We are in a rapidly changing world, with new digital innovations constantly being developed and implemented in health and care settings. The common factor across these innovations is that they aim to improve experience or efficiencies for the people that use them.
But how do we know what “people” really want? It is easy to make assumptions about this, but the only real way of finding out these insights, is by asking those people (patients, service users, carers, clinicians, administrative staff – amongst others).
Sounds obvious, right?
But I don’t mean just asking people to complete a quick user testing survey or carrying out an evaluation which includes a focus group. No, I mean actually involving people – working with them to help identify gaps in the market, apply for funding, design solutions, test out ideas and support implementation and evaluations.
Last week, I was incredibly privileged to chair a panel for DigitalHealth.London around involving people in innovations. This session provided some fantastic insights into involvement, and how to do this effectively and meaningfully. Personally, I learnt tonnes during the session so here are just some of my five key takeaways from the event, along with some of my own top tips.
- Involvement from the beginning
Whilst it can seem tempting to wait until your innovation is more developed before bringing people in, there can be real benefits to bringing people in much earlier in the process. By involving people as early as possible, you can work with them to design solutions, informing options for change and subsequent decision-making. Ultimately, involving people from early stages is more efficient as you can develop an innovation which truly meets their needs, resulting in a more implementable and sustainable innovation.
2. Go to the people
You can’t just wait for the perfect person to come along who is able to provide you with all the perspective you need – it’s unlikely they will find you. Instead, you need to go out and find them. Start by reaching out to people who can start you on your journey and who can then work with you to identify whose voices are missing. You can do this by making connections with clinical teams, voluntary and community organisations, Academic Health Science Networks (who can help signpost or link you in with existing groups), or you can even use advertising or marketing tools for your involvement activity.
3. Build trust
As a company, it can be more challenging to engage with people than if you are associated with the NHS. This can also make it harder to gain peoples trust, which is essential to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship and meaningful involvement.
The first step to building trust is to be respectful, really understand the background of the person who you are approaching and offer them different ways to engage with you, so they can decide what suits them best. You also need to be transparent – telling people exactly who you are, what you are doing and why.
Importantly, you also need to make sure you are authentic, not tokenistic and ensure that your activity is relational and not just transactional. People should be reimbursed appropriately for their time and should be offered support as well as information on what difference their involvement has made (“you said, we did”).
4. Embrace change
Culturally, involving people is very different to the way many of us are used to working – especially when you think about co-design principles of equal partnership and sharing power. This change in approach can involve taking some risks, however risk-taking leads to new ideas and breakthroughs and therefore the best way to move forwards is to embrace this change.
5. Start now, start small
Some of the above may sound a bit daunting or overwhelming, and that’s understandable. But it is important to remember that it is ok to start on a small scale – you do not have to launch straight into full co-design or co-production methodology. You may just wish to identify a few people to provide feedback and work up from there.
Additionally, you may already be quite far along your research, design and implementation process, and be wondering what impact involving people can have at this late stage. However, it is never too late, and involving people at any stage will inevitably provide additional insights.
Start now and start small.
So, I encourage you to go away today and think about how you can start, or enhance, involvement within your work. Mention it to your colleagues and start the conversation!
If you’re looking for more information, I’d recommend you keep an eye on DigitalHealth.London’s Twitter see what other resources they are posting as part of their July month of involvement.
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