Innovation programmes

Governments and foundations use innovation programmes to solve a big problem by investing in a range of new approaches, evaluating them and learning which ones are most effective.

What is an innovation programme?

Successful innovation programmes often run over a number of years with a variety of organisations benefiting from multi-million pound investment, alongside mentoring, networking, knowledge and evaluation expertise.

By investing in a portfolio of projects and organisations, funders accept that some of the projects will fail and generate valuable learning while other projects will succeed and generate evidence of real impact.

What is Innovation Unit’s track record?

We design and deliver innovation programmes in a range of sectors: health and social care, children’s services, education and justice.

Our innovation programmes are designed to: tackle significant social challenges; generate evidence of improved outcomes from reduced offending or addiction to improved relationships, housing and safeguarding; and reduce inequalities.

We do this by seeking out the boldest and best innovations to deliver long-term impact and inform system changes including governance, finance, workforce, technology, regulation and inspection.

What Innovation Programmes has IU worked on?

We’ve worked across some significant innovation programmes:

Delivery and learning partner for the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme which ran from 2014 to 2021 and invested in 99 projects involving local authorities, charities, private providers and wider partners. The programme invested £253m over six years in innovation projects, evaluation and programme learning, and innovation support and mentoring.

Design and delivery partner to Nesta’s People Powered Health Programme which invested £600,000 in six innovations to address long-term health conditions through high levels of co-production between patients, NHS staff and the voluntary sector. IU was responsible for the programme design and delivery, innovation support to projects and programme wide learning.

Learning partner for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge in Europe which awarded prizes to five cities in Europe for innovations within City Hall. Each city tackled a different challenge and learned from one another about how their innovations work.

How does Innovation Unit deliver projects?

We help funders frame the challenges they want to address, be clear on their outcomes and how they might measure them.

We help them attract, assess and select potential innovators and manage the risk they are taking in their portfolio of projects.

Each project receives innovation coaching from IU. We challenge and support project leaders to secure the permissions that they need, and navigate their ‘authorising environment’, build and manage a team, and focus on their outcomes and evidence against their own theory of change.

We facilitate learning between the different projects to tackle similar problems, share thinking and make progress – through national, programmes and smaller learning events and through learning materials such as directories, blueprints and case studies.

Sometimes we intervene in innovation projects to keep them on track. We often hold them to their original ambitious vision and aspirations and even provide continuity when personnel changes on a project team.

Projects in 'Innovation programmes'