Recent Ofcom research indicates that 90% of 16-24-year olds now own a smartphone. With such high numbers of children and young people online, younger people engaging with mental health services expect access to digital platforms as they do for all other aspects of their lives.
Through the creation of innovative products, digital technology provides mental health organisations with the opportunity to transform services and empower individuals to manage their own conditions. With so many opportunities for digital transformation, this page sets out some key points to support those about to embark on a digital project.
Always start with needs
The first thing to do when starting a digital project: develop a hypothesis to determine why someone might need the product. Identify the main users and target audience. What problem will the product solve and what will the solution look like?
Did you Know? An app is an application program or software, designed for a particular purpose on a computer or mobile phone. There are apps that can help people to assess their moods that day, apps to work out what affects moods and apps to help mental health professionals in their jobs.
Think about digital innovation
Take time to scope the project – do not underestimate the complexity. Talk it through with a digital supplier in order to confirm that the idea is realistic and will produce a viable product that is fit for purpose. Check that you have access to the skills and resources needed to complete the project within your organisation – work on digital projects does not always require technical skills (the supplier can handle this) but stakeholder engagement and in-house experience of the type of problem you are attempting to solve is vital.
Security concerns can really damage projects and hinder progress. Work with relevant stakeholders to outline the specific requirements in the first stage of the project, and ensure the developers are aware of these so they can adapt the design and plan for the work that needs to happen in order to fulfill the security requirements.
It sounds obvious but it is also important to confirm that the digital supplier has capacity to deliver the product. Ensure a properly considered SLA (Service- Level Agreement) is drawn up with the supplier before any work commences.
When developing a new product for use in mental health services, try to make it open source or shareable so that it can be reused and re-purposed, enhancing future development of the product and making it accessible to all.
Invest in early stage discovery
This is crucial. Investing time in early discovery means that you are much more likely to get a good outcome and end up with a well-designed product that meets needs. Discovery involves testing your hypothesis before any work commences on building a prototype. Research user demographics and review other products in the market to understand the context in which your product is situated. Work with your target audience to develop insight – codesign and collaboration leads to an innovative and enduring product.
Ways to aid discovery
- understand the context
- work with target audience to create user stories. User stories identify different users and describe the reason why they need to use the product you are designing.User Stories will help you to understand what the software should accomplish.
- Hold co-design workshops to test assumptions and gather insight
Iteration & Agile Development
For the best results, products should be developed using an Agile approach. Using the Agile approach helps teams respond to unpredictability and run an adaptive project. This allows for continuous, flexible iteration – reworking a product is key to digital innovation and means that the project is far more likely to produce something that is viable and aligned with the business case.
- Click here to read the case study for the How Am I Doing? app
- Tips on how to create meaningful user stories are available on the gov.uk website
- Download the digital mindmap for a summary of the key factors involved in running a successful digital project
- For more information on social media and how it can be used to support practitioners, read the Social Media in Mental Health Practice ebook
- Click here to read so more tips for a successful digital project in health and social care
- Click here to find out more about GitHub (for beginnners)
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