Why It Matters
Despite addressing a variety of topics or settings, the most successful collaborative improvement efforts share three things in common.
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The Breakthrough Series Collaborative Method: Improving Health Care and a Whole Lot More

By Kimberly Mitchell | Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Marie Schall is a Director at IHI and has been senior faculty for IHI's Breakthrough Series College. Marie is also responsible for the ongoing development of IHI's spread methodology and programming.


What do large-scale improvement efforts in patient safety, educational curricula, landscaping, energy efficiency, foster care, organ donation, and primary care practices all have in common?

They have all been topics for which the Breakthrough Series College (BTSC) method has been successfully applied to achieve rapid results. Created in 1995 by IHI, the Breakthrough Series is an improvement approach that relies on the spread and adaptation of existing knowledge to multiple settings to accomplish a common aim. IHI and other organizations are increasingly using this powerful method in a wide variety of settings, from hospitals and community health clinics to schools, communities, regions, and other industries. 

The topic or setting doesn’t matter for setting up a BTS Collaborative. What does matter is meeting the following criteria:

  • First, the organization or community can identify a number of groups or settings that want to solve a common problem. A BTS Collaborative can help when there is a gap between current and best practice in some type of process or system. For example, improving organ donation rates from 50 to 75 percent in a community or increasing the number of young people who remain in school in a school district or community. 
  • Second, there are places that can demonstrate how to solve the problem. For example, there are primary care practices that can consistently offer same-day appointments for their patients or businesses that have dramatically reduced energy consumption.
  • Third, the problem or issue has to be important and really matter. BTS Collaboratives require effort, discipline, and resources to develop and support.


In the Breakthrough Series College, we teach participants how to effectively lead Collaboratives that will result in dramatic and rapid improvements. 

When I was faculty for the Breakthrough Series College, I saw participants come to the program with a commitment and passion to take on an important topic and leave with the skills and confidence to apply the Collaborative method to solve their biggest challenges. The most exciting thing about being faculty for this program is watching the incredible impact that graduates have on the organizations, communities, and countries where they’ve applied the BTS methodology. Thanks to Breakthrough Series College graduates, thousands of people are now leading healthier lives due to increased access to primary care, hundreds of young adults have stayed in school, and foster care situations have been vastly improved.

Have you been part of a BTS Collaborative? What projects have you worked on? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments section below.

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