Facilitator as Learner: 3 Key Take-Aways

The Global Health Challenge 2016 brought together students from across the nine schools of University of Dundee to work together to design innovative and entrepreneurial solutions for the wicked problem of health equality, aiming to improve social, cultural and physical wellbeing. As a design researcher exploring new and novel ways of supporting older people through loneliness, I was invited to co-facilitate one of six themes set by the GHC; ‘Social Isolation in the Elderly’. Working with Dr Louise Valentine and a team of six skilled students who are undertaking a range of specialisms (Medicine, Dentistry, Humanities, Product Design and Community Learning and Development), I was keen to understand this hugely impactful social issue through the lenses of their different disciplines and experiences, to learn their motivations for designing for this theme and indeed, to gain deeper insight from challenge sponsor Dial-Op.

The team were brought together by their shared interest or concern for social isolation and loneliness in the elderly. Two team members cited their own grandparents in igniting their interest, another, their fears for our growing ageing population and indeed their future selves, and another student saw opportunity to apply their knowledge of inclusive design to the project. Naming themselves, Team OAPortunity, I was invigorated by both their pluck and sense of fun; both important qualities in supporting people who are isolated or lonely through negative, difficult and often sensitive experiences.

Team OAPortunity using empathy tools to tune into the lives and experiences of their users.
Team OAPortunity using empathy tools to tune into the lives and experiences of their users.

Over the next four weeks, we worked with the team to discover the current landscape of loneliness and isolation, exploring issues at play within society at large – the team were abhorred that 40% of 75 year olds in the UK name television as their primary source of company – and locally with great support from sponsor Dundee Dial-Op’s Lali Tudela. In addition to this, one team member’s chance new acquaintance with an older woman who spoke freely about her own very real experiences of loneliness and isolation was particularly impactful, ‘hitting home’ the team’s understanding and grounding their thinking. We sought facts and opportunity throughout the research process, challenging assumptions and stereotypes by using a series of design methods to continually question and reframe findings. This process was at times sticky, with a tendency to rely on anecdotal knowledge and propel too-soon towards solutions before fully interrogating an idea or issue. In reflection I think that the team would agree with and acknowledge the gains of compelling themselves to re-immerse within this iterative process of questioning despite the intensity. I feel that this culture of questioning – which session leaders Louise Valentine and Natalie Lafferty established in Week One – really benefitted the teams’ ability to reflect upon and shape their ideas and this resulted in the delivery of an insightful concept at the close of the challenge in Week Five; an elective ‘caring and sharing’ module for first and second year students to spend time with older people in the community, swapping stories, skills and spending quality time together. Arriving at this solution by combining their own previous experiences and hopes for future elective modules and the noted successes of intergenerational activity in building social connectedness and capital, Team OAPortunity presented a strong case for their mutually beneficial enterprise.

We encountered a series of challenges during the facilitation of the GHC and given the ambitious nature of the project, this is to be expected. As facilitators we draw upon previous experience and methods to react to and attend to the challenges faced, supporting the development of new solutions. 

1. Challenging Assumptions

As a society we can be guilty of making assumptions about the pathways, experiences and needs of individuals who are facing difficult issues such as those explored by the GHC. Team OAPortunity brought some assumptions about loneliness and isolation to the fore, including ‘Older people are lonely or isolated because they have no friends their own age’ and ‘Social networking prevents feelings of loneliness or isolation for older people’. Further reading and discussion revealed that these negative experiences are subjective – each individual experience is unique – and that successful solutions will derive from genuine insights and opportunities about the lives of older people and the reasons they feel lonely or isolated in the first instance rather than deploying ‘blanket’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions. 

Take-Away 1: We can attend to assumptions by revisiting the literature in our field and credible sources for hard data and statistics to ground our thinking in fact.

2. The Culture of Communication & Sharing

My own professional practice has taught me the importance of transparency, communication and sharing in cultivating a positive team working culture and in dealing with complexity but this was an issue for our team during the GHC. In discussion, factors such as unfamiliarity with online collaboration tools, misunderstanding of roles and responsibilities and concerns about ‘getting it wrong’ were highlighted. These are not atypical challenges and indeed we explored solutions for these as a group. We asked each team member to define their role from the perspective of their discipline to establish confidence and accountability within the team and joined the team’s preferred chosen mode of communication – a Facebook group – to support them in between sessions. 

Take-Away 2: Early establishment and agreement of roles, responsibilities and communication strategies can support team dynamics and expectations and produce higher quality project deliverables.

Empowering Students as Influencers of Change (Now and in the Future)

It is tricky to reflect in practice, particularly at speed, but this challenge was a great opportunity for students to attune their skills in working reflexively and consider the meaningful impact they can affect. As facilitators we used various activity sheets and visualisation methods to chart problems through research and development and the perceived impact of potential solutions. We also encouraged the team to not only question their sponsor organisation but to use them as a sounding board to explore, critique and validate their ideas. Tapping in to the knowledge, skills and expertise of Dial-Op helped the team to very quickly make decisions and shape their design direction. 

Take-Away 3: Gaining feedback from experts in the field throughout the research and design process can be key in inspiring and driving innovation and also, in identifying personal skills, interests and goals. I would encourage students to continue to discuss their thoughts and ideas widely and with a range of different stakeholders to fuel their ideas.

In closing, this GHC certainly packed a punch; students – and staff – were working live with sponsor organisations, learning not only about the ways they strive to improve the experiences of their service users, but to also gain a deep understanding of the subject matter themselves and uncovering areas of opportunity within this complexity. Not to mention tackling proof of concept and finally pitching ideas in a Pecha Kucha style – unfamiliar to most before this event. And whilst I think it is fair to say that each and every team were truly challenged by their GHC journeys, I’d like to commend them and their challenge sponsors for their hard work and dedication in delivering some truly exciting concepts at the close of the challenge. A pleasure to have worked with you all.

Thinking Differently

thinking differntly quote Einstein quote

The pressing global health challenges we face today demand that we think differently, and the University of Dundee’s Global Health Challenge initiative is fuelled by this exigency, this need. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons why a process of knowledge exchange – through ambitious interdisciplinary workings – is adopted as the means of exploring new routes to meaningful innovation.

The project culminates in a series of Pecha Kucha presentations given by each of the six teams, showcasing their process and idea(s) for change and impact, on Wednesday 16th November, in the Dalhousie Building . The projects will be judged against six criteria* and these criteria are to be addressed within the Pecha Kucha presentations  – therefore please make sure that your team submission materials demonstrate that your solution meets these criteria:

  1. Social and Environmental Benefit
    How does your design benefit society and/or the environment?
  1. Research and Insights
    How did you investigate this issue? What were your key insights?
  1. Design Thinking
    How did your research and insights inform your solution? 
How did you develop,
    test, iterate and refine your concept? 
Demonstrate the journey you’ve been
    through to the end result
  1. Commercial Awareness
    Does your journey make sense from a financial point of view?
    What is the competitive environment your solution would sit within?
  1. Execution
    We are looking for a design that is pleasing and looks and feels well-resolve,
    with consideration given to its sustainability
  1. Magic
    We are looking for a bit of ‘magic’ – a surprising or lateral design solution
    that delights

think different

‘What is Pecha Kucha 20×20?’

PechaKucha 20×20 is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images.

Powerpoint is advised as it is easy to set-up where the images advance automatically.

Preparation is key and rehearsals are necessary.

Further Information about Pecha Kucha and examples of them, can be found at: http://www.pechakucha.org/


*The Judging Criteria is guided and inspired by ambitious competitions and projects, and specifically we are adopting the RSA Design Briefs criteria.


Empathy Maps

“Good design is grounded in a deep understanding of the person for whom you are designing. Designers have many techniques for developing this sort of empathy. An Empathy Map is one tool to help you synthesize your observations and draw out unexpected insights.”

-d.School Method Cards, Institute for Design at Stanford

Empathy Maps are useful tools in allowing us to gain a richer understanding of the lives of our user(s); what are their lives like; what is important to them; what do they need and want? Having this level of understanding is key for effective design. As a group you might like to map your users’ key issues and insights relevant to your developing design concepts to ensure you are considering both the intrinsic and wider impacts that your ideas and solutions may have within your chosen GHC theme.

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 13.42.06
Team OAPortunity use an empathy map to better understand the people they are designing for

Some great resources:

d.School Empathy Map Method Card

Nesta’s Empathy Mapper template

Strategyzer’s Customer Value Proposition Canvas

Using Change Cards to Consider Your Challenge

In a previous post we shared some advice and links to helpful resources on how to go out about framing the challenge your team is working on.  Once you’ve done this you might  find it useful to start to look at your challenge from different perspectives and one way you can do this is to use a set of change cards like the ones shared below developed by the Policy Lab.  These change cards are framed around six categories and you can use them to collectively explore your challenge further and to develop and deliver your project.  As you work through them they might inspire your team to frame some other questions and create your own change cards that can help shape and inform how you respond to the challenge you are addressing.  As you work through these cards you’ll find they get you thinking about how these challenges might be addressed in other locations, how different groups might approach the challenge and consider how you can be resourceful.


This second presentation from the Policy Lab gives an overview of the methods it adopts in its work with civil servants and others to help encourage more open and innovative strategies to developing policy and tackling different issues and challenges.    The Policy Lab makes effective use of user centred design-based approaches  to innovate and understand the problems individuals face and address these problems.  You’ll notice that the presentation talks about challenge setting, something we’re encouraging you to do by framing your challenge.  Another important concept presented here, which is relevant to all the challenges, is to consider and define different personas for the individuals affected by the problem you’re addressing.  This process helps you to build empathy with the people your project will be helping and to start you thinking about the journeys people take as they interact with different services and identify where things could be improved.

Loneliness and Social Isolation in Older People

Loneliness is a distressing subjective psychological experience that may arise when an individual perceives a discrepancy in the quantity and quality of their social relationships. (It is possible for some to feel ‘alone in a room full of people’). Social isolation is the objective absence of social relationships and connectedness. Individuals experiencing social isolation may require practical help and resources (e.g. transport) whereas those experiencing loneliness may benefit from more social support and extended social networks.

People of all ages and circumstance are susceptible to loneliness and social isolation but older adults may be more vulnerable due to various age related changes or decline in health, mobility and social contacts or activities. 10% of UK adults aged 65 years and over are reported as feeling lonely all of the time and 40% name television as their primary source of company. Other risk factors include having cognitive or sensory impairment(s), being an older carer, having little or no contact with neighbours and living alone. Loneliness and isolation carry various health consequences (biological dysfunctions, psychological upset or behavioural issues) and individuals experiencing loneliness may develop negative habits such as excessive smoking, over eating and alcohol dependency. Many lonely people experience high blood pressure, sleep problems, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline and individuals who are lonely are 64% more likely to develop dementia than individuals who are not.

Noted strategies in tackling loneliness and isolation include improving social skills, enhancing social support, increasing opportunities for social interaction, and addressing poorly adaptive social cognition. But for those hard-to-reach individuals, who may feel discouraged in actively seeking support due to the stigma associated with loneliness and social isolation or who may be unaware of the services and support available to them, creative, innovative solutions are required. This challenge is an exciting opportunity to apply your skills and design for this highly impactful social issue.

Some Resources:

The Campaign to End Loneliness 

‘How societies can grow old better’ Jared Diamond, TED Talk

Elderly men and Social Isolation, Sky News 

‘1 in 5 Elderly have no-one to turn to’, BBC

‘Age of Loneliness’, Sue Bourne for BBC

‘Who is lonely and when?’, Prof Christina Victor

Inspiring Projects & Enterprises:

Nana’s Community Cafe, Nesta Ageing Well Challenge 2013

Nesta Ageing Well Challenge 2013 Prize finalists




Framing the Challenge

This first week is about exploring and one of the first tasks is to frame your team’s challenge. A number of questions were created during last week’s Barcamp which should help you to do this. We encourage all of the teams to build on this work, to explore more, conduct further research and continue engaging in mindful conversation with your partner organisation and facilitators.

We know that framing a challenge can be tough but we also know, that when it’s done right, it can inspire everyone who is involved to thoroughly search for creative solutions. Here are some resources to help you think about framing your challenge:

IDEO.ORG DesignKit: Frame Your Design Challenge
Available at: http://www.designkit.org/methods/60
Accessed 23 October 2016.

VanGundy, A. B. (2005) The Care and Framing of Strategic Innovation Challenges.
Available at: http://www.staffs.ac.uk/sgc1/faculty/business-project-management/documents/VanGundyFrameInnov.pdf
Accessed: 23 October 2016.

Curious Minds

Venturing into the unknown

Wednesday 16th October 2016 was an auspicious day at Dundee University. All nine Schools from across the campus came together for the first time, committed to looking at new ways of working to solve some of the most pressing health and social care challenges of our time. With 36 fresh thinking students from Art and Design, Dentistry, Education and Social Work, Humanities, Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Life Sciences, Science and Engineering, Social Sciences, and support from six local organisations – Amino, Deaf Hub, DialOp, Hearing Voices, Homeless Populations and PAMIS – we ventured forward as a new, ambitious collective!

We pitched up at the School of Art & Design in the heart of the campus, and used the BarCamp method to kick-start our work. Why BarCamp? It is an ‘unconference‘; a meeting where everyone can contribute, where everyone can present a topic and generate a discussion (Azzimonti et al, 2015). Mindful that people would be meeting each other for the first time, and had no previous experience of working together, our aim for Day 1 of the project was simple: to enable everyone to develop an understanding of the project, as well as an understanding of each other and the creative process about to be undertaken.

The subject demands agility, critical thinking and teamwork; the project is time sensitive (with only four sessions out with the induction) and so, in setting the scene we talked about the importance of curiosity – of accepting we don’t have all of the answers, of venturing into the unknown together, and leading the navigation into unchartered waters with questions.

With jazz playing in the background, 6 hours of dynamic conversation and questioning pursued, ending in six self selecting teams to work on an issue of their choice and with an organisation of their choice.  Here’s a visual snapshot of Day 1 #UoDGHC16 :

GHC Blog Image_day 1

Welcome to the Global Health Challenge

Welcome to the University of Dundee Global Health Challenge (GHC). Over at 5-week period (18th October – 15th November 2017)  we will be running our first set of GHC projects as students from across our academic schools come together to consider and address seven local health related challenges.  We kick off the GHC17 on Wednesday 18th October by introducing our challenge sponsors and our seven challenges which touch on ageing and social isolation, deafness, learning disabilities, homelessness, mental health and refugees.

We’ll be updating the blog over the next 6 weeks with updates on our kick-off session and the development of our student led projects.

Click here to apply for this year’s Global Health Challenge.