Feeling stuck? Get creative!

07 November 2018

Lab4Living looks at how to enhance the innate design and problem-solving skills of community practitioners. 

Group pic

At the recent CPHVA annual conference, Lab4Living ran a 90-minute workshop to teach a range of creative and problem-solving design skills. Our experiences over the past 10 years have shown us that there is a huge need, desire and innate skill-set for creative thinking and problem-solving in the professional healthcare workforce.


New mindsets, new skills

This workshop was focused around design ‘mindsets’ and ‘skills’. It demonstrated ways of thinking about challenges and problems that are key to a designer’s skill-set. These include mindsets such as being optimistic, having creative confidence, developing an appreciation of failure as a learning opportunity and knowing the value of doing and making things early on rather than just thinking and talking about things.

In addition, the workshop introduced skills to generate, visualise and communicate ideas – both one’s own ideas and the ideas of others. It introduced the idea of prototypes and explored techniques to enable one to think from different perspectives, different contexts and ‘deep dive’ to explore and unpack products and services.

The focus on design mindsets and skills is true to our approach of design in healthcare. There is increasing pressure on the healthcare system; as a result, those who deliver services have started to look outside their own disciplines to seek new ways of working that might help to cope with or reduce these pressures.


Group Session cphva
What about EBCD?

An example of this is the increased use of design processes in healthcare aimed at helping staff innovate and improve their services. One of the most well known is experience-based co-design (EBCD). This approach has ‘packaged’ the design process into a simple, off-the-shelf formula with the intention that it can be rolled out and applied by healthcare professionals working with clients to improve care pathways. This approach has been popular; however, there is debate over its effectiveness and to what degree it achieves the innovation intended.

Our approach differs from EBCD. We acknowledge the huge potential benefits of enhancing the innate problem-solving skills of the healthcare workforce, and recognise that design is a discipline in its own right. Like most professions, there is a need to learn the required skills and gain mastery - this is often done through studying, to develop a theoretical understanding thanks to people who are experienced in the field, and apply those theoretical skills into (continuous) practice.

Workshop take-aways

  • Try to consciously change perspective and do it together
  • Defer judgement and encourage wild ideas
  • Be visual
  • Be confident and optimistic
  • Prototype, make it
  • If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter.

Successful innovation

Rather than focusing on the design process, we prefer empowering people with design mindsets and design skills. We believe that developing these mindsets and skills among healthcare professionals and combining their knowledge with the designer’s expertise provides the optimum conditions for successful innovation, participation and co-design. This is particularly important when addressing complex problems typical to the healthcare field.

With this in mind, the workshop followed a structure of activities interspersed with case studies and expert videos, concluding with a reflective Q&A session. Throughout the workshop, we discussed problem-solving and creative-thinking skills, drawing them out through activities designed to demonstrate and enhance participants’ own skills.

The activities explored:

  • The need for a variety of perspectives
  • Drawing out these different perspectives
  • Building empathy to understand different perspectives
  • Generating ideas, practical prototyping and visualisation of ideas
  • Service prototyping.

The final activity of the workshop focused on the dissection of a product or service down into its constituent parts or qualities. A round-table discussion then identified what was potentially changeable (or that someone might have control over) and what must be maintained. The activity ended with a discussion among all attendees about real-world use and application of these skills.


Real-world learning

The backdrop to all these activities was a fun and engaging experience. As all community practitioners and health visitors will know, if people are enjoying an experience they engage with it more and learn more from it, so the learning was grounded in real-world practice and the everyday lives of clients.

While the workshop offered just a brief glimpse of Lab4Living’s work, we hope it gave participants the self-awareness that they already possess many of the necessary skills, and that together we were able to build their confidence to apply them more consciously and purposively.

Our aim was to introduce a suite of skills and approaches that participants could apply at their own discretion, using their professional judgement and local, context-specific knowledge to utilise and evolve them. We also hope it inspired the participants to pass these skills onto the people they serve – the potential benefit to clients is just as great.  

About Lab4Living

Lab4Living is an interdisciplinary research group at Sheffield Hallam University that has been running for more than 10 years, bringing together healthcare disciplines and research approaches with creative practices. Its work is based on participatory and co-design principles and spans a broad range of healthcare contexts including acute hospital and community care settings, the home, physical, cognitive and palliative care.

Visit lab4living.org.uk

Time to reflect

How can you use creative techniques to empower clients and improve their experience and outcomes? How can design and creative practice join forces with healthcare? Share any insights and join in the conversation on Twitter @CommPrac using the hashtag #creativecare


Rebecca Partridge, Remi Bec, Gemma Wheeler and Joe Langley are design researchers working at Lab4Living at Sheffield Hallam University. 


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