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STEAMlabs bring together combinations of people to address challenges faced by all kinds of organisations. Here is one great example of such a collaboration…

Sam German, PocZero, STEAMlab participant:

“We came to the first STEAMlab event in April 2018, and from the moment we walked through the door it felt like we had found our spiritual home.

“Where STEAMhouse really helped was with the careful shaping of some of intricate details of the approach, such as the psychological and human experience aspects of the new service, and gave us an opportunity to test the early thinking with real service users. We also benefitted from being in the same space with a lot of creative minds who were looking at solutions from all sorts of different angles.

“The team and facilitation process is first class. We can’t thank Alexa Torlo and Ian Graham enough. Their input provided exactly the right kind of prompts and guidance for us to tweak and shape our thinking, and at the same time build team cohesion around the evolution of our solution / service.

“We would highly recommend STEAMhouse to anyone in the social innovation and maker start-up space. STEAMhouse offer a unique blend of facilities and support in terms of the combination of STEM and Arts. We find the space physically and emotionally nurturing, and particularly apposite for the kind of work we are passionate about.”

Key achievements

  • New collaboration created between business, academic and public sector organisations;
  • Real-world challenges in health sector addressed with creative outcomes;
  • Project to produce a research study to generate a scalable prototype;
  • Simple solutions created to fix complex challenges through unlikely connections.

The challenge

The first STEAMlab, a hack-style event organised by STEAMhouse, attracted a wealth of creative minds – including health professionals, coders, entrepreneurs, academics and artists – to tackle challenges set by the health sector. For this STEAMlab, STEAMhouse teamed up with a range of stakeholders, including South Birmingham CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) for South Birmingham & Worcester, West Midlands Respiratory Health team and NHS (National Health Service) England.

Having being presented with the challenge and formed into diverse teams of mixed skills and expertise, the innovators then got to work finding ways to tackle the issues before presenting their thoughts at the end of the hack to a panel of judges, with the opportunity to receive funding for the best idea.

The work

During the STEAMlab, one of the teams formed comprised of coders, scientists, business thinkers and two academics, Robert Cook and Ashok Patel, from Birmingham City University’s Department of Life Sciences. 

The six professionals came together to explore the systemic problem of patients who fail to turn up for appointments (for example, a referral into pulmonary rehabilitation service). The high Did Not Attend (DNA) rates in primary care and community services is a significant system issue for the NHS.

Robert and Ashok’s team also hypothesised that this cohort strongly intersects with a wider spectrum of patients (some with medical conditions and some with social challenges) who would benefit from improved wellbeing by being connected to a service that promotes self-care. This group tend to interact chaotically with a whole range of medical and care services.

At the STEAMlab, teams were tasked with creating a presentation to cover the following:

  • The problem: This includes a quantitative and qualitative description of the impacts and costs to
    demonstrate understanding of the challenge faced.
  • The solution: Describing what their product idea does and how it works, who the users are, who funds or buys it, what the business case is and what impact it will have. Participants were also asked to include a demo of some level of prototype – whether that’s just a paper prototype or a working piece of tech.
  • Potential difficulties: What challenges may be faced and how might hurdles be overcome?
  • How to make it real: The road for bringing the solution to life. What are the main stages, what support might be needed, who would need to be involved, what might the costs be, how long might it take, how might you test and then scale the solution? What do you need to do so? What will be the pay-off for those involved?

The judging panel was made up of representatives from the West Midlands Respiratory
Healthcare team, NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, doctors and other clinicians.

The solution

Ashok and Robert’s team won the ‘Most Transferable Idea’ award, earned by creating a solution which pushed the boundaries the most – in terms of how much they could achieve in a day, potential impact or potential scale of their solution.

Their idea incorporated a tech SMS diary to reduce concerns of patients about to start respiratory rehab courses to increase uptake.

The team have since attended a follow-up STEAMhouse workshop to discuss progress. The idea was further tested by connecting around 120 patients with wellbeing navigators to unpack some of the underlying issues affecting the referrals’ personal ecology, and also identify opportunities to improve their wellbeing.

The results

Having received support from STEAMhouse, the team will now work on a proposed scope of work after agreeing there was potential for a project to do a research study in the following areas to generate a scalable prototype:

  • Reducing DNAs across key services (diabetes, COPD, obesity);
  • Reducing GP visits for social or non-medical issues;
  • Psycho-social support and prompting behaviour change;
  • A / B split testing to assess which communication channels are most effective in increasing engagement and improving wellbeing;
  • Explore potential for scalability and long-term funding.

Planned outcomes

  • Reduce DNAs by 10 percent in each of the service areas.
  • Ascertain sociological factors driving DNAs across population, such as areas with high-deprivation; majority Caucasian compared with high.
  • Increase engage rate of wellbeing services by 12 percent over 24 months and show correlation with reduced DNA for medical appointments.
  • Systematise behaviour change insights by identification of three intervention models (engagement channels) that reliably achieve reduced DNAs across the research cohort (including control group).

What’s next?

Research – The project will develop into two key sections – an initial observational study of health care service data to identify sources of best practice for avoiding DNAs, followed by a controlled intervention test to evidence improvement.  These interventions may be simple (such as better worded text messages, or simply five minutes allocated to a phone call for the most at-risk individuals) or grow to be more computationally complex (for example, a natural language processing chatbot).  It is the team’s intention to start small and build the complexity as the complexity-reward dynamic demands.

Digitalisation – (outcome measurement; data capture; automated engagement; development of online videos / tutorials; gamification of user interfaces)

Navigation – (wellbeing coaching; face to face interaction; connecting to local services and activities; creation of personalised wellbeing packages)

This fantastic collaboration is bound for success and is also developing further innovations.

Feeling inspired? Book your place onto the next STEAMlab here.

Just can’t wait for the next event? Apply to join STEAMhouse for free here.

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