The Design Together, Live Better project unlocked brilliant ideas to create devices for those with challenging health conditions, as Hildegard Dumper and Nada Khalil explain

Hildegard Dumper

Hildegard Dumper

Hildegard Dumper

According to the African proverb, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

With the Design Together, Live Better project, it is our intention to go far.

Nada Khalil

Nada Khalil

Nada Khalil

This project set out to find new ways for individuals, innovators and health professionals to come together to co-create new products and devices for those with challenging health conditions to improve independence and quality of life.

The first phase was led by the West of England Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) in partnership with Designability, a research and product development organisation.

Funded by NHS England to drive take-up of innovation by the health service, the West of England AHSN works hard to keep citizens at the heart of this process and has been exploring ways of implementing co-production and co-design methods.

We can reach out to people who may not normally engage with the health sector, may have a disability and therefore have mobility problems or may be too shy to attend meetings

More than 100 members of the public took part in the Design Together, Live Better initiative last year through workshops across the region, online or via a dedicated phone line.

Participants included people living with a health long term health condition, carers, family members, health professionals, volunteers and support workers.

During the workshops, people sat in small groups with product designers, sharing their experiences and bouncing around ideas, which were brought to life using rapid concept sketching and illustration.

They shared their experiences of living or caring for someone with a heath condition, the challenges faced in their daily lives and potential barriers to their independence.

Some came ready to share suggestions for new products, while other ideas were prompted through the insights and challenges they shared as people spoke about their personal experiences.

After the workshops, Designability reviewed all the product ideas and selected 10 concepts for further exploration. This led to three final ideas being developed into prototypes: a seat harness that can be fastened with one hand, a ‘companion’ trolley and a portable bidet.

So what makes this project so interesting? For us, there were three elements that this approach particularly innovative.

The workshops provided a creative and alternative method for members of the public to engage with healthcare

Firstly there was the mix of backgrounds – product designers, members of the public, health professionals – bringing together a range of skills, knowledge, experience and perspectives not normally found in the same room.

Then there was the use of crowdsourcing to reach out to people with challenging health conditions and people who might not normally take part in more usual ‘engagement’ activities.

And the third key element was co-production, often used interchangeably with similar concepts like co-design, co-creation, co-decision-making and co-delivery amongst others.

It is increasingly used by public sector services to describe a relationship between professionals and service users which shares the responsibility towards achieving shared outcomes. We use the term co-production here to describe the whole range of relationships in the project.

Unlocking brilliant ideas

Design Together, Live Better was a genuine exercise in the co-creation of ideas to improve the quality of life of those living with a health condition, bringing together patients, public, and health professionals, as well as both design and business skills.

An unexpected outcome was the value the participants attached to being listened to throughout the process. The important contribution being listened to makes to an individual’s health and wellbeing is amply documented throughout NHS policy.

Several participants mentioned that they appreciated the fact that there were ‘people out there’ concerned about the difficulties they were facing.

There clearly was something therapeutic in being able to describe their condition to experts and think through with them possible solutions for improving their quality of life. The workshops provided a creative and alternative method for members of the public to engage with healthcare.

The important contribution being listened to makes to an individual’s health and wellbeing is amply documented throughout NHS policy

In the WEAHSN, we are now reflecting on how this approach could be adopted in other areas of public involvement in healthcare. It is possible that this model might be replicated not only in a product development arena, but for other purposes such as obtaining patient feedback, service development and improvement, or obtaining research data.

The mix of disciplines (enterprise, design, media and public involvement) was exceedingly fruitful and gave our work a dynamic edge, while use of crowd-sourcing has the potential to democratise involvement.

We can reach out to people who may not normally engage with the health sector, may have a disability and therefore have mobility problems or may be too shy to attend meetings. It can potentially exclude those who don’t use digital media, so needs to be used in conjunction with other forms of outreach.

Finally, the co-production approach provided a value-base and ideology for the project that brought citizens, designers and others together in a creative partnership of equal co-creators, which led to design ideas that may not have been identified otherwise.

The use of the creative process is all too rare in the NHS but has great potential for bringing people together and unlocking brilliant ideas. I very much look forward to seeing what phase two of Design Together, Live Better will bring.

Hildegard Dumper is patient & public involvement manager and Nada Khalil is enterprise engagement coordinator at West of England Academic Health Science Network