One of the most important steps in the adoption process is defining the value your innovation offers to stakeholders. Dr Aman Gupta, NHS Innovation Accelerator Programme Manager and practising clinician, refers to this as winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of stakeholders. Here, he shares the insights he’s gained from mentoring innovations through the process.
Working as a frontline clinician in the NHS, I encounter challenges every day that could be overcome through innovation. Despite knowing there are solutions that could improve delivery, we know that the adoption of new ways of working has always been difficult to jumpstart. Most NHS stakeholders are fire-fighting their workload, with little time or budget to understand, evaluate and adopt innovations that could help them tackle the challenges they face. Contradictory, yes, but also the current reality.
This means innovators must approach stakeholders with care and consideration, speaking directly to their specific wants and needs.
First, consider the types of stakeholders in the NHS that will enable adoption, and tailor outputs to each accordingly. The broad categories to consider are users (patients); service providers (clinicians & managers), Payers (Commissioners groups, finance leads) and regulators (Information Governance, IT teams etc). Innovators need to build credibility with these stakeholders by establishing themselves as a trusted partner, working closely with each stakeholder to overcome the challenges they feel are most pressing.
Then, focus on two things:
Winning their hearts – tell them how you are going to give them what they want
What are their pinch points and priorities, and how can you solve them?
Remember these are busy people receiving lots of emails of transformative innovation for their service, so any communication can turn into noise. In order to grab the attention of an NHS stakeholder, your message has to be read, understood and be interesting. This is achieved through punchy, targeted communication; persistence and testimonials that bring to life how the innovation has the potential to benefit.
I think of if it like a plot synopses found on Netflix – it only takes a few lines to grab your attention and get you to watch the trailer or look at reviews. The hallmarks of those plot summaries are that they are short (100 words or so); highlight only one or two key points and use simple, jargon-free (‘non- salesy’), emotive language (for me the audience should include my young daughter and my grandmother) and have clear signposting for those who want to find out more (attached affiliated detailed material and links).
In the NHS, partnership is a big enabler. Reassurance that the innovator is not part of a faceless, corporate entity is essential. Leveraging advocates for your innovation within the NHS is hugely powerful in brokering in-depth conversation.Endorsement through testimonials, case studies and speaking opportunities really helps frame innovation as a feasible, credible way of achieving objectives in the NHS.
For each type of stakeholder, consider the bodies they look to for accreditation, and work to align yourself with them. For example, a service provider is more likely to be open to a conversation with you if you can show a ‘stamp of approval’ from a clinical excellence group (Care Quality Commission, Royal Colleges) or NHS England and NHS Improvement initiative (Clinical Entrepreneur programme, NIA, NHS test bed).
Convincing their minds – Tell them what they need in order to justify adoption
What barriers are in place? What does the evidence say? Who else says it works?
From day one of thinking about your innovation, you should be building an evidence base. As your innovation evolves, so will your evidence. The testimonials and statistics you gather are critical to presenting a good pitch, but they aren’t all that matter.
In order to be relatable to the NHS stakeholder that you work with, it is important to do your homework. Understand what the national and local pressures services face and how these are being prioritised (eg save money in a specific area of overspend, reduce wait times to specified target etc.). Your articulation should emphasise these. Look at published board papers, commissioner meeting briefings and nationally available statistics for information related to these priorities.
It is also important to understand the current system in place and its level of maturity.
For example, one constraint of digital innovations in the NHS can be the inconsistency of IT maturity in differing organisation, this can mean a lack of IT real estate available to take on such innovation in the near future.
In other organisations, a complex procurement process may involve being registered on a directory prior to further conversations being entertained. In order to best assign the limited resources available to most innovators it is important to prioritise those who can most easily work with you.