On Monday I’m joining NHS Digital as head of design. My focus will be with teams delivering patient-facing programmes, while developing designers and the design profession across the whole organisation. I can’t wait to get started!
Over my years of consulting, I’ve been lucky enough to work on many and varied things, from Internet of Things energy controls, to digital skills development for health and social care practitioners. With GDS and the DWP Digital Academy, I’ve developed and delivered courses for hundreds of civil servants.
As I’ve gone along, I’ve evolved 4 questions to filter and focus the engagements I take on:
- Is there a service design challenge here?
- Does it involve digital innovation?
- Will I be helping to develop capability?
- Can I do this work mainly in Leeds?
When I saw this opportunity back in February, I realised I was missing an unspoken fifth question:
- Could this be a massive, multi-year, challenge for me?
Through a series of interviews and informal chats with others who know this space much better than I do, the temptation to work alongside great groups of people delivering such important service continued to outweigh my trepidation at the scale of the challenge.
For one thing, there’s the impact of the stuff this organisation is delivering to meet user needs. Patients, service users, families and carers have a visceral need for information about their health and care; it’s about them personally. At system scale, small changes can make a massive difference.
Secondly, I’ve found it hugely rewarding in previous roles to help designers develop their practice into a strategic capability for the whole organisation — making visible what’s valuable, and supporting creative leaps to deliver better service.
And further, I have long held a hunch that the practices of co-creation and co-production emerging in health and social care will be the foundations for the next phase of people-centred service design. If we want to transform the relationship between citizen and state, we should start by understanding the changing dynamics between patients and practitioners.
Fully committing to this role means tying up my consulting engagements, including my coaching with the Digital Academy. I’ll miss them all! (My Stick People colleagues Kathryn and Sharon will carry on their work, including the GDS Service Manager Programme.)
As with any new job, the window of opportunity to shape things comes just when I understand the least. My week one priorities are to hear from the designers and key stakeholders, and to observe some user research on the programmes we’re delivering. Further out, I look forward to working more widely through the health and care system, and with the community of heads of design across government.
My colleagues and I will need all sorts of help from other people. We’ll need to develop ourselves as designers and design leaders, to strengthen our networks across the whole health and care system, to clarify and simplify every part of the service that we touch.
I’ve been reading up in preparation for the new role. The following seem particularly relevant right now:
- Managing the Myths of Health Care, by Henry Mintzberg
- Org Design for Design Orgs, by Peter Merholz and Kristin Skinner
- Designing Delivery, by Jeff Sussna
- Leading Public Design, by Christian Bason
Meanwhile the design team at NHS Digital is already growing. Applications for these interaction design roles in Leeds and London close on 9 June.