Setting up hubs to identify, adapt and adopt the innovations which make a difference to people’s lives

Adopting Innovation to improve health and care

With Health Foundation, nationwide

Innovation Unit is working with four health and care systems to set up innovation hubs where they can develop knowledge, skills and confidence to identify, adapt and adopt the innovations which make a difference to people’s lives.

Our work, which is part of The Health Foundation’s Adopting Innovation programme, also helps the hubs to connect and learn from each other

The need

Since its creation in 1948, the NHS has a proud history of discovery and innovation. From the first intraocular lens to the 100,000 genomes project, the NHS has an impressive record of major breakthroughs and global firsts. During the pandemic, we witnessed the resilience and creativity of the health and care system, with many services shifting online within days and weeks, and staff across the NHS, social care and the voluntary sector finding new inventive ways to support people to live safely and well in their homes.

Yet, despite these achievements, evidence suggests that the NHS still finds it difficult to identify and take up new ideas. The NHS’s impact on providing high quality care and tackling inequalities could be even greater if it was more successful at spreading innovations – more quickly and at scale.

In our 2018 report, ‘Against the Odds’, written with The Health Foundation, we looked at why some innovations scale more successfully than others. We found:

  • innovators need dedicated resources and vehicles to scale their innovations – including how to identify and work with adopters
  • system leaders need to learn how innovation from elsewhere can meet their strategic aims – and how to mobilise staff time, money, partnerships, networks and expert support to adopt these innovations
  • adopters in the NHS need much greater support, recognition and reward for taking on innovation.

The aims

The Adopting Innovation Programme puts some of this learning – and the learning from The Health Foundation’s follow up report, The Spread Challenge – into practice through helping local health systems establish hubs that will:

  • Develop the capacity, capabilities and confidence among health and care providers, and their local systems, to become more effective and efficient at identifying, adapting and adopting innovation.
  • Become sustainable within systems that value innovation adoption and build cultures which nurture curiosity, learning and continuous improvement.
  • Work together to share ideas, insights and learning, helping each other develop knowledge, build confidence and resolve problems and challenges.
  • Generate actionable learning so other health economies become better at adopting innovation, with effective, sustainable support from the wider system.

The approach

Innovation Unit brings years of experience working with the NHS, local government and other partners to adapt and adopt innovations and transform local systems.

As the support partner for the Adopting Innovation programme, our role is to help the hubs set up and sustain as well as connect and learn from each other.

The four sites are:

Over two and a half years, Innovation Unit will provide proactive and responsive support including:

  • Independent readiness assessments – using evidence-based frameworks and methods to understand each hub’s vision and plans, and help them identify strengths, opportunities and challenges.
  • Innovation coaching – creating safe spaces for hub leads and teams, offering non-directive support and challenge and helping them navigate complex relationships and the messy processes of change.
  • Capability building support – helping hubs develop key knowledge, skills and behaviours through targeted support, practical workshops and the development of bespoke resources and tools.
  • Learning support – facilitating Communities of Practice and Learning Labs to help Hubs share insights, connect with external experts, and build knowledge and confidence in specific areas, such as adaptation, coproduction, mobilising support, procurement, adaptive leadership, planning for sustainability etc.

We are working closely with The Health Foundation, the programme funder, and RAND Europe, the programme evaluator, to share insights and identify topics for cohort and wider learning.


So far, over £4million has been unlocked, including grant funding from The Health Foundation and in-kind funding from local systems, to ensure hubs:

  • test and refine their case for change, create buy-in and build the systems and relationships they need to sustain collaboration around a shared vision.
  • develop the capacity, capabilities and conditions needed to become sustainable centres of innovation adoption.
  • adapt, test and implement a selection of evidence-based innovations.

Our learning from the programme will be used by other places to develop their own hubs with a sustainable framework of support.