There’s a lot of talk these days about innovation in Australia. Start-ups, incubators, labs, human-centered design, prototypes are just some of the topics, and the list goes on. At Uniting—which provides community services to Australians of all ages—we face the ongoing challenge of how to best respond to the many changes in the aged sector. It can be difficult to demystify innovation, and decide what to actually ‘do’ about it. I wanted to share my perspective on this topic.
The first point I’d make is that it is very important to get this right, because innovation is critical for the aged care sector in this country. Some of the models in the marketplace today are neither desirable nor sustainable for the long term. Suitability and desirability are driven by the changing needs and preferences of Baby Boomers as they move into retirement. Sustainability rests on the conflict between exponential increases in people needing aged care services compared with a smaller number of taxpayers. These trends create an innovation mandate.
I’d like to offer three practical tips to drive innovation in your aged care organisation.
There are three innovation types and each is suitable for a different business problem.
Far too much work in innovation gets commissioned without a clear social or commercial mandate, making unsustainable. Innovation can be costly. It takes time and will ultimately mean you have to make tough choices that will challenge the status quo in your organisation. Without a clear ‘why’ these challenges make it hard to sustain your innovation, so ensure you’re prepared and can make the link to your core business.
The framework in the diagram (over page) provides a helpful way to think about your business activities and the way you can innovate and allocate resources.
Before we explore the process for innovation, let’s start with the biggest risk: you. The biggest challenge for innovation is people with preconceived solutions. The best place to start is with a problem; and even better if it’s one that a customer has identified. The best innovations are anchored in a customer’s needs, with potential solutions developed with customers
by digging deep into the assumptions that sit behind these ideas. What this tells us is that innovation is not a free creative process, but one that requires structure and discipline.
The other perennial question about innovation is how you structure it within your organisation. In other words, do you embed it within your frontline services, or do you create a centralised function? The reality is that either model can work if you acknowledge that innovation, excluding continuous improvement, will likely require a different type of skills from your business-as-usual activities. It will also require some dedicated focus.
This can be done by creating cross-functional teams, dedicated units with operational leads, or external partnership with universities, or small start-ups. Other specialist organisations, such as the Australian Centre for Social Innovation, can also provide assistance. The centre has partnered with many organisations on their innovation in ageing initiatives and focus on ‘redesigning ageing’ by undertaking groundbreaking research into the role of home for older people. It has also developed an open source model of carer support called Weavers.
Doug Taylor is Group Executive at Uniting. For more information visit uniting.org.