Posted by: acbuildingblocks | August 30, 2011

Using Design Thinking to Tackle Tough Public Health Issues

Design thinking is a strong approach to solve problems because it uses individual creativity and imagination. I think that what is most valuable about the process is that it requires that everyone affected by the issue is included, to take advantage of a whole range of perspectives and experiences. That said, using design thinking to look at complex issues in public health seems logical – what could be better than to use a team of unique viewpoints to think of a solution that is new and tangible? And I think it is valuable to consider applying this process of building, testing, building and testing to find the best solution to challenges in public health.

Working in public health appeals to me because of its focus on people and communities in the real world, instead of theories I would study in a classroom. I think it gives us an opportunity to accomplish something meaningful and positive for ourselves as well as others. The fact that it is so human-centered, though, means taking risks can have real, immediate consequences if something goes wrong. It’s easy to fall back on practices we know have minimal backlash, instead of trying to figure out something different that could maybe be better.

I am incredibly excited about a current project in Alameda County Public Health, which is adapting design thinking to the revamping of home visiting programs. These programs, each serving slightly different populations, focus on improving perinatal health and supporting family life during this critical period. Design thinking is a creative approach to making these programs more integrated and effective. It means involving everyone – leadership, staff, families – in the process of figuring out how to best change what needs to be changed. Once we have a diverse team, with everyone personally invested in the cause, we’ll have the best set of tools to come up with innovative solutions. Each person can contribute from their personal experiences with the programs, meaning the team as a whole will have a well-rounded knowledge base to work with. I look forward to benefiting from the wisdom of the diverse community that will come together to work on this renovation.

The other key aspect of design thinking – the cycle of building and testing quick prototypes – will help reduce the risk of attempting something so new and different. The design team will be able to come up with original, creative ideas and try them out with each other through role-playing, storyboarding, intensive discussions and a range of other testing strategies. With individuals representing the program at all levels, it will be easier to assess what will and will not work in the real world. And having everyone on an even playing field in the design process will foster dynamic discussions and out-of-the-box thinking. The focus on collaboration and imagination will encourage a creative flow of ideas that may not have been possible otherwise, and hopefully we’ll be able to design programs that serve everyone in the best possible way.

-Danielle DeCosta

Life Course Initiative Intern, ACPHD


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