What are IHI's secrets to innovation?

Kedar Mate, MD, Senior Vice President, IHI

We’re not a delivery system. We’re a quality and safety expert organization. For us to be innovative, to be able to reach patients, requires us to work with partners. We were learning from Procter & Gamble and from some concepts called “open innovation,” which is really an approach that leverages the ideas of not just who you have within your organization but tens, hundreds, thousands, potentially of people who are in your community. The idea is to put out requests or challenge for people to submit their thinking to you as you try to address a specific challenge. And that kind of concept really started to take hold at IHI. This idea that we need to scan the world broadly and look where the horizon centers are in health care today, where the new models might be, is fundamental to the innovation process at IHI. So that’s the first step, is scanning and harvesting ideas from really anyone that’s wiling and interested to contribute an idea to what we’re doing.

The second step is taking all those ideas and trying to build a theory of change. So if the goal is to integrate behavioral health better into primary care settings, what’s the theory that underlies that? So if we look at best practices out there, and there are many, what’s anchoring those best practices so that we can simplify and distill out what the core themes are and create a theory of how to guide others to make those similar kinds of changes.

So, scanning and harvesting, building a theory, and then designing is the third step — designing a solution that might be useful for a wide audience. And then, I think, really critical to the IHI innovation process is testing. Again, testing is not doable by IHI alone, we have to work through partners. So underpinning all of this is the notion of partnership, and that sort of stretches from the harvesting and scanning function all the way through to the testing part.