Sense-making across the Health and Social Care ecosystem

The point behind posting this here is the ease with which I was able to re-use U.Lab tools and processes within an everyday corporate setting, and the readiness of those involved to pick them up and engage. My hope is that you too will be encouraged to do a bit of re-purposing yourself!

[This story was first posted within the Co-sensing module of this year’s U.Lab material:]

I’d like to tell you a bit about some work that Lorna Jackson (of NHS Scotland National Services) and I did, in late 2016-17,  to invite data analysts to leave their desks and become ‘data voyagers’ – we were inspired by some of the ‘co-sensing’ practices that have been introduced in u.lab so far.

The role of data analyst has usually been focussed on tracking what’s going on in NHS Scotland – how many operations, average waiting times, that kind of thing. It’s all good data – but there can be an awful lot of it – and it tends to answer only the questions asked by the existing system.

Today, however, health and social care in Scotland is undergoing fundamental change. It all boils down to re-designing services around us as individuals… away from treating us like numbers in a big machine.

Obviously, this shift implies a change in the kinds of questions the system is asking its analysts to answer. For example, how can we follow individuals’ stories – alongside the ‘helicopter view’ statistics? And how might we look for evidence of ‘wellness’ not just ‘illness’… if we are trying to design a system to build health and resilience – preventing us from having to go into the healthcare system in the first place?

When Lorna and I discovered the ‘U’, we thought it might help to open up these questions. Early on, Lorna outlined her intentions in this video:

Lorna’s first step was to invite a few people to think about interesting potential destinations where data analysts could meet people in the system they’d never met before.

Next, Lorna and I hosted two events:

  1. The first event helped the voyagers embark.
  2. The second followed a ‘world cafe’ format, enabling people to talk with each other about their experiences (‘sensing the system’ together).

“What did we learn?”

  • Even in a very ‘corporate’ setting, it’s possible to bring the U to life (see how, through some of our working materials).
  • Expect it to be messy: some journeys go fast, others slow, others morph into something else along the way, some never leave base. All of that’s OK.
  • Creative conversations and fresh ideas were sparked – a small contribution to the huge task of changing how the NHS and Social Care works.

Here’s an invitation:

  • Have you been on a learning journey?
  • Have you experimented with inviting people to slow down – perhaps at events – to sense the bigger systems we are part of?

Do share your experiences, using #smooc and #ulabscot
If you’re up for writing a blog to go on – that would be great! Get in touch with Keira Oliver (


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