Early adoption of innovation – lessons for public services

By | February 3, 2014

The NESTA Report Which Doctors Take Up Promising Ideas? New Insights from Open Data was released last week.

In its conclusions section LESSONS FOR IMPROVING EARLY ADOPTION it suggests that there are some lessons which can be applied to public services more generally:


Adoption is crucial, so let’s celebrate it. So often, we limit our understanding of innovation to the creation of new ideas, products and approaches. But innovations must be widely used to have impact.

Innovations will only transform a service if they are adopted. By taking the risk of being first, early adopters will encounter more challenges in the adoption process than those who follow. Yet their lessons inform subsequent adopters. This task is not always easy, but it is invaluable for ensuring that our public services continue to improve their outcomes and efficiency. Whether acknowledgement or reward, more should be done to recognise and celebrate the value of this work, and those who chose to undertake it.

Adoption is variable and there is need for improvement. Appreciating the variability of adoption does not mean we should abandon every structure and framework for understanding adoption. Such tools can be useful for understanding the importance and role of adoption in general, but the nuances of adopting different innovations across diverse contexts needs to be accounted for in practice.

Use open data to increase transparency around adoption. To encourage adoption we must first understand it. Open data can show us who is adopting what and when. Through the analysis of open datasets, this report has been able to show the adoption rates of a handful of innovations. Care must be taken to provide context for such information, but there is an immense opportunity to make such analysis a real force for change.

Translating existing open datasets and advocating for more to become available, we can start to draw a clearer picture of the adoption landscape within the NHS. With increased transparency around adoption rates and trends, GP practices, patients and other health bodies can make more informed decisions about adoption and, hopefully, become involved in early adoption themselves.

Make early adoption more widespread. Improving early adoption in public services isn’t simply a matter of adopting more innovations faster. Many of the challenges surrounding the adoption of innovations reflect the generally messy, persistent and interrelated challenges found within a public service organisation – including “formal decision processes (including planning), evidence, communication, resources and decommissioning, and innovative culture”. These issues are interconnected and must be addressed to achieve any lasting organisational change.

Early adoption will not increase with a singular, technocratic, deficit–based solution. Encouraging early adoption within public services begins by making it easier for service providers to identify potentially beneficial innovations that suit their needs. Early adopters then need information, resources and support to help overcome any disruptions that arise. Once an innovation is adopted, lessons from the process can help inform and propel further adoption. Successful early adopters can share not just what they’ve accomplished, but how they’ve done it – so that others can learn from these underrated innovators.”