Can creative co-design improve healthcare intervention development?

Richard Webber

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘The creative co-design of low back pain education resources‘, part of the Special Issue on Creativity and Co-production.

In our recent Evidence and Policy article we provide a detailed description of how a specific creative co-design approach was used to blend academic knowledge with stakeholder knowledge in the development of a complex intervention that addressed a NICE guideline recommendation about information and advice for people with back pain.

In the UK, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) produce clinical guidelines based on the best research available in order ensure people receive consistent evidence-based care. However, despite almost universal agreement amongst health professionals that clinical practice should be based on best available evidence, guidelines are routinely not used as specified in decisions relating to individual care.

It has been shown this is not due to a lack of awareness or understanding of the knowledge the guideline represents, but because clinicians (necessarily) use a wider collection of knowledge and problem-solving approaches. They do this because it allows them to move from the knowledge contained in the generalisable guidance to the actions required for a specific case; a greater diversity of knowledge clinicians draw upon allows greater flexibility to circumstance and the person in front of them.

New knowledge from research evidence is part of this, but only after it goes through a social process of amalgamation with tacit and experiential knowledge about real-world context and the complexity of human lives. Harnessing this blended knowledge is increasingly seen as vital to the development of healthcare programmes that can better meet the complex needs of individuals and the society they live in.

In our project, public and health care professional stakeholders were invited to take part in a series of workshops. These were run by a project team that consisted of a design researcher, a clinical academic and a clinical specialist. Carefully curated creative activities that combined visual communication with verbal communication were employed to help participants explore, reflect and consider both their own and others experiences and ideas.

The final output of this creative co-design process was an innovative back pain education system that was implemented and integrated into everyday practice. We believe that creative co-design was crucial to the success of the project. Working together to produce visual representations of ideas encouraged creative and open thinking about the problem and a practical solution focussed approach to solving it. It was as a direct result of the experiential knowledge gained through the workshops that a whole system-based approach was chosen, and peer support and education for clinicians were identified as essential components.

As the stakeholders saw their ideas converted into tangible prototypes, they took increasing ownership of what they saw as their project, and this greatly increased the quality of the final product and its integration into everyday practice. We recommended that other project teams read the full article and consider these methods when developing solutions to implement evidence-based guidelines in complex healthcare settings.

Richard Webber is a physiotherapist at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (

You can read the original research in Evidence & Policy:

Webber, R. Partridge R. and Grindell C. (2022). The creative co-design of low back pain education resources. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/174426421X16437342906266. OPEN ACCESS

Image credit: Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

He Ture Kia Tika/Let the Law Be Right: informing evidence-based policy through kaupapa Māori and co-production of lived experience OPEN ACCESS

Creative processes in co-designing a co-design hub: towards system change in health and social services in collaboration with structurally vulnerable populations OPEN ACCESS

Creative and collaborative reflective thinking to support policy deliberation and decision making OPEN ACCESS

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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