Increasing innovation skills to improve the delivery of public services – the ‘CLEAR IDEAS’ framework

Research impact case study by Dr Kamal Birdi

Students in an ideas session

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The public sector is facing unprecedented demands to improve the quality of services with reduced budgets. Dr Kamal Birdi’s CLEAR IDEAS innovation development model has been used by public sector organisations since 2010 to enhance their innovation in dealing with these challenges.

Underpinning research

The CLEAR IDEAS innovation development methodology translates research findings on effective innovation into improved organisational practice by developing the skills of managers to both better generate (IDEAS steps – Illuminate, Detail, Erupt, Assess, Select) and implement (CLEAR steps – Commit, Lead, Engage, Align, Review) new ideas in the workplace. Its core components are based on a number of research projects completed by Dr Birdi at the University of Sheffield since 1999.

His initial research questions included: investigating the major barriers and facilitators of organisational innovation; identifying the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes required by managers and employees to deal with these challenges in order to be a successful innovator; and evaluating the effectiveness of training/development activities in this area. The need for the research was identified by the Government’s push for innovation as a driver for economic growth.

Over many years, Dr Birdi contributed to a number of reports and research activities which highlighted major factors linked with innovation success. These included a University of Sheffield study of 500 organisations, and narrative/literature reviews for the Department of Trade and Industry’s 2003 UK Innovation Review. These reviews showed that whilst innovative ideas can be plentiful, internal influences within organisations can prevent these from being implemented successfully.

Dr Birdi also led Sheffield colleagues in conducting multiple studies evaluating the impact of creativity training in organisations. This showed that multiple factors influence the implementation of skills from their generation, that different types of courses have different impacts and that there is a need to combine the strength of several approaches. These findings influenced the choice of the IDEAS and CLEAR factors.

Following further work with a PhD student, the research strongly suggested that there was need to invent a new innovation training model, which developed the skills of employees and managers, to tackle both the creative and implementation aspects involved. Dr Birdi felt the new model needed to be a simple and systematic vehicle in order to make it memorable, applicable and accessible – in 2005, CLEAR IDEAS was created.


Evidence shows significant improvements in the innovation skill resources of CLEAR IDEAS training workshop participants, leading to notable organisation impacts including:

• The development of more cost-effective and efficient adult social care services in Sheffield City Council, leading to an estimated saving of £1.7million.
• The adoption of the CLEAR IDEAS methodology for driving continuous improvement strategy in South Yorkshire Police.
• More cost-effective fitting of smoke alarms and development of new services aimed at improving safety and citizenship of young people, by South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.
• Improved healthcare practice in an NHS Foundation Trust.
• Creation of a more business-inclusive Local Nature Partnership by South Yorkshire Forest.

Since 2010 Dr Birdi has focused on enhancing the leadership and innovation skills, attitudes and behaviours of public sector managers in the local South Yorkshire area through the Sheffield City Region Leaders Programme (SCRLP). This programme was developed collaboratively by the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University with the aim of improving public service delivery in the Sheffield City Region.

Dr Birdi designed and conducts a two-day, ten-credit University of Sheffield module on innovation built around the CLEAR IDEAS model, where participants apply the model to real-life problems facing them.

The evaluation data collected from the workshops as well as new research has been used to continuously refine and improve the CLEAR IDEAS methodology. The model has also been used with members of national bodies such as the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (2012), the Scottish Government (2011, 2013) and the British Psychological Society (2010-2013).

CLEAR IDEAS has reached many of the major public sector bodies in the Sheffield City Region, including seven Councils (Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Doncaster and Chesterfield), NHS institutions, South Yorkshire Police, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, three educational institutions, South Yorkshire Forest and Sheffield Homes.

There is evidence of impact on enhancing the innovation resources and skills of employees. Analysis of questionnaire data from 181 workshop participants has shown statistically significant improvements in all targeted innovation-related competencies (e.g. generation of new ideas, planning for implementation). The SCRLP evaluation reports also showed that 98 per cent agreed/strongly agreed that the CLEAR IDEAS model was a useful way of dealing with problems and 99 per cent agreed/strongly agreed that the workshop was relevant for their job need.

There are also downstream impacts of the framework, including its influence on planning and management of services and on continuous improvement training in the police service. Following positive experiences from their SCRLP participants, South Yorkshire Police (SYP) have written into their continuous improvement strategy document that the CLEAR IDEAS model has been adopted as a supporting toolkit from 2013 onwards. This involves training officers, staff and service improvement groups in all four of the SYP districts in the use of the CLEAR IDEAS methodology so that this can be used throughout the organisation. To date, 100 employees of differing ranks and roles have taken part in workshops with the aim of developing innovative methods of reducing burglaries, vehicle crime and promoting more efficient working. The progress of the ensuing initiatives is being monitored. For example, one group is now working on implementing a new strategy for reducing the second-hand market for stolen goods.

Another downstream impact is CLEAR IDEAS’ effect on health care practice. A Medicine Information Pharmacist in Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust noticed problems with poor patient compliance and drug administration with a gastro-oesophageal reflux medication. Using the workshop techniques he was able to influence the choice and adoption of a different drug in 2012, reportedly leading to more accurate administration, dosage and patient compliance. He said: “By and large it is has been a success… the implementation of the change went a lot better than I thought with over 90 per cent of patients changed over to the new medicine within two months. There was a predicted financial saving for the Trust (circa £10,000 per annum), and these savings seemed to have been realised despite a 15 per cent increase in prescribing of the new medicine. Other hospitals around the country asked for a copy of our guidelines with a view to implementing the same innovation.”

Academic collaborators

Dr Jaochim Bauer (Leeds University Business School), Dr David Denyer (Cranfield Institute of Management), Dr Michel Leseure (Aston Business School), Dr Kamal Munir (University of Cambridge), Professor Andy Neely (London Business School), Dr Jaideep Prabhu (University of Cambridge)

Business/Organisation involvement

The British Psychological Society (BPS), Councils (Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Doncaster and Chesterfield), the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the Department of Trade & Industry, FutureFocus, the NHS and associated Trusts, Sheffield College, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Homes, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, South Yorkshire Forest, South Yorkshire Police, the Scottish Government



Relevant publications:

Totterdell, P., Leach, D., Birdi, K., Clegg, C., & Wall, T. (2002). An investigation of the contents and consequences of major organizational innovations. International Journal of Innovation Management, 6, 343-368. doi: 10.1142/S1363919602000641

Birdi, K., Denyer, D., Munir, K., Neely, A. & Prabhu, J. (2003). Post Porter: Where Does The UK Go From Here? Summary report from AIM Management Research Forum. London: AIM.

Leseure, M.J., Bauer, J., Birdi, K., Neely, A.D. & Denyer, D. (2004). Adoption of Promising Practices: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 5-6, pp. 169-190, September 2004. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-8545.2004.00102.

Birdi, K. (2007). A lighthouse in the desert? Evaluating the effectiveness of creativity training on employee innovation. Journal of Creative Behavior, 41(4), 249-270 doi: 10.1002/j.2162-6057.2007.tb01073.

Birdi, K., Leach, D. & Magadley, W. (2012). Evaluating the impact of TRIZ creativity training: an organizational field study. R&D Management, 42(4), 315-326. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9310.2012.00686.

Magadley, W. & Birdi, K. (2012). Two sides of the innovation coin? An empirical investigation of the relative correlates of idea generation and idea implementation. International Journal of Innovation Management, 16(1), 1-28. doi: 10.1142/S1363919611003386.

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