Public institutions are often criticized as being bureaucratic, inefficient, or ineffective at fulfilling the purposes they are designed to do, compared with private, user-centric, industries. Often in the case of public institutions, individuals have no opportunity to choose a better product, as is the case in the private sector. That therefore leaves little incentive to innovate the design of public services. However initiatives are not absent. ThinkPublic, a social design agency, has worked with hospitals in the UK to redesign the National Health Service to become a more patient-centered public service. Their experience based design methodology involves individuals’ experiences, existing and aspirational, in the design process. Interviews, videos, photographs, journals, and web blogs of patients, carers, and hospital staff have all been used to design new, patient-centered, solutions for several difficult areas of health care, while simultaneously encouraging patients, carers, and staff to work together to address problems.
One such case study is Alzheimer100, conducted in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, which searched for ways in which to help the increasing needs of dementia patients and carers. Using experience based design methodology, ThinkPublic presented several ideas for ways the National Health Service can become more patient-centered in their delivery of services. These included a Dimentia Signpost Service, which would enable patients and carers to become aware of the services available to them, a mentoring program and support group for carers, and an artist designed safe wandering garden, to allow patients to relax and enjoy nature without putting themselves at risk of becoming lost or injuring themselves. ThinkPublic’s recommendations resulted in the government’s National Dementia Strategy in 2008.
Experience based design is one user-based methodology being used to innovate the UK’s public health care system. It empowers individuals to make changes to the problems that arise in the health care system, while facilitating cooperation and co-design between patients, staff, and carers. Rather than relying upon indicators of speed and efficiency, it invites deeper reflection and understanding of patients’ feelings and experiences. In this way, not only systems and processes, but experiences, can be redesigned create more relational and trust-building public services.