How we’re using co-design to drive our pathfinders

25 Jul 2017 |Written by Tim Brazier

We’re putting our users at the centre and bringing them on the journey with us.

At the beginning of the NHS Widening Digital Participation project, Bea talked about our focus on co-design with patients and service providers.

Co-design is key to the project being successful but it’s often misunderstood. This post aims to demystify the term co-design by explaining what it looks like in practice and how we’re using it to direct each of the pathfinders.

Co-design is part of what we and others call Service Design. Service Design is not a new concept, but it’s a term that has become widely used in recent years since the emergence of Digital Service providers such as The Government Digital Service (GDS) and Home Office Digital to describe the research and design process that they go through. Essentially, this means we’re designing with context. As much context as we can gather by working with patients and service providers before piloting, evaluating and refining new ways of working.

If we’re designing new services we’re designing new experiences. Experiences that people are going to come across every day that are different to their existing experiences. We need to make sure that these are good experiences. So we start by listening to the people who are going to directly benefit from them.

Each of the pathfinders will go through four main steps:

Step 1  —  Bring together the key stakeholders

These are the people with the vision for the new way of working or a problem to solve.

We start by getting them all into the same room and using their expertise to identify the patients and service providers who will benefit from a new service. These are our users. Our users provide the context and become the focus for the rest of our approach.


Identifying the potential users of the Digital Health Hub in Nailsea


We also ask the stakeholders to paint a picture of what current services look like. Through this, we’re able to spot significant gaps and points of frustration for them and their patients. These become the areas of opportunity for a new service to address.

There are two advantages of starting with the key stakeholders. The first, and most obvious, is for us to gather the insight and understanding that they all have. The second, and perhaps more important, is that we ensure they are focussed on the patient groups and not on their own agendas.

Step 2  —  Co-design with users

Now we know who our users are, we can start to work with them.

This will look different across each pathfinder. Where possible, we’ll bring our users together and run co-design workshops but getting everyone into a room is not always possible, so we’ll also spend time with them where they usually spend their time — their GP surgery, a coffee morning they attend or their local community centre.

This will give us a deeper understanding of how they think and operate in their own environments, not just a meeting space that we hire.

We work with the users to understand their needs and their frustrations. What will help them engage with digital and what will put them off.

The needs and concerns of an interested user — working with young people in Islington

Through this process, a number of key themes will float to the surface and shine a light on the areas of opportunity for the new service.

Once we know what the key themes are, we can begin generating ideas with the users for how we could provide what they need and remove their frustrations.

Step 3  —  Design the first model

With all of the context gathered (user personas, needs and frustrations) and ideas generated, we can develop a new service model.

We bring the key stakeholders back into the room to take their initial ideas and validate them against the ideas and themes generated with users. This ensures the new service model has them and their needs at its core.


Reviewing the first service model against the user needs in Sheffield


Step 4  —  Test and refine

With the new service model agreed, we’ll hand it over to the key stakeholders and their partners to put it in place.

We’ll follow the pathfinder closely and regularly check in with the partners and users to see how it’s going. What’s working and what’s not. If there are any issues or barriers that need to be addressed we can intervene and iterate the design of the model to remove them.

We’ll do this at least twice over the course of each 12-month pathfinder.

At the end of each pathfinder, we’ll have a tried and tested service model along with a list of lessons learned — what worked, what didn’t and what we changed as we went.

These models will be shared with other areas of the country so that they can use them, and what we’ve learned to implement new ways of working that actually benefit patients and provide them with a significant and positive impact on their health and wellbeing.

So that’s where we are now. Throughout the project and each pathfinder we’ll be continually learning and refining our design approach and we’ll share our learning along the way.

If you’d like to find out more about our design approach, get in touch -