The Impact of Innovation Contests in Federally Qualified Health Centers

The following insights are derived from a recent Assembly talk featuring Olivia Jung, PHD, and Andrea Dorbu, MPH on Innovation Contests in Federally Qualified Health Centers in the United States.

In this talk, Andrea and Olivia discussed a research project that they conducted across 54 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in the United States to investigate the impact of innovation contests for productively engaging frontline healthcare workers. Innovation contests work by inviting contributions to solving a problem ­from a crowd, or a large pool of people across knowledge domains and/or occupational hierarchies. In doing so, contests democratize the innovation process.

In this project’s research context—FQHCs that provide high-quality primary care and supportive services to medically underserved populations/areas—innovation contests sought ideas to improve patient care from all frontline he­althcare workers regardless of one’s job title or how long s/he had been working at the organization. The contests also offered opportunities for workers to vote on ideas to select which ideas would be implemented.

In their presentation, Andrea and Olivia discussed three research papers resulting from the project mentioned above. Their findings provide actionable insights for healthcare managers and policy makers using innovation contests:

  1. Ideas generated by frontline employees, categorized into themes of operational improvements, employee support, and patient/community-facing suggestions (article link here);
  2. Factors influencing employee engagement in innovation contests such as staff shortages, workload, and impact of patient demographics (article link here); and
  3. Whether innovation contests can foster staff interest in organizational innovation and encourage them to continue sharing ideas.

The findings of this research indicate that innovation contests can, in fact, be an effective tool for promoting innovation and idea-sharing within healthcare organizations. Analysis of 2,300 ideas generated during this research show that frontline employees provided valuable insights into areas that require improvement and offered practical solutions to address challenges of patient care, staff satisfaction, and overall operational effectiveness of health care centers.

Follow-up interviews with participants of the innovation contests and senior leadership testified to the value of using innovation contests to engage workforce productively by:

  • Increasing interest in innovation: employees who participated in the contests showed great interest in organizational problem-solving and innovation.
  • Encouraging employees to speak up: the contests provided a platform for employees to voice their ideas and suggestions, leading to an increase in behaviors related to speaking up and idea sharing.
  • Improving critical thinking & idea generation: employees in organizations with innovation contests generated more creative ideas compared to those without such contests.
  • Promoting an inclusive organizational culture and increasing cross-organizational collaboration: innovation contests allowed ideas to flow across hierarchical boundaries within organizations, encouraging input from employees at all levels.

The overarching takeaway of this research project is that innovation contests can create a structured and transparent process that encourages employees to participate and contribute their ideas. Many organizations seek to foster a culture of learning and innovation and improve organizational effectiveness. Innovation contests appear to be a helpful vehicle for such a pursuit.

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