Co-creation or co-design is the buzz word at the moment, and I believe it’s a valuable one – I found an article recently which defined the co-design process as ‘group therapy to bridge the client-user gap’ which resonated with me and the experiences we have had in this area.

In practice however, we have found that there is a varying range of commitment to the process of co-design. Everyone says they want to engage with their users of their products and services as part of any development process. Some fully embrace it, and embark on a fully agile project with few preconceptions about the solution, some just pay lip service to the process and know exactly what they want to create but engage with their audience merely to tick a box.

More often than not, we find there is a balance and user groups are formed to test concepts, designs and feedback in a quite a structured way. We find though that we create our best work when there is engagement from the start of the process to not only test concepts but to help define the requirement in the first place.

So, when we were asked to take part in the Yorkshire & Humber Connected Healthcare Design Challenge, we jumped at the chance – it was an opportunity to work with a group of people that were facing challenges first hand and create digital solutions that would help them.

The Challenge consisted of 10 teams with each team made up of digital specialists and healthcare professionals, each focussing on different areas such as Pressure Ulcers, Falls, Wayfinding and Dementia. Our challenge was to improve services for people with learning disabilities.

I’m pleased to say that we won both the panel and peer votes at the challenge and are now working closely with the original team, the AHSN and Enterprising Barnsley to move the project forward. We even got to build our own lego trophy!

Since our victory, I’ve tried to reflect on why our presentation and proposal was so well received…

We had rapport

On the first day of the event, we were paired with our team

  • The Learning Disabilities Liaison Nurse at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Her team of student nurses
  • Carers of people with learning disabilities both children and adults

I think there’s always a certain amount of luck to any pairing of this nature – we all walk into meetings hoping that there’s a good rapport because knowing, liking and trusting the people that you’re working with makes the process a whole lot easier and within half an hour of meeting each other, we were all getting on like a house on fire.

Everyone was passionate about wanting to create something great

And this enthusiasm and passion in the group was infectious. There was a clear desire to create something that would deliver clear benefits to this group of patients.

We listened

I think there were a few groups that day who had started devising solutions within an hour of meeting each other. In contrast, we didn’t even start discussing a solution until at least four hours into the session. In fact, we didn’t really say much at all other than to ask the odd question.

It was an emotional morning and as we were told stories about experiences bad and good and we felt very strongly that we should respect the people that were telling them by giving them the time to do so.

We left our egos at the door

Often we go into pitches talking about being the experts in our field which of course, when it comes to digital, is true. But I had never had any experience, personal or professional of people with learning disabilities and the challenges they face. We were no longer the experts in the room, we were there to learn from the people that know the challenges this group of people face on a daily basis. It was quite a humbling experience.

We engaged outside of the organised sessions

If you’re going to get the most out of an event of this nature, I would advise that you commit to more than just attending the organised events. We were in constant contact with our team and arranged meetings outside of the event where we could find out more, run ideas past them and plan for the presentation day in advance.

What resulted was an evidence-based prototype for a digital hospital passport – an emotive record of the sometimes complex needs of individuals with learning disabilities which took into consideration interoperability, user interface design for this specific group of people and the potential health economic benefits of its use.

The concept been well received by many including NHS England, Trusts, Healthcare Professionals, Carers and Patients and we couldn’t have done it without engaging with these people throughout.

Photography credits – Timm Cleasby at the Picture Foundry,