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    Participatory Design, with George Demiris, PhD, FACMI.

    Innovation Techniques: Participatory Design

    Master of Health Care Innovation faculty member and Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) University Professor George Demiris, PhD, FACMI offers insights into how we can use principles of participatory design to create a better health care experience for patients and clinicians alike.

    The participatory design movement grew out of debates in Scandinavia in the 1970s about the consequences of new technologies, such as computers, for workers. The movement called for designers to take work practice seriously: to recognize that complex work situations are only partially understood by designers, and to engage workers with lived experience in order to get a fuller picture of their needs.

    Core principles of participatory design include:

    • Treating workers as people, rather than performers of defined functions.

    • Acknowledging that work tasks cannot be understood apart from their context.

    • Understanding the impact of technology on its users.

    • Recognizing that how people use a technology defines how effective that technology is.

    In participatory design, users engage with designers in negotiations over how projects are organized and what outcomes are desired. They take an active part in needs analysis, evaluate potential solutions, codesign prototypes, and strategize around organizational implementation.

    For health care, this means bringing clinicians and clinical staff into the design of new products and services. And significantly, it also means expanding notions of who stakeholders are by engaging patients, their families, their caretakers, and others whose quality of life might be affected by the usability of the design.

    The advantage of this process is that it brings more diversity—and more expertise—to the design process. In addition, it can help build buy-in among end users, and it can lead to higher satisfaction and confidence in the end product.

    Techniques for participatory design can include:

    • Interviews, focus groups, and workshops
      Bringing stakeholders together in a venue where they can collaborate and discuss their needs and expectations.

    • Mockups
      Low-fidelity scale models such as paper illustrations, screenshots, or prototypes with some limited interactions.

    • Mood boards
      Collections of visual objects and text that communicate the look and feel of the new product and that can be used as a reference during design.

    Participatory design can be challenging in health care settings: end users may be clinicians, whose time is very expensive and whose schedules are highly constrained; or they may be patients and other stakeholders who feel that they lack expertise, and who need time to build their confidence as participants in the process. But it is frequently worth the expenditure of resources to know that the needs of the user are being met, and that products are based not on designers’ assumptions, but on the lived experience of those who will use them.

    Learn more about how to apply participatory design in your health care environment in MEHP Online’s course, Digital Health.