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Community Digital Health Co-Innovation Event

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

By Dr Paulina Ramirez

On June 22nd 2023, a collaboration between Birmingham Business School, whg, and NHS Arden & Gem, hosted what we think is the first ever Community Digital Health Co-Innovation event.

The idea for the event came about as we started to explore the idea of creating a Community Digital Health Co-Innovation Hub and the need to illustrate what community co-innovation meant. Despite our efforts we could not find any examples of innovation hubs that included community organisations as advocates of the needs of communities as users of digital health technologies and online services. We therefore decided to organise this event at Walsall College as an exemplar of what Community Digital Health Co-Innovation meant.

What is Community Co-innovation?

Community co-innovation is the participation of communities as users of technologies and services in the process of co-innovation of technologies and co-design of services. The participation of communities in the innovation/design process is important because different communities use technologies and services in different ways. What may work for some communities, may not work for others. To ensure technology and services work well for communities, it is important that they participate directly and throughout the innovation and design process.

Within communities, there are trusted community organisations that support and advocate for their members. These organisations can play a critical role in the innovation and service design process as they have deep knowledge and understanding of the communities they serve. Organisations such as housing associations may also have active programs based on community champions that support and advocate for people in their areas. Community organisations through their champions can collaborate with other stakeholders in processes of co-innovation of technologies and co-design of services as equal partners.

Why is community co-innovation particularly important in healthcare?

Because health outcomes are largely determined by social factors such as quality of employment, housing, income, workplace, and local environments. The Marmot studies show that communities that live and work in areas of high economic and social deprivation have poorer health outcomes and therefore have the highest health needs. These communities, however, also face the greatest challenges in managing their health conditions and engaging with the healthcare system and are often under-represented in patient participation forums. In the context of the increasing internationalization of the NHS, it is important to integrate the knowledge of how these communities use technologies to access the healthcare they need into the innovation and service design process.

Images from the Community Digital Health Co-Innovation event. Photography: Mark Tomlinson

How we have defined Community Digital Health Co-Innovation and Co-design Hubs

Community digital health co-innovation hubs are spaces where community organisations and advocates come together with digital health innovators, clinicians and healthcare services designers, and commissioners to share knowledge, insights and experiences that result in innovative new technologies and services that benefit communities. Based on this collaborative work, the key stakeholders of the innovative process frame how problems are understood and approached, develop solutions, and agree on the nature and distribution of costs and rewards. The key characteristics of community digital health co-innovation hubs, however, is that they place community organisations and advocates at the heart of the innovation process.

Rationale for a Community digital health co-innovation hub

The argument underpinning the creation of community co-innovation hubs is the acknowledgement that communities (and the organisations that support and advocate on their behalf) have specific knowledge and expertise that other actors in the innovation process do not have. The knowledge and expertise that community organisations bring to the innovation process is their deep knowledge of ‘communities as users of innovative technology and services’; this includes knowledge of communities with lived experience which are seldom taken into account in the traditional innovation process. In the case of health care and health innovation, knowledge of these users of innovative technology and services is critical because poor social conditions result in poor health outcomes.

The event was incredibly successful, totally exceeding our expectations! A video of the day is available to view here:

The event was attended by 90 key stakeholders of digital health innovation and included representatives from six innovating firms in disease areas ranging from diabetes to mental health; clinicians in the areas of diabetes, mental health and maternity services involved in the innovation system of the Black Country NHS; representatives from local government; representatives from many community organisations representing different communities in Walsall and the Black Country. Most importantly, peer researchers involved in our Inclusive Digital Health Innovation Eco-System study actively participated in the event giving feedback to presentations and contributing their own innovative ideas.

The event started with the presentation of our research on the ways communities use digital technologies to access health care. These results have now been published in our “What Good Looks Like for Communities” report.

This was then followed by three workshops where firms, clinicians, and representatives from community organisations and peer researchers presented a health problem to be discussed at their table. The presentations and discussions were lively, provocative, and raised a complex questions about the impact of digitalization on communities.

Some of the feedback from Twitter is below:

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