics and the economics. The metaphor of a journey is sometimes used to describe innovation. This is a useful reminder that we can never be fully in control of the destination, but we can manoeuvre a route towards it.

Third, know that you can achieve more if you collaborate. Other people and organisations can bring knowledge, skills and resources that you lack. If you know your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses well, you can identify people and organisations that are likely to be good partners for innovation. Working with other organisations is also a way of building a movement for change and can help to generate demand for new services or a suitable regulatory environment.

How is the SASCI project going to help?

These tips make innovation sound simple, but we know it is anything but simple! We aim to gather further evidence to support organisations to innovate.

The evidence will allow us tell stories about innovation through the eyes of different types of organisations and people. It will also help us to identify sticking points for innovation that are specific to the social care context. These might be skills that are difficult to find or build within social care organisations, or they could relate to regulations that make innovation a challenge. Together this evidence will provide insights for practice and an agenda for supporting innovation in the sector.

We’re interested in hearing what would help you on your innovation journey, so if you have any thoughts contact us at sasci@lse.ac.uk.

The support of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is gratefully acknowledged (ES/T001364/1).

 

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