How might we develop a model of organizational innovation that is meaningful, accessible and impactul?
That’s the question VHA asked in 2017 when it began framing a new model for innovation. They began with Design Thinking (DT), a user-experience centred approach championed by California-based company IDEO, and Google’s Design Sprint—which takes DT and concentrates the steps of UNDERSTAND-DIVERGE- CONVERGE-BUILD-TEST into an intense four or five day endeavor.
In the not-for-profit world though, carving out a week for already time-strapped teams can be challenging. “Probably the biggest obstacle I faced in running a Design Sprint at VHA was finding four days where the core team were all available,” notes VHA’s Head Solutions Strategist, Pam Stoikopoulos, “so I sought out something even more concentrated.”
She first began looking at how other organizations were applying an innovative approach to problem- solving as part of her Master of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE) program at the Smith School of Business and discovered some common themes. “I interviewed innovation consultants from The Moment, J5 and Performance Coaching, and organizations who are considered thought leaders including Klick Health and York Region. Despite their differences they all emphasized the need to make innovation part of day-to-day activities and to provide people at every corner of the organization with the tools to do just that,” she says.
Pam’s attendance at a York Region Innovation Community of Practice session opened her eyes to creating a core team of innovation evangelists. “The session focused on giving people practical strategies to solve problems in a way that was energizing. It was exciting to watch,” she adds. Inspired by York Region’s iLabs, a 90-minute to two-hour problem-solving session any trained facilitator could lead and any business unit could capitalize on, Pam got to work on developing a similar “innovation pollination” program for VHA. “What’s so refreshing about the innovation space is that it’s completely open. No one is hoarding their great idea or process but are happy to share and have them adopted by others,” she says.
Pam discovered the Lightening Decision Jam (bit.lyƒ
SmartJam) created by German firm AJ & Smart, an accelerated process for defining problems and developing solutions which is deeply rooted in the Design Sprint process and can be done in one to two
hours. Together, with Toronto innovation consultants at Adaptive X, who also led the first two sessions, elements were tweaked and refined and the VHA Fast Labs were born.
In 2019, approximately 30 facilitators from all departments of VHA graduated from the Fast Lab program and are part of VHA’s
ever-growing Innovation Community of Practice.
A number of Fast Labs have run with the Human Resources, Communications and Innovation, Quality, Best Practice, Research and Education (iQBPRE) departments. Participants of the sessions have been very enthusiastic: “It’s really such an accessible format,” notes Research Manager and facilitation session participant, Dr. Emily King.
“This is the beginning of an exciting new chapter of innovation at VHA,” says Vice President of iQBPRE and Chief Nursing Executive,
Dr. Kathryn Nichol. “Uncovering creative and better ways of doing things is really everyone’s job here. Fast Labs empower people with a new approach and practical, invaluable tools to achieve this so that we’re not just talking about it, but engaging people in a way that is powerful and empowering.”