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Innovation in mental health services: what are the key components of success?

Helen Brooks1*, David Pilgrim2 and Anne Rogers3

Author Affiliations

1 Health Sciences, Primary Care, Community Based Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

2 School of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

3 National Institute for Health Research, School for Primary Care Research, Community Based Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

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Implementation Science 2011, 6:120  doi:10.1186/1748-5908-6-120

Published: 26 October 2011



Service development innovation in health technology and practice is viewed as a pressing need within the field of mental health yet is relatively poorly understood. Macro-level theories have been criticised for their limited explanatory power and they may not be appropriate for understanding local and fine-grained uncertainties of services and barriers to the sustainability of change. This study aimed to identify contextual influences inhibiting or promoting the acceptance and integration of innovations in mental health services in both National Health Service (NHS) and community settings.


A comparative study using qualitative and case study data collection methods, including semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders and follow-up telephone interviews over a one-year period. The analysis was informed by learning organisation theory. Drawn from 11 mental health innovation projects within community, voluntary and NHS settings, 65 participants were recruited including service users, commissioners, health and non-health professionals, managers, and caregivers. The methods deployed in this evaluation focused on process-outcome links within and between the 11 projects.


Key barriers to innovation included resistance from corporate departments and middle management, complexity of the innovation, and the availability and access to resources on a prospective basis within the host organisation. The results informed the construction of a proposed model of innovation implementation within mental health services. The main components of which are context, process, and outcomes.


The study produced a model of conducive and impeding factors drawn from the composite picture of 11 innovative mental health projects, and this is discussed in light of relevant literature. The model provides a rich agenda to consider for services wanting to innovate or adopt innovations from elsewhere. The evaluation suggested the importance of studying innovation with a focus on context, process, and outcomes.