Lessons learned from using a human-centered design approach to innovation

January 5, 2024 by Tara Newton

Often, the simplest solutions can make the biggest impact for health care workers in service delivery, efficient processes, and streamlined products.


Photo: PATH. The Living Labs team at an interactive workshop in Kenya.

Living Labs uses a human-centered design (HCD) approach to create sustainable, impactful health system solutions. By co-creating with users—including individuals, health care workers (HCWs), and decision-makers/influencers—we rapidly design, test, and scale solutions to their long-standing challenges. Our solutions span a wide range of health areas, including maternal health, infectious disease management, chronic disease care, nutrition, digital health, and more. Through strategic partnerships, innovative approaches, and a team of skilled professionals, we aim to make a transformative impact on health care systems.

From our collaborative efforts with various stakeholders to address their challenges over the last four years, Living Labs has compiled valuable lessons learned and actionable recommendations for adoption and ownership by HCWs, ministries of health (MOHs), and other stakeholders. Here are the key takeaways from our full brief of lessons learned.

Involve all levels of stakeholders and keep communication consistent.

Involving users from all levels of the health care system, from HCWs to MOH officials, throughout the process ensures ownership and sustainability. Consistent communication with these stakeholders via their preferred channels will maintain relationships and momentum over time.

Advance a human-centered design approach with interactive engagement.

Not everyone is familiar with an HCD approach. Including different cadres of stakeholders and identifying champions will help facilitate the HCD process. Using interactive tools in workshops, such as games and role-playing, will help bring the scenarios to life.

“HCD is a problem-solving process that understands the human factors and contexts surrounding a particular challenge, and we value this partnership with PATH that promises to advance health equity.”
— Dr. Andrew Silumesi, Director Public Health, Zambia MOH

Don’t rule out existing solutions.

Assessing assumptions before engaging users will level the starting point of the HCD process. Sometimes, existing solutions need only slight modifications, and this could streamline development.

Balance stakeholder priorities for informed decisions.

Conduct desk research to understand the scope of the problems identified. Many diverse stakeholders and viewpoints require creating a balance in prioritizing challenges and opportunities. For instance, what managers and policymakers are interested in may be at odds with what the actual users (e.g., HCWs) are interested in.

“While developing the data management tool for Africa, we engaged frontline HCWs, district, provincial, and national MOH stakeholders to not just understand needs but also to co-create the product, from design to usability testing.”
— Tony Mapulanga, Design and Innovation Specialist, Living Labs

Encourage creative ideation.

Groups of people coming together for the first time and from different levels of the health care system can often be hesitant to share. Including interactive and engaging icebreakers helps users feel more comfortable.

Facilitate efficient feedback loops and usability testing.

Create avenues for honest feedback on each iteration of the designed solution. Once a solution is ready for testing, it is crucial to confirm the design assumptions were correct with the reality of using the solution.

Looking ahead

This is a snapshot of the full lessons learned documented throughout the history of Living Labs. Within the full lessons learned, we also provide several illustrative examples of the lessons in action through our various projects spanning several health areas.

To date, Living Labs, together with users, has provided comprehensive and innovative solutions to addressing key issues in health service delivery. We have a network of more than 1,000 users and are already expanding to other geographies outside of our two initial countries of Kenya and Zambia. To learn more and partner with us, contact us at livinglabs@path.org.