We need new ways of thinking and of working in order to accommodate the complexity of the challenges in and urgent need for health system innovation and change. Solution seeking must begin with the convergence of two driving imperatives: the need to ground partnership in shared values and the need for systems thinking. The authors see three core value perspectives as central to partnerships for change: a patient- and family-centred social responsibility and equity paradigm, a commitment to changing outcomes and an evidence-informed strategy that integrates needs for research and knowledge translation. These imperatives can be expressed as a simple value stream: (1) articulate the shared values foundation of key partners; (2) express a common vision for changes needed; (3) develop a governance framework articulating roles, accountability and decision-making; (4) collaborate on an integrated intervention plan that takes complexity into account; and (5) ensure continuous improvement based on measured outcomes. The authors link this value stream to a six-point framework of guiding principles for innovation and implementation and discuss these six principles: values, systems, thinking, leadership, governance, learning networks and innovation research. Working partnerships among government, health services researchers and academic health science networks are essential if innovative change is to be implemented and sustained.