PhD Thesis: Inside Healthcare Design Labs

Dec 2021 | Books & Other Publications, Design for Health, PhD Projects

PhD thesis by Jonathan Romm, AHO 2021

Over the past two decades there has been a rise in using service design within healthcare and service design has been identified as particularly appropriate to support adaptations and innovations in the healthcare context through using a participatory, action-oriented, step-by step processes of learning and decision making.

However, the complex characteristics of healthcare systems and wicked nature of problems that arise in such settings can challenge service design practice to develop new methods and ways of working. Recently, design labs have emerged in the area of healthcare as a way to support service design practices carried out in such settings. Despite a growing body of knowledge, there is still a lack of in-depth understanding of how service design is practiced inside such lab spaces in general and specifically in the context of healthcare. It is important to create a better understanding about healthcare service design practices and how design labs may support them to strengthen healthcare organisations’ ability to innovate and change.

The overarching aim of the research presented here was to explore how service design labs may act as supportive spaces for practicing service design inside large healthcare service systems. Framed by pragmatism as its philosophical stance, the research applied a blend of narrative inquiry and action research by design as the overall methodologies. Four 10–12-week-long action research interventions supported inquiry into real-life service design processes that were carried out inside three large Norwegian hospitals. The empirical findings from these interventions were then systematically reflected upon and analysed using the coresearchers’ own experiences as design managers and service designers before being blended with theoretical perspectives from design and service design, service marketing theory and systems theory. The insights from these interventions, alongside the narrations of healthcare service designers, were merged with viewpoints from theory into four publications and the current exegesis.

This study explicates the compound approaches used by service design practitioners amid the complexities inevitably found in healthcare. It identifies and explicates the central healthcare service design conversation and facilitation practices. Further, it builds a theoretical frame for service design labs to act as supportive physical, social and imaginary spaces. Additionally, the research conceptualises service design labs as temporal and situated meta-designs inside complex service systems. These contributions are important because temporally embedded service design labs allow for more flexible and situated applications of such supportive infrastructures. Furthermore, this research offers practical guidelines for setting up and using temporally embedded service design labs as supportive spaces for integrating service design capabilities into healthcare organisations to help them adapt to changes and harvest innovations.