We talk a lot in the human-centered design world about the process of co-designing or co-creating. It’s the idea that the people who will ultimately be using or benefiting from a solution should have a hand in designing it. Sometimes co-designing means actually facilitating design workshops or sprints that involve your users. Other times, this idea is a bit more nebulous and exists every day as an underlying current in conversations with stakeholders. At its core, it's a process of surfacing need, highlighting opportunity, and responding rapidly.
Makes sense, right? Seems simple?
In actuality, this process is one of, if not the most, challenging aspects of the Health for America fellowship and other design processes guided by human-centered or lean startup methodologies.
To explain, here’s this for an analogy: Imagine you’re responsible for creating a tool that’s going to get five different people to the same clearing in the middle of a dense forest. But they’re all starting from a different corner of said forest. And no one has been to this particular clearing before, so it’s hard to be sure exactly where it is or exactly what it looks like. But it’s your job to create a tool that’s going to help each of these hikers clear a path to this location.
Before you send these hikers into the forest, you get to know them (aka the Health for America Exploration Phase). You begin to understand how the hikers’ age, education-level, profession, attitude, and more impact their pace, sense of direction, and motivation to get to the clearing. When you and the hikers brainstorm desired features for this tool, you learn that some hikers need a tool that takes 2 minutes to use. Other hikers want a tool that makes them feel less alone in the forest. A few hikers need a tool that’s not going to dramatically change the way they already hike, while some are hoping to blaze completely new trails. You’re hearing a range of perspectives, but this is all part of surfacing need.
On Day One, you make your way to each hiker’s location (because we meet our users where they’re at) and distribute a tool you think is going to work. By the end of the day (or week or month in healthcare time), you’re getting feedback: The tool is too heavy. I’m looking for a stronger tool. It worked great. It isn’t what I need in my part of the forest. I couldn’t figure out how to use the tool, so I found a different way. It seems like the tool didn’t work perfectly for anyone, but this information is important in highlighting opportunity.
That night, you work with some of your super-hikers to troubleshoot and redesign the tool while other hikers rest. Then you repeat the process the next day and the next and the next. On Day 24, you decide to aim for a slightly different clearing. On Day 41, you realize if you need a couple new, or different, hikers on the team. On Day 53… On Day 88… On Day 109… It’s exhausting. But as your partnerships with your hikers deepen, so does your ability to respond rapidly and adjust the tool to meet your hikers’ needs.
I could go on with the hiking analogy, but hopefully you get the gist. The hikers are our stakeholders (MedStar patients, physicians, diabetes educators, etc.), and diabetes (or chronic care management) is our forest. We’re trying to get our hikers to the clearing that is access to healthy foods, higher nutrition literacy, and lower barriers to behavior change. And the tool we’re putting in their hands is WellRooted. It’s a process that’s long, messy, and oh-so-rewarding when at least some of the hikers get a glimpse of the clearing.
We’ll keep you posted as we continue to hike through the forest with our partners here at MedStar Health!