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| 3 minutes read

Adaptive Spaces, Networks…. and a Challenge Called Spread

In this 50th anniversary week of the lunar mission and walk, this blog focuses on a different type of space, that of the temporary adaptive space. I’ve written in a previous blog about the importance of understanding complexity when considering how to enable spread of innovations.

Healthcare is a complex adaptive system, meaning that it changes over time and is characterised by increased connections and unpredictability. A complex adaptive system has the capability to self-organise, accommodate to behaviours and events, learn from experience and dynamically evolve but not necessarily in predictable ways. The system’s performance and behaviour changes over time and cannot be completely understood simply by knowing about the individual components. [Braithwaite 2018).

We know too well that innovations often do not spread across the NHS and a spread ‘chasm’ has been described and is illustrated below.

Adaptive spaces and spread

Professor Uhl-Bien and colleagues in their research paper ‘How to Catalyse Innovation in your Organization’ show that part of the solution for successful innovations is creation of ‘adaptive spaces’ in the system. These temporary adaptive spaces are defined as ‘the network and organisational context that allows people, ideas, information and resources to flow across the organisation and spur successful emergent innovation’. Adaptive spaces facilitate the movement of innovative ideas and information across a system by connecting individuals.

The figure below shows how successful innovations emerge from the informal, entrepreneurial system but must be supported and developed in a temporary adaptive space to enable acceptance by the formal, 'business as usual' operational system.

Slide from Professor Mary Uhl-Bien presentation 2018.

The adaptive space is not a physical space but any environment that creates an opportunity for ideas generated in the entrepreneurial area to flow into the mainstream operational system. The adaptive space provides the innovation an interface with ‘business as usual’ and therefore enables adoption of an innovation. Crossing this interface into ‘business as usual’ is often a particular challenge for the spread of innovations.

Examples of adaptive spaces include temporary, virtual or face to face collaborative interactions and hackathons.

The role of networks

Along with the adaptive space, Professor Uhl-Bien identifies the importance of understanding social networks.  Three network roles are needed to support emergent innovation and these are described as brokers, central connectors and energizers.

Brokers build bridges from one group to another within and outside an organisation and are therefore essential channels of information and ideas.

Central connectors can help enable the local acceptance of innovation and encourage adaptation and implementation especially within a cohesive group.

Energisers enthusiastically adopt and promote an innovation and stimulate the interest and engagement of others. Energisers connect with individuals who have different expertise or backgrounds.

The network is important not just in the generation of the innovation but also in the acceptance and adoption of the innovation. Technology and social media enable easy access to networks for individuals enabling connectivity across many systems. These connections build strong ties and loose ties both of which are important in enabling the spread of innovation. More on the role and importance of networks in spread in a future blog.

For more detail on adaptive spaces and innovation watch the excellent recording of Professor Uhl-Bien ‘How 'Adaptive Spaces' enable innovation in healthcare and beyond’ organised by the Q community.

If you're interested in how to enable the spread of innovations in healthcare, there are previous blogs and further blogs to follow. Please do subscribe to this blog and follow @DianeKetley @horizonsnhs, #nhsspread.

adaptive spaces are defined as ‘the network and organisational context that allows people, ideas, information and resources to flow across the organization'



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