Service improvement: generate and develop ideas

Once you’ve discovered what is actually happening and understand what the opportunities for improvement and transformation are, it is important to be creative about potential solutions


You need to be clear about what you are trying to improve. You will have identified this through the discover and understand phase.

Rules for idea generation

  • Establish the focus/scope of your area for improvement … and stay on topic
  • Go for quantity
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Build on the ideas of others
  • Rule out criticism
  • Have one conversation at a time
  • Be visual

How do I generate ideas?

There are many approaches to idea generation. Do engage a variety of stakeholders as this will generate a wider range of ideas. Anyone can have a great idea, but facilitating groups to brainstorm ideas requires time and effort to set up, as well as a strict set of rules.

In addition to specific idea generation sessions, remember to record ideas as they occur within the project team, throughout the project. Make sure people share their ideas at the start of the ‘formal’ idea generation session. You can then build on these and use them as part of the selection process. This ensures that everyone’s input is included and stakeholders feel engaged throughout the process. It will also support ownership of the ideas taken forward.

Why generate ideas?

The purpose of generating ideas is to find and test new and novel ways of looking at issues.

There is a guide, which includes tools, for thinking differently available on the NHS Improvement website.

Once you’ve gathered lots of ideas, it is important then to think about how you will select the most promising for development and testing. You should also think about how you might adapt the ideas to your area of improvement.

This ‘funnelling’ process ensures that resources are used wisely; it costs less to test an idea earlier rather than later in the process.

I have not failed; I have merely found ten thousand ways that won’t work.

Thomas Edison


It’s best to test ideas early to that you can learn about what works and what needs more work.

Prototyping allows you to test and refine solutions with potential users. You can also use it to build buy-in from partners and other stakeholders.

Prototypes test the idea, help identify its strengths and weaknesses and manage risk. The prototyping process is not necessarily about the ‘product’ it is about the interaction it provokes.

There are many prototyping methods, which vary from paper sketches, to a physical model, to a fully acted out service (role play). Prototypes often combine physical mock-ups and some elements of role play to recreate the service experience. Gathering feedback is an important part of prototyping particularly from potential users of the service.

Always remember to start small. A prototype only needs to be as good as it needs to be. It allows you to fail early with some ideas but gather feedback to strengthen others.

Small scale testing allows you tocreate confidence and momentum for your concept. You can learn more about the idea to enhance it or evaluate it. Or you can eliminate it altogether, without major investment of resources, if it wasn’t so good after all .

Note: Prototyping is not piloting! Pilots are part of the implementation process

Once you've got know how you'll how go about your service improvement or transformation, you can then start looking at how it can be implemented.

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