Compared to most of the developed world, more infants in the United States are not making it to their first birthday. Luckily, a lot of smart and dedicated people are trying to solve this problem through infant mortality reduction initiatives called collaborative innovation & improvement networks (CoIINs). States have formed CoIINs to test ideas, implement them on increasingly larger scales, learn what is working in other parts of the country and share best practices. As part of this approach, some state teams are using a method described by the buzz word “Human Centered Design” (HCD).
To learn what the buzz was all about—and to better support the technical assistance we provide to the CoIINs teams—I decided to take a class with my coworkers. HCD is an approach to problem solving that “starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs.” Originally designed as an approach for optimal product design, HCD is applicable to public health work because it requires building empathy with the people you’re designing for (sometimes referred to as stakeholders), making lots of ideas, building many prototypes (examples to test), sharing (and caring!) and putting the potential solutions out there (sometimes before its comfortable to do so).
But how can this method be applied to infant mortality reduction you ask? States around the country are asking “How might we... ?” and thinking through interventions for their target populations. No questions or ideas are off the table, with the thought that the best ones (with data and successes to back them up) will make it through the process to be scaled up to larger interventions. For example, some states are developing chat bots to help guide young, potentially nervous and scared new mothers through the process of receiving adequate prenatal care.
I’m not trying to create an HCD advertising pitch here, but I’m happy to report that learning about the HCD approach gave me a chance to play around and spark new ways of addressing questions. The lessons I learned on prototyping (i.e., testing) can be directly applied to any problem that could use an innovative solution (such as the country’s high infant mortality rate despite all the work and resources that have gone into trying to reduce it), especially when using low commitment prototypes and testing them on just a piece of the larger puzzle. I gained a fresh perspective on barriers people face in public health settings. And I can better appreciate how marked improvements and innovations can result when focusing on the person (through direct conversation and post-it note brainstorming sessions!) you’re designing for.