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How to identify areas for innovation

When identifying areas for innovation, it is important to understand cause and establish if a symptom is a cause or an effect of an issue.

Innovative service improvement focuses on the cause of the problem.

There are a number of techniques that can be used to identify areas for innovation, and we will consider some of these here. The purpose of using these techniques is to ensure your approach to problem solving is factual and evidence based. The techniques below are excellent approaches to look for potential areas for innovation in your current service.

Some helpful techniques:

Root cause analysis: this is a very simple tool to identify why issues occur. A simple technique involves continually asking ‘why?’ It helps introduce a questioning approach to evaluating your service. This can often be combined with diagrams such as the ones discussed below to help you further understand the issue you wish to explore through your innovation.

Affinity Diagrams help brainstorm (and group) ideas into themes while the cause and effect or fishbone diagram and driver diagrams help visualise the findings.

We will consider the affinity diagram in more detail.

Affinity Diagram: The affinity diagram is a helpful variation to brainstorming, by helping organise and sort ideas into groups and themes that can be explored further. It can be helpful early in your innovation planning and also at more advanced stages when you pilot and refine your innovation.

How to Brainstorm and Develop an Affinity Diagram

  1. Clearly state the issue under discussion. For example, in laboratory medicine, ‘how to improve the turnaround time for routine blood test results requested by family doctors.’
  2. Without discussion, colleagues record their views on ‘post-it®’ notes (One idea per post-it® note, use as many post-it® notes as required).
  3. Display the post-it®, without discussion and in random order. It is often convenient to do this on a large sheet of paper as you can transport the notes when you have finished.
  4. Again, without discussion, ask colleagues to begin to group the notes into common topics/issues/themes. If someone disagrees, notes can be moved but again without discussion. You should aim for about 5-10 groups.
  5. Based on the groups/themes create summary heading for each group to capture the main theme
  6. Record the finished diagram by connecting all the heading cards with their groups
  7. Review the results with your project board/team and stakeholders.

Affinity diagram

© Adapted from the Clinical Excellence Commission, Australia

An example of a finished affinity diagram, this is also shown in the Downloads below.

In preparation for the next step you might like to prepare a brainstorming diagram.

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Understanding Innovation in the Healthcare Sciences

Manchester Metropolitan University

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