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The way the NHS Institute works is inspired by the way many innovative organisations work.

It has its origins in the design industry where the idea of having significant involvement from end-users in the design and production process has long been recognised and valued.

Of course, it has sometimes been a challenge to explain how design methodologies can improve the delivery of public services. As the Design Council noted not so long ago: “… design is a problem-solving process but it is difficult to think of what problems it can help you solve when all you really know about designers is that they make nice gadgets like iPods or will have created the graphics for that attractive label on your tin of baked beans.”

We see design as a way of thinking and an approach to improving services that adds great value to the context of healthcare innovation. Design inspired us to develop our own process to look at things from a different perspective, gain meaningful insights, think creatively and work collaboratively with providers and users in order to develop sustainable and desired solutions.

How do we use the service design approach for healthcare innovation?

  1. We use service design to support the NHS Institute internally.  The NHS Institute uses design principles within its ‘work process' - a formal process developed from our observations of innovative companies, and used by all teams. We ensure teams invest sufficient time at the beginning of the process using anthropological observation techniques to better understand the challenges they are trying to solve. We also use a co-design approach to help identify real opportunities for change and to then take these design-led findings as a criterion for business decisions. We have continued to build internal expertise through learning and coaching sessions and through continued partnerships with a range of design organisations, and have now employed our first in-house Service Designer as part of the Innovation team, helping to ensure service design is an integral part of healthcare innovation. 
  2. We use service design to deliver change within healthcare. At the NHS Institute we fully embrace service design methodologies having worked with service designers since our inception in 2005. We understand that in order to improve healthcare, we need to bring patients and staff together to share the role of re-designing our services. A major - if not the most important - aspect in achieving long term change is the need to build capability to improve the NHS from within, not having to rely entirely on external help. Frontline staff, for instance, can be encouraged to use co-design techniques and methods within their every day job and to work with and for patients to deliver necessary improvements. To enable this, we have ‘translated’ a range of tools and techniques from the design industry that NHS staff can adapt for themselves, examples include the Observation toolkit’ and ‘The ebd approach’.

While leading global companies have used similar approaches for years, the design approach and its tools are fairly new to the NHS. However, when used in the health service, they have had amazing results - delivering care pathways that leave patients feeling safer, happier and more valued, and making staff feel more positive, rewarded and empowered.