About Innovations

Public health innovation refers to the development of a new process, policy, product or program that increase quality, impact and efficiency. This definition and the accompanying characteristics were informed by discussions with leaders in public health and innovation. PHNCI is testing the definition and characteristics and will refine them based on our learnings and input from the field. According to our working characteristics, a public health innovation:

  • Is novel, new, or creative;
  • Reflects the dynamic state of change inherent in public health transformation;
  • Occurs by internal or cross-sector collaboration;
  • Involves co-production of the process, policy, product, or program with partners, stakeholders, and/or customer;
  • Has the potential to generate a new or improved means to create value;
  • Lends itself to adaptation and adoption/replication and diffusion;
  • Generates real-time information for evaluation and course correction; and
  • If related to technology, uses open source technology (i.e., the technology is in the public domain) so as to facilitate adaption and adoption/replication.

In order to remain relevant, improve people’s lives, and do our work in an impactful way, public health practice must transform. Developing or identifying and implementing innovations are one step in this transformation that can be conceptualized as three points on a spectrum: emerging, leading, and ultimately prevailing practice.

Innovation Spectrum

To learn more about public health innovation, the transformation of public health practice, and how to foster a culture of innovation in your health department, download Innovation in Governmental Public Health: Building a Roadmap.

As the world changes, public health must adapt to address emerging community needs, often requiring appropriate infrastructure to be in place, real time surveillance and the ability to respond, and the inclusion of new or existing cross-sector partnerships. A culture that supports innovation allows health departments to make the most of new opportunities for collaboration. There are many common barriers to public health innovation, including budget cuts, outdated technology, and siloed workflows and data. However, there are bright spots of successful innovations in health departments across the country. PHNCI is gathering and sharing these stories of health departments’ innovations that demonstrate the characteristics described above to inspire others to pursue innovation in their own departments. We encourage you to read these stories, and even contact the authors, for inspiration and motivation to implement innovation in your own health department.

Perhaps your organization is ready to undertake your innovation journey and are looking for practical guidance on how to begin. PHNCI, together with the Alliance for Innovation, developed the Public Health Innovation Playbook, an interactive website designed to do just that.

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PHNCI awarded $1.55 million to nine agencies implementing cross-sector innovations in health equity, data collection and analytics, health in all policies, systems redesign, and access to services. Hear from three grantees as they describe how their public health innovations are positively impacting the communities they serve.