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Open innovation in health: A guide to transforming healthcare through collaboration

This report explores ways that companies, governments and researchers around the world are collaborating to improve the innovation process in health

What role can open innovation play in addressing health challenges around the world? In this report, we explore the ways that companies, governments and researchers around the world are collaborating to improve the innovation process in health, from the way that problems are identified to how new products and services are created and then adopted by providers of healthcare.

The guide is the result of a collaboration with the State of São Paulo and the UK government and involved testing open innovation methods in Brazil through two pilot projects. It identifies open innovation approaches across the innovation cycle.

Problem identification: The first stage in the innovation process is gathering information about experiences and needs. At this stage, open innovation can mean involving a wider range of actors in collecting and sharing data to more efficiently monitor health issues, for example through data mining and data crowdsourcing. It can also mean giving citizens a role in informing the health innovation agenda, through peer research and participatory priority setting.

Invention: Inventors are often imagined as lonely geniuses working away in a lab. By contrast, open innovation involves bringing a wide variety of actors together to generate new ideas and possibilities. Open innovation at this stage can take the form of collaborating to tackle neglected health issues, for example through challenge prizes and data-sharing initiatives. It can also mean bringing innovators close to health systems and patient needs, for example through pre-commercial procurement programmes and clinician innovation programmes.

Adoption and diffusion: Innovation has sometimes been described as invention plus adoption. There is ample evidence that good ideas do not ‘sell themselves’: the processes by which new ideas are tested, adapted and ultimately adopted are vital. Collaborative approaches to promote successful and timely adoption of new ideas include publicising promising innovations, for example through online marketplaces and diffusion support programmes.

Success factors and challenges for open innovation initiatives

  1. Respond to gaps in the innovation system. Open innovation initiatives are most effective when they address a clear need or specific barrier to innovation, for example, addressing regulatory barriers or helping professionals gain skills and networks.

  2. Start small and simple. While health policymakers are under immense pressure to tackle their most challenging problems first, open innovation is a relatively new set of methods. Many successful initiatives start with low hanging fruit, or with fairly modest ambitions. Succeeding on these projects can help demonstrate impact, and generate support to expand and achieve greater things.

  3. Gain support from health leadership. Support from leadership is widely cited as a key factor in the success of open innovation initiatives. In certain cases, these figures play the role of “rogues” within the system who are willing to support and advocate for the initiative from within. In other cases, the involvement of high profile leaders or institutions adds prestige and even creates a brand for the project.

  4. Provide opportunities for interdisciplinary working. Several programmes provide opportunities for participants to work closely with people from different professional backgrounds, with whom they might not usually have contact. This gives people new perspectives, and also means participants can fill each other's knowledge gaps (for example, clinicians who may lack expertise in IP).

  5. Focus on innovators as well as innovation. Successful programmes often emphasise the importance of choosing the ‘right innovators’, rather than just the right innovations - for example, innovators committed to public benefit from their innovations rather than simply profit, as well as innovators with the people skills to drive widespread diffusion of their ideas.

Authors

Tom Saunders

Tom Saunders

Tom Saunders

Principal Researcher

Tom is a Principal Researcher in the inclusive innovation team. His current work focuses on technology and inequality. He has lead a number of partnerships with governments, the UN a...

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Isaac Stanley

Isaac Stanley

Isaac Stanley

Researcher (International Team)

Isaac is a researcher in the international innovation team at Nesta. His recent projects have included working with the Ministry of Health in the Brazilian state of São Paulo on coll...

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Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Head of Inclusive Innovation

Madeleine Gabriel leads international projects that explore how new models of innovation can tackle big social challenges. Her current work includes a study on whether and how the co...

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