What does it mean to be a design thinker?

16 December 2020 | Hamilton, Ontario
Contributed by Charlotte Miller

Innovation by Design (IBD) is a 3-unit undergraduate course that gives students from all disciplines the opportunity to solve broad challenges through a human-centred lens.

IBD builds a culture of collaboration and creativity and develops budding design thinkers who can identify needs around a real challenge, define opportunities to address the need, and build solutions.

Following the Stanford d.school process of empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test, the most recent cohort tackled the challenge of reimagining the future of health leadership education.

After a kick-off session with guest speakers Teresa Chan, Emergency Physician and Assistant Dean of the Program for Faculty Development in McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences, and Jaason Geerts, Director of Research and Leadership Development at the Canadian College of Health Leaders, the students launched into expansive conversations about the needs of healthcare professionals.

“Students were thrown right into speaking with leaders, coaches, educators, clinicians, managers, innovators,” explained Sean Park, Assistant Professor of Medicine and IBD instructor. “That generative process really created a lot of data that students had to then sift through and define some key challenges that could then guide the rest of their design journey.”

Three teams presented their prototypes to approximately 100 people to wrap up the term on December 5, 2020. The audience was a group of the students’ peers, guest lecturers from the course, mentors, IBD program affiliates, and expert panelists. The panel consisted of Chan; Geerts; John Kelton, Executive Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Initiative for Innovation in Healthcare; Sarrah Lal, Assistant Professor of Medicine; and Greg McQueen, Lead Facilitator at the Health Leadership Academy.

Students and guests at the wrap session for IBD fall 2020
Students and guests gathered together to celebrate IBD students’ success.

In the first presentation, Corrine Moss, Maleeka Munroe, Megh Rathod, and Teshan Dias Desinghe presented the idea of a community space for new nurses to meet experienced nurses. The space would give the nurses a chance to share experiences with the goal of mitigating the stress new nurses feel transitioning into their careers. The new nurses the team chatted with during field work had noted that they often felt mental stress, anxiety, fatigue, and low self-confidence.

In the reflection of their journey, the team noted the importance of understanding needs.

“We had pre-assumptions at the beginning and had to understand that those assumptions were not necessarily valid,” said Munroe. “[When we were] able to interview and talk to young nurses we found out what their actual problems were, and we realized that our [original] assumption wasn’t a priority for them.”

“Initially we got hooked on the idea of simulation-based learning and gamification,” added Rathod. “Once we presented [our original idea] to our user, we learned that the biggest hurdle wasn’t learning the material … but feelings of self-efficacy and self-confidence were almost at an all-time low. There are so many fears of doing a bad job because they know that ultimately, the patients would be at risk.”

The second group that presented explored cultural competence in healthcare. They found that many leaders did not feel equipped to meet the needs of a diverse group of patients. In response, Shahrukh Khan, Krishihan Sivapragasam, and Morgan Martin created the Culture of Medicine Conference (CMC) – a three-day conference to build advocacy around cultural issues and foster a willingness to implement change.

One of the challenges the team identified in their design journey was the ability to fail fast and learn from those failures.

“After every field call, we had a different idea on our prototype and we weren’t sure what direction we should take,” said Khan. “We felt really discouraged at times because we weren’t told to scrap our prototype, but we kind of knew that we had to. But we learned the skills, and what was needed to build on our previous prototypes so that our general idea wasn’t lost.”

The panellists admired the commitment this team had to the process. “What was the most impressive to me was your acknowledgement of failure – that is the essence of innovation,” said Kelton. “It’s like research – every single experiment fails until the one that doesn’t.”

The final group to present created an escape room to tackle simulation-based learning. Health Escape is a virtual learning platform that builds leadership skills through real-life situations. Created by Emma Bruce, Julie Vo, Harleen Sangha, and Mohammed Shaik, the game aims to promote empathy, agility, interdisciplinary collaboration, communication, and ethics.

The panel challenged this team to refine their need and explore the social potential of their innovation. “A lot of people are starving for ways to connect with their team right now,” said Chan. “Could you create this software platform so that people could do teaming together? It’s really about the corporate fun experience and then debriefing in a way that is savvy to the healthcare leadership skills that you want to build.”

The session ended with breakout rooms where more groups chatted with guests about their work and learning and reflected on their exploration of design thinking.

“Some of the feedback we got [from our field work] was that you can’t teach leadership skills to people through a course,” said Hisham Al Kassem. He and his teammates were trying to do just that through the creation of a mandatory leadership course for med students. “After taking this course, I disagree with that. A course can have a lot of impact if it is designed in a good way with the correct content and correct methods of teaching and delivery.”

Although content acquisition was not one of the key goals of the course, the students demonstrated a promising understanding of a needs-driven approach to innovation. More impressive though, was their open-mindedness. They were curious and comfortable questioning their environments and themselves. They embraced ambiguity and cultivated empathy.

They are on track to be catalysts for creative problem-solving.
Learn more about the IBD program by visiting the Health Leadership Academy website.

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