Design thinking workshop tackles “wicked tough” challenges

Photo is titled "Design Brainstorm" and features a man with a microphone and two women using a flipchart and Post-It notes to brainstorm design ideas.

Brandon Due (far right), communications manager and project administrator at Presbyterian Homes & Services, discusses persona development at the design-thinking workshop. Also pictured are Mary Clem (far left), director of Careforce Innovation and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and Kathleen Matuska, program director of the Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy Program. Photo by Julie Michener.

Tackling the “wicked tough” challenge of recruiting and retaining senior-term care professionals was the focus of a recent design-thinking workshop on St. Catherine University’s St. Paul campus. The University’s Careforce Innovation partnership brought together staff from Presbyterian Homes & Services, Benedictine Health System and faculty and staff from St. Kate’s Henrietta Schmoll School of Health. The workshop was facilitated by design-thinking consultants, Natalie Nixon and Yamilca Rodriguez, who challenged participants to look at new ways to address the issue.

Elder and senior care professionals are among the fastest growing occupations in the United States. An estimated 1.6 million direct care professionals, including nursing, home health and personal care assistants are projected to be needed by 2020 (PHI, May 2012). These healthcare workers are critical to meeting the daily needs of older adults however, the challenge of attracting and training these practitioners is compounded by high turnover in senior care settings. Nearly 85 percent of nurses hired by senior care providers in the Twin Cities leave the job within 18 months.

Staff members of the Careforce Innovation partnership learned how the design thinking process could help them discover new ways to address the high turnover rate in the senior-term care industry. The design-thinking process includes practices and activities around observation, brainstorming, prototyping and implementation.

“Here at PHS we use the phrase 'insurmountable opportunity' to describe this time of change in an aging society and our calling, God willing, to do something about it,” said Brandon Due, communications manager and project administrator at Presbyterian Homes & Services. “This design workshop with our partners at BHS and St. Kate’s exemplifies the kind of empathetic and futuristic thinking required of organizations willing to take risks to do the right thing – demonstrating leadership rather than management.”

During the three-day workshop, 30+ participants became adept design-thinking teams and created 32 product or service prototypes focusing on senior care workforce development. Everything from apps to elder-student advisors to a mobile multi-media exhibition connecting students to elders.

“The workshop challenged us to explore alternative perspectives on our industry,” said Patricia Nott, vice-president, people development, at Benedictine Health System. “It stretched our creative abilities and reinforced for us the immense possibilities that a fully engaged team can achieve.”

The design-thinking process stresses clearly identifying problems and opportunities, deeply understanding users, and mapping their client's point of view visually. The design-thinking model frames challenges/opportunities narrowly enough to focus brainstorming yet give design-thinkers room to explore wild ideas, especially from other industries (thinking laterally). The design-thinking model helps practitioners develop a life-long learning and problem-solving mindset.

"I thought this was a fantastic workshop as it focuses on ‘what if’ rather than ‘what is,’" said Mark Blegen, associate dean, associate professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science. “We too often get bogged down by what we are currently engaged in and don't think innovatively. We need to think and act differently if we hope to succeed in the rapidly evolving world of healthcare and care force development.”

By Julie Michener