Five questions to help you spread improvement
You need to be very clear about exactly what you are spreading and all of the ingredients that made it work in its original setting. What specifically are you spreading? You’d be amazed how often people haven’t properly thought about this.
What are the core characteristics of the idea? Which characteristics cannot be changed without fundamentally impacting its effectiveness? What elements can be adapted to fit the new context you are spreading to?
How well do you understand the system and the various forces for and against the change?
Once you know what the change is and what your system is, you are starting to make some progress with your spread plan. You can now start to get an idea of what your target population is and you can set a spread aim to help you measure progress. Your system will look different depending on your role. If you are a CEO your system will probably be the organisation you run. If you are a Departmental manager your system might be one department within an organisation.
Its essential to allow new cycles of testing every time we move to new areas. In complex systems, no two areas will have identical procedures, conditions and culture. Every area will present the opportunity to build new knowledge - you won’t know what you don’t know unless you allow this to happen.
This does not mean new spread sites will test and learn at the same rate as the original site. You should be able to accelerate the process empirically as you spread because you are building knowledge all the time about what works and what doesn’t in all the different contexts and conditions in your system.
This term describes the building blocks of your spread plan.The scalable unit is the smallest representative facsimile of the system that you are spreading to.If your system is a school perhaps it is one class or year-group?If it’s a hospital then it may be a ward or department.If your system is a whole country then your scalable unit might be an entire school or hospital.Identifying your scalable unit helps you to develop your spread aim. For example, you might plan to spread to three classes by December and then a further six by March.
Tapping into the power and connectivity of organisational networks as well as the formal hierarchy is a very important element of spread. Identifying who the key individuals are in the informal networks and the hierarchy is an important first step.
Understanding how to construct and tell the story of your improvement is a very useful way to engage human beings in new ideas and ways of working. Utilising aspects of social movement theory can help you to do this effectively to generate the will and action required to make spread successful. There are links to useful tools and information to help you harness the power of stories and mobilise people for change in the tools and references section.
Spreading change and improvement will always be challenging, but if you are able to follow the steps outlined above and use the tools and resources highlighted you will significantly increase the probability of success.
Content updated November 2021