Alastair Kirby, an Industry and Technology Navigator at KSS AHSN, has been writing about the key lessons that can support the successful adoption of innovations across government. 

In this blog he considers a range of points, including why it’s so important to understand the landscape you’re working in, and the power of seeing potential customers and users as innovation partners who can help co-create your value.  

‘Innovation’ and three letter acronyms are some of the only constants that span throughout any public sector organisation. Both innovation and acronyms are similar in my view; they both have a different meaning for the same word, the definition is not always easy to understand, and they can both be complex to navigate through. Having worked across academia, defence, start-ups, and health care sectors I have had to learn a fair few acronyms and seen a variety of approaches to innovation.

Despite the differences across all these sectors there are similar constants, misconceptions and challenges that can limit the successful adoption of your innovation. Whether you are looking to run an internal project or secure your first contract for your business there are key lessons that span the successful adoption of ‘innovation’ across government.


A government department is not necessarily a customer. Government department (DHSC/(NHS), MoD, MoJ) are all large organisations made up of multiple departments and arms lengths bodies, each with their own responsibility, budgets, and targets. It is vital to understand who controls the purse strings for your innovation and that who uses your product/service may not be the one who decides to buy it. Whilst your user’s influence may be critical, it is important to understand who will be making the procurement decision within the specific organisation and how these decisions are justified.


Start with the problem you are trying to solve not how you will solve it. Being able to clearly articulate why your product/service is needed will help your customer understand why they should invest in your solution. This is commonly known as your value proposition. Constantly question why your customers would care about your solution and focus on the benefits it creates over a description of features.


It is important to understand the targets and influence placed upon government departments such as the NHS to meet strategic and operational goals of parliament. Strategic documents such as the NHS long term plan and the NHS operational guidance identify priority areas and targets the NHS needs to meet. Understanding how your innovation/service fits within these priorities can help build investment within the organisation.


Use your customers and users as innovation partners to help co-create your value. Your customers have a wealth of lived experience and knowledge that will help you deliver a better outcome by getting your customers/users to invest and co-create your solution. Funding initiatives from the small business research initiative (SBRI), National Institute of Health Research and Innovate UK offer an excellent opportunity to de-risk and co-develop solutions using the NHS as an innovation partner.

Navigating the NHS or any other government organisation can be daunting. The Academic Health Science Network is here to guide innovators through this process and support our NHS partners with the adoption of innovation. The AHSN Innovation Exchange offers free online resources which assist you in both identifying your customers and building your value proposition for the NHS. Our bridging the gap support at Kent Surrey Sussex AHSN offersaccess to expert support for innovations that address our local priorities.

Please get in touch with our team to explore the opportunity of local support across the health and social care system in Kent, Surrey, and Sussex.

Dr. Alastair Kirby, PhD

Industry & Technology Navigator

Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network (KSS AHSN)

*About the author: Alastair is an Industry and Technology Navigator at KSS AHSN, whose role is to guide a wide range of innovators to navigate and access the local health and social care system.

Having previously co-founded a med-tech start-up, Alastair has a wealth of first-hand experience in business development and the early challenges faced by innovators when trying to access the NHS. Before joining KSS AHSN, Alastair supported companies with the adoption of innovation through the Defence & Security Science Accelerator. Alastair also has a PhD in Neuro-oncology, having spent a number of years running a neurosurgical clinical trial to improve the treatment brain cancer which led to Alastair co-founding his med-tech company.