Innovation Incubator

The Innovation Incubator works with county behavioral health agencies and other partners to drive innovations that improve mental health outcomes for individuals and communities.

Innovation is Essential to Achieve Wellbeing

The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) includes a rare and explicit commitment to fostering innovation in providing services and supports. The Governor and the Legislature in 2017 authorized the Incubator and directed the Commission to work collaboratively with counties to find breakthrough solutions to enable better provision of mental health services.

“As communities and as a state, we need to apply our ingenuity, creativity, and ability to learn from each other to close the tragic gap between the services that are being provided today and the services we need to provide to reduce disparities and achieve wellbeing for all.”
Commissioner Itai Danovitch

Chair, Innovation Subcommittee, MHSOAC


The Innovation Incubator seeks to help counties build the capacity to innovate new solutions, continuously improve essential programs, and sustain programs that provide the most value to clients and communities.

While California is known globally for its innovative spirit, most local governments have never been expected to design, launch, and evaluate new approaches for providing mental health services and, as a result, have not built the capacity for such innovation.

The Incubator supports and links counties that have identified an opportunity for improvement with subject matter experts and experienced practitioners to adapt, test, and assess strategies and services. In addition to developing specific advances in service delivery, the incubator supports cross-county collaboration, and building capacities within counties for performance management and continuous improvement.


The MHSA is one of few mechanisms in state government that explicitly supports innovation in the delivery of services. The law requires counties to spend a portion of their MHSA funds on innovation projects and charges the Commission with approving those projects.

The MHSA’s Innovation component responds to the high costs and profound suffering associated with unaddressed mental health needs and the limitations of current services on those adverse outcomes.


The Governor and the Legislature directed the Commission to first focus the Incubator on reducing criminal justice involvement among individuals with unmet mental health needs.

Five multi-county collaboratives are exploring ways to prevent or reduce justice involvement among clients. A sixth project is exploring ways the Commission can better support innovation in the counties.

The Incubator is working to disseminate knowledge of best practices and evaluate how the Incubator can better support innovation.

The projects are:

The Data-Driven Recovery Project

Ten counties working through two cohorts linked criminal justice and behavioral health data to better understand the mental health needs of people in the criminal justice system. The first cohort comprises Sacramento, San Bernardino, Nevada, Plumas, and Yolo counties. The second cohort includes Calaveras, El Dorado, Lassen, Marin, and Modoc counties.

Full-Service Partnerships

Six counties are evaluating and refining their Full-Service Partnerships (FSP) to improve the results from this “whatever it takes” approach. More than $1 billion is spent annually on FSPs statewide. Fresno, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Siskiyou, and Ventura counties are working together to assess their programs and develop metrics for improvement efforts.

Psychiatric Advanced Directives

Three county teams – Fresno, Orange, and Sutter-Yuba counties – are exploring options to deploy advanced directives to improve the response from law enforcement to individuals who are in crisis and physical and behavioral health workers.

Crisis Now

Nine counties – Butte, Inyo, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Solano, Shasta, and Yolo – are developing comprehensive and financially sustainable crisis response systems designed to meet people’s needs better and reduce incarcerations and hospitalizations.

Fiscal Sustainability

Three counties – Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara – are assessing the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the criminal justice involvement of people with unmet mental health needs and develop strategies for improving performance and financial sustainability. All three counties received significant one-time funds from the Department of State Hospitals.

The Commission has partnered with the Forensic Mental Health Association of California and the Council of State Governments Justice Center to spread knowledge through webinars and workshops.

The Commission has partnered with Social Finance, a national nonprofit, to work with county leaders, stakeholders, and the Commission to assess and recommend ways to support effective innovation projects.

Anticipated Outcomes

The Incubator’s projects are intended to have three cross-cutting outcomes:

    • New capacities to integrate data across criminal justice, mental health, and other systems to improve services for consumers and reduce arrests and re-arrests.
    • New capacities to assess programs such as Full Service Partnerships and establish performance management approaches to improve outcomes over time.
    • New capacities to develop comprehensive crisis response plans that provide alternatives to law enforcement for responding to people in mental health distress.

Project Milestones

Next Steps

  1. System Change Recommendations

    In mid-2021, the Commission will consider ways to improve its support for and approval of county innovation plans.

  2. Cross-Agency Coordination

    In mid-2021, the Commission will consider ways to expand and improve Incubator activities.

  3. Develop Statewide Training and Technical Assistance Programs

    Based upon a standardized curriculum, statewide training programs would ensure the consistency and reproducibility of outcomes across counties.

Reach out to learn more the Innovation Incubator