15 top tips for co-design in digital health

Zoe Limbert

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The mHabitat team are currently running a Digital Development Lab on behalf of NHS England for a small group of innovators who have developed promising digital innovations for young people’s mental health. We are helping them travel the journey from development through to adoption within the NHS.

We recently brought our lovely band of innovators together for a couple of days of shared learning on a number of hot topics. I’m going to be writing a short post on each topic and first up is the fundamental importance of co-design in digital health.

Helping us think about this topic was Andy Mayer of Yoomee fame, Matt Edgar of many things including Global Service Jam, and our regular collaborator Mark Brown from Social Spider.

Whilst they shared their wisdom I furiously scribbled down a collection of top tips.

Follow these simple rules and you won’t go far wrong:

  1. Should we even do it? – rather than start with ‘can it be built?’ begin the conversation with ‘should it be built?’ The answer to the first is usually ‘yes’ and the answer to the latter is often ‘no’
  2. What don’t we know? – be honest with yourselves about what you do and don’t know – test your hypotheses and ask questions as you go
  3. Find your fans – start with your prospective users from the get-go and create a fan base – a community of people who are really up for collaborating with you
  4. It’s all about context – understand what tasks your prospective users are trying to accomplish in their context (not just who they are) so your innovation is useable in everyday situations (this is especially important in complex healthcare systems)
  5. What are the limitations? – pay attention to constraints – what limitations are there in this context which will impact on your innovation? How do they compete with the things your users desire and what are the trade-offs?
  6. We’re on a journey – take your users with you throughout the journey and explain the process as you go to keep them engaged
  7. Make it! – do lots of paper prototyping before you go anywhere near code so you design the right thing before you design the thing right
  8. Make use of great tools – use service design tools to engage people in your workshop
  9. Leave the building – get out and about and connect with your users where they are as early on as possible – being on their turf can give you a fresh perspective and great insights that you won’t get when you bring them to you
  10. Make the unaware aware – avoid designing just for your fan base – what about people who aren’t even aware of your innovation – how will you tempt them to get on board? This question helps you focus on the absolute basics
  11. Less is more – build less and focus on your core offer so you can change quickly and easily if you need to – it’s so much harder to pivot when you’ve committed to something large and complicated
  12. Play – be playful, have fun, and make workshops enjoyable and engaging – everyone will get more out of them
  13. What about when the workshop ends? – think about what happens when people leave your workshop – they may have brilliant reflections or insights – find a way of making it easy for them to share in-between sessions
  14. The best way to keep users at the centre – remember this rule of thumb – if every member of the development team is exposed to primary user research for two hours every six weeks then that is enough to keep users at the centre
  15. Don’t stop – keep co-design at the heart of deploying, iterating and evaluating your innovation – it’s a continuous cycle that will help keep you focused on what matters.

Huge thanks to our speakers for navigating our innovators through the dos and don’ts of co-design in digital health. Lots of the above resonates with our approach at mHabitat plus we learnt lots too.

If you have any tips to add please do share them with us here on Twitter @wearemhabitat.

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