Time is precious – Improvement in a busy world


Abigail Harrison, Director of Innovation, shares her experiences of valuing time, making the most of busy environments and doing things differently in the world of improvement science.

Much of Haelo’s work involves bringing people together, away from their daily work, to give them the time and space to meet others, learn, share and collaborate. We often hear that this is an incredibly valuable experience for people but equally often we are told that it is extremely difficult for people to take this time out and can cause tremendous pressure on workloads.

Abigail Harrison at Innovation for Improvement

Abigail Harrison at Innovation for Improvement Round 5 event

I worked in the NHS for eight years before I started to work specifically in improvement. I understand the daily pressures we are under and I know these are increasing year on year. Clinicians, managers and leaders are increasingly being asked to do more, to achieve more, to improve their daily work and to look beyond that to transform services across the system. Their time is more precious than ever. We know though that learning about and investing time in improvement is a fundamental part of the solution to the challenges we face.

So how do we support people to make the most of their time when doing improvement work?

A couple of weeks ago we brought together a group of leaders as part of the Safer Salford programme and I was in awe of what individuals had been able to achieve whilst working in already pressured roles. It reminded me of the personal responsibility I feel I have to support people in making the most of their time when they work with us, but also to try and do things differently, to make improvement as quick, easy and accessible as it can be – so that it genuinely fits in to people’s daily lives.

How do we ensure the best use of time in learning sessions?

So here are three things I try and do when designing learning sessions to support people in making the most of their time together:

  1. Leave people to it – Sometimes we can over design our learning sessions, packing the agenda with speakers and teaching. What people tell us they really value is the time to connect with one another, to network with and learn from new people and to spend precious time with their own teams.
  2. Inspire – We always aim to give people something that makes them think differently, either an inspiring speaker or a creative session whilst keeping the examples relevant enough to relate to daily work.
  3. Ensure actual output – In Haelo sessions we aim to enable people to achieve something they might struggle to find the time to do. For example, in the Safer Leaders programme we gave people the time to read and discuss publications on system leadership and as part of the Innovating for Improvement programme we supported people to produce a publication plan, blog or film during the session.

Doing things differently: ‘improvement on the go’

It’s not just about making the most of our learning sessions though. A few months ago we ran an innovation cycle focussed on how we could transform the way we deliver improvement training and facilitation using digital technology to enable more bespoke support. Here are some of the ideas we came up with.

  • Learning wherever and whenever – For a long time we have used virtual sessions and e-learning; much more flexible than a face to face session. People can watch in their lunch breaks or at home but we wanted to push this further. Podcasts are increasingly popular and we wanted to understand what we could learn from this trend and if this was a format we could utilise. A podcast would enable the listener even more flexibility; you could listen on your way to work, whilst making your tea or walking the dog! We’re just working on our first podcast series on evaluation to support The Health Foundation Innovating for Improvement award holders. Watch this space!
  • The flip –  A couple of years ago I heard Marueen Bisignano, IHI, talk about flipping the classroom; asking people to do their study at home and use the class room to focus on working together. We wanted to test how we could apply this to our learning sessions, whilst at the same time potentially enabling shorter days. So for the upcoming NHS Quest Connect event, rather than asking people to arrive early and presenting the usual introduction, background, outline of the day etc we’ve produced a short film that does all of this that participants can watch at their leisure, in advance of the event. This enables a later start time (missing rush hour) and we’ll jump straight into an interactive session on arrival.
  • Film workshop at improvement events

    User generated content at our flagship Improvement Science for Leaders event

    Quick, easy and fun delivery – Clearly designing testing and implementing improvement at scale takes time but I believe an important part of the psychology of change is convincing people that improving can be quick, easy and fun. In our latest Innovating for Improvement session and also as part of our Improvement Science for Academics programme we ask teams to create a film in one hour! They take inspiration and support from our film team but come up with their own ideas, star in, film and produce everything themselves. At the end of the session they’ve produced something that they are proud of, that they can use to engage and spread learning and most importantly, they are convinced that they can achieve something that they would have never thought possible in a very short amount of time.

We’re always trying to find new ways of doing things to improve our improvement support so please get in contact if you would like to collaborate.

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