All about Innovation

Defining innovation

A key challenge for  social care is how to improve service experiences and outcomes for some of the most marginalised members of our society in the face of complex social problems, increased demand for services, greater public accountability and pressure on public spending. Innovation is increasingly being used as a way of fundamentally rethinking the nature of such practice problems and transforming the ways that services are structured and delivered. But there are a number of key questions about innovation and its processes in social care that are difficult to answer:

  • Does the social care sector have a shared definition of what innovation means?
  • Is innovation in social care similar to or different from innovation as defined by other areas or disciplines?
  • How is innovation different from service or practice improvement?
  • Under what conditions do social care innovations mobilise and flourish and what do they need to sustain over time?
  • What is the process of innovation like for those going through it?
  • How might young people and families be involved in developing and evaluating innovations?
  • What barriers do professionals face when innovating in social care and what levers are needed to increase the likelihood of success?
  • How can successful innovations be scaled up, spread and evaluated and what data is needed to support this?

Building new knowledge about innovation

Through the four years of the Innovate Project 2019-2023 we have explored the above questions through literature review, interviews with expert informants, two years ethnographic fieldwork in six sites around the UK which were innovating to address extra-familial risks affecting young people, and knowledge exchange with a variety of services in the statutory, voluntary and independent sector.  This has enabled us to learn more about how innovation is conceptualised and practised within social care and the conditions and capabilities needed for it to thrive. Through this we have been able to build new theory about the nature of innovation in social care, particularly with reference to adolescent safeguarding. We have produced a range of books, journal articles and practice resources through our work. All of these are open access and can be freely shared. We hope you find them useful and ask that you let us know whether and how they have influenced your practice approaches or service and system designs. We gratefully acknowledge in this the support of our funder, the Economic and Social Research Council.


The innovation journey

Article: ‘Towards a Synthesised Directional Map of the Stages of Innovation in Children’s Social Care’ sets out a framework to enable leaders to plan and review social care innovation at six stages of mobilising, designing, developing, integrating, growing and system change. This 2022 paper by Michelle Lefevre, Martha Hampson and Carlie Goldsmith is free to access in the British Journal of Social Work here

This infographic of the ‘Stages of Innovation Framework’ aims to support those leading and implementing innovation in children’s social care and related agencies. It is linked to the paper above. View it here

Developing more trustworthy innovation

Article: In ‘Towards a framework for ethical innovation in children’s social care’, we propose a new conception of ‘trustworthy innovation that holds children’s social care to the standards and principles of the code of ethics for social work. This 2021 paper, by Martha Hampson, Carlie Goldsmith and Michelle Lefevre is freely available here

This infographic of the PEISC framework offers principles and reflective questions for Promoting Ethical Innovation in Social Care. It is aimed at policy-makers, innovation designers, commissioners, leaders and managers. View it here

This infographic of the DEISC tool offers guidance on Doing Ethical Innovation in Social Care to help leaders and implementers ensure their practice and service innovations are ethically appropriate as well as practically feasible.View it here

Webinar: What we have learned about ethical and effective innovation: what to expect and how to help it flourish, presented by Professor Michelle Lefevre, University of Sussex and Julie Temperley, Innovation Unit

In this short animated video, we outline some of the findings of our review of innovation in children’s social care which led us to set out principles for more ‘trustworthy innovation' .

In this 45min video, Project member Martha Hampson draws on key findings from our review of literature from the field of social care innovation. She sets out: the stages of innovation; drivers and facilitators of innovation; barriers and challenges; and principles for developing ethically informed innovation

Podcast: The long listen: 'All About Innovation'. Join Martha Hampson and Carlie Goldsmith in conversation as they discuss the finer details of their roles and the project.

Discussion Paper 1: Some Reflections on Innovation in Social Care

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