Written by: Ray Pedden

Innovation is no longer the new buzzword. It’s actually the old buzzword. However, innovation still has not been operationalized in most health care organizations in a meaningful way.

Most organizations would say they want to be more innovative, but many are not sure what exactly that means or where to start. For those struggling with these questions, consider creating an innovation center.

Innovation centers are powerful because they allow an organization to be purposeful in approaching innovation. They also help make innovation a priority for staff and providers. However no single innovation center model works for everyone. The hard part is figuring out the goals for your organization.

The Commonwealth Fund recently released findings from a survey they completed about Innovation Centers. In the survey it was clear that from their sample of 33 innovation centers that there was a great deal of variation in how organizations approached innovation—from the budget, the staffing, the time spent on innovation and their ultimate goals. It’s helpful to look at what has been tried across the country, but ultimately there is not a single “right” answer that works for everyone.

That’s why it is critical to start by articulating your own organization’s goals. Why do you want to be innovative? What goals will innovation help you reach? It may be that your local market is extremely competitive, and you are competing for patients and high quality staff. It may be that you have been struggling with the same problems for many years without making any progress, and you need to reframe the problem and think about it differently. It may be that you want to be the best clinic or hospital in your community, and you recognize that innovation is critical to your success. Whatever issues are of primary strategic importance, it’s important your organization be clear on those priorities and how you see innovation helping you reach your goals.

Starting an innovation center can feel like a daunting task. But if you start small and see some quick wins, you can convince your leaders and your peers of the value innovation can have for your organization and your patients. It’s important to start where you have strengths. For some organizations, building the capacity to lead internal innovation projects is of primary value. They are driven to develop, test and implement these projects with the staff and resources they have. For others, it is critical to partner with external companies and try out entrepreneurial solutions. For still others, the power of an innovation center is in focusing on scaling innovations externally towards commercialization.

Start small and begin with your strengths. Most importantly, start testing, learning and seeing success. These early wins will help you build your own internal champions and believers, and will give you the momentum to do more for your organization and your patients.