Experiential design

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Action Learning Set

Kirstie Stott, programme lead for the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme and Scott Bell, Community Volunteer Capacity Builder at Lifeline Kirklees, discuss the importance of working collaboratively and making sure we continually involve people in the work we do. 


If ever a picture was to say a thousand words then it is this one.  Pretty self-explanatory isn’t it? What started out as a simple picture shared by myself and Kirstie (co-author), became one of the most popular tweets we had posted.


Image source: Facebook
Image source: Facebook

We are both passionate about service user experience and how we currently co produce and co design our services across local health economies and across multiple sectors which touch the lives of millions of people daily. This is why we both lead the Health and Social Care Voices National Network @HSCVoices. After reflecting and discussing via twitter as to why it stirred up so much emotion, feeling and debate, we decided to put our spin on it and write a blog.


What was a simple share about the difference between what we personally experience and how others think we want to experience, quickly resonated with hundreds of people across social media with the work we all do across Health and Social Care sectors and adding a new dimension and offering a greater and broader meaning.


We know that there are some really innovative forward thinking organisations, both statutory and voluntary who are really embracing partnership and collaborative working with people who use services, this we should be proud of and celebrate, and we know that this is not the case everywhere and so we need to work together to achieve this.


Some of our past experiences have given us a good grounding in how those of us who work within health and social care should always have a good understanding of experience, both from a client perspective and from a staff perspective too. We design services based on need and improve services based on the same principles. If we go back to the picture above, we could question if anyone asked the public which route would be most utilised. Some challenge has been that this is through societal laziness and to ‘cut corners’ literally, however you have to consider if the public want the quickest route or the most attractive? Seems an obvious question doesn’t it?  Although simplistic in its demonstration, this epitomises the importance of service user involvement at all stages of design, it shows the fundamental importance of real engagement and understanding about what’s important to the service user, and frequently this is not the same as what is assumed ‘important’ to the provider.


It’s easy to find ourselves starting to make the same presumptions in our day to day roles, especially when we become embroiled in what we do and believe we have the expert knowledge, experience and skills.  We can quickly start to believe that we have worked with a client group in depth and therefore understand the needs, wants and wishes of this ‘group’ of people, and because we have an understanding of the issues faced by the clients we come into contact with we are best placed to design based on that.


At a time when finances are tight, there are projected deficits across health and social care funding leaving gaps, and with efficiencies to be made. It seems fundamental to ensure that what we are doing and the services we are designing are what matter to the public we serve. We can’t presume to know what people want and need without their involvement, they are the experts and we should be there as guests in their lives, working with and for them.


How can we model good practice? Scott Bell, Community Volunteer Capacity Builder shares the following tips:


  • Don’t replicate what a community is already able to do or is already doing
  • Think about which questions you should be asking rather than just designing questions to ask
  • Invite Service Users/Patients/Carers/Communities as partners in a wider vision and not in small parts
  • Make sure involvement and co-production is a learning experience and not fully outcomes focussed
  • Listen, don’t defend
  • Any co-design has to be mutual and reciprocal -people know when they are being undervalued
  • No one person has all the answers and – a bit like a football league – it requires many component parts
  • Identify and invest in the right leaders, not just the corporate leaders
  • Don’t expect linear processes -people not working for an organisation will think differently to policies and procedures. Work with, and not against
  • Enjoy the experiences, perspectives and most of all, the inclusivity


It can be easy to misinterpret best intentions for true engagement and partnership, and how this is aligned with our core values as a person as well as our beliefs around the public and voluntary sectors that we dedicate our time to each day.


For us, this picture reminded us about the importance of making sure we continually value the ‘experience’ and involve people in the work we do. It has in fact empowered us to be spurred on to ensure we continually take the left path and let the ‘experience do the design’ and not let the ‘design spoil the experience’.


We’d also love to hear your own views on this and encourage you to share your own ideas and thinking to achieve this collaborative way of working.

About the authors:


Scott Bell began work in the Criminal Justice and 3rd Sector designing and implementing strategies and processes to better incorporate Service User Involvement, Influence and also Co-Production and it is those values and beliefs he holds which align beautifully with the clear message in this picture.


Having spent her adult working life in the NHS – both clinically and managerially – Kirstie Stott is fully aware of the need now more than ever to listen and engage with what the public want. Often it’s easy to design services around our own broad assumptions of what they should look like based upon previous service design and delivery and also upon our own internal view of the world.

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