Improving healthcare support for rural communities in India

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Department Name: Cardiff School of Art and Design

Abstract

The main aim for the project will be to explore how a multidisciplinary partnership, bringing together user-led design skills with technical and medical expertise, can help improve healthcare support for rural communities in India. Currently, the number of health workers in rural India is below the minimum level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO proposed several strategies to improve the resources for health in areas such as rural India including how to harness information and communication technology (ICT) more effectively, and how to build "greater resilience and self-reliance in communities". This project will explore how user-led design research methods such as 'design thinking' can be used to harness ICT more effectively to create new solutions that are culturally and contextually appropriate, affordable and effective.

Design thinking uses methods such as rapid ethnography to understand people's everyday lives including their behaviours, motivations, beliefs and values. Design thinking also uses fast prototyping of ideas and gaining feedback from end users and stakeholders. The aim of 'design thinking' is to generate several possible solutions that meet the needs of users, but are also technically feasible and economically viable.

The project is a collaboration between the Cardiff School of Art and Design at Cardiff Metropolitan University; the Schools of Engineering and Medicine at Amrita University, India; and the Centre for eHealth at the University of Agder, Norway. The project will also harness knowledge from key participants and stakeholders in India including healthcare workers, non-governmental organisations, governmental policy makers and technology companies.

The objectives for the project are to:
1. Understand and document the current situation and challenges faced in rural villages in India with regards to healthcare, including the cultural context.
2. Establish a multidisciplinary research network of international experts in the fields of user-led design, medicine, computer science and technology to share knowledge and exchange ideas in relation to healthcare support for the developing world.
3. Train researchers and health workers in India on how to employ user-led design research methods such as 'design thinking' to generate new ideas and possible solutions.
4. Run an interactive 'design thinking' workshop with key stakeholders and international experts to discover key challenges and opportunities; generate ideas for possible new solutions; and evaluate their potential benefits as well as their feasibility and viability.
5. Create a plan for developing possible solutions further, through future collaborative projects.
6. Disseminate findings from the project to the academic community, policy makers, the healthcare community in India, and technology companies.

The longer-term aim is to develop and deploy ideas generated from the research in several rural communities in India to improve their healthcare support. The plan is to use the insights gained from the project to apply for a large collaborative project grant.
The project will strengthen the capacity for research and innovation at Amrita University, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of Agder. In addition, the project will train volunteer health workers, and non-governmental agency workers, who are working with rural communities in India, in how to gain insights and generate new ideas to improve healthcare provision. Insights gained from the project will be shared and discussed with the National Rural Health Mission in India and the state government in Kerala, in relation to possible policy implications, and opportunities for further development. The project will also show how multidisciplinary networks, combining international and local expertise from a range of complementary fields, can be used to tackle very complex problems such as healthcare provision for rural communities in India.

Planned Impact

There will be several direct beneficiaries from the proposed multidisciplinary research project. These include healthcare workers, university researchers, non-governmental organisations working with rural communities in India, the rural communities themselves, policy makers and technology companies developing healthcare solutions for rural India. The project will also generate a range of new ideas for possible solutions to current healthcare problems identified during the research. The longer-term aim is to develop and deploy ideas generated from the research in several rural communities in India to improve their healthcare support. The plan is to use the insights gained from the project to apply for a large collaborative project grant.

The research project will enable the sharing of knowledge and the exchange of ideas between different disciplines and strengthen the international research networks for all project collaborators. The project will strengthen the capacity for research and innovation at Amrita University by sharing knowledge on how user-led design research methods, such as 'design thinking', can be used to understand the needs of people in rural communities in India as well as the needs of key stakeholders in the healthcare provision, and then how to translate those insights into viable and feasible solutions. Other international experts will also share their knowledge on how to design and develop remote healthcare systems, and how other developing countries are tackling healthcare challenges. In addition, the research project will train volunteer health workers, and non-governmental agency workers, who are working with rural communities, in how to gain insights and generate new ideas to improve healthcare provision.

The project will show how multidisciplinary networks, combining international and local expertise from a range of complementary fields, can be used to tackle very complex problems such as healthcare provision in the rural communities of India, particularly when they are structured around an effective innovation process such as 'design thinking'. The research project will also strengthen the capacity for research and innovation at Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of Agder in Norway as they will gain important insights into the challenges faced by rural communities and health workers in India; gain a deeper understanding of how to further improve design thinking methodologies; and discover new challenges that need further research and development.

All material generated from the project will be made publicly available online. This includes insights gained from the research including the current challenges faced by rural communities in India, policy implications, ideas for new healthcare solutions and training resources from the innovation workshops. Material will also be translated into Malayalam and Tamil so that local groups can use the information more easily. Insights gained from the project will be shared and discussed with the National Rural Health Mission in India and the state government in Kerala, in relation to possible policy implications, and opportunities for further development.

Other indirect beneficiaries from the research are organisations in the UK, India and Norway (and beyond) working in international development, including researchers, policy makers, non-governmental organisations, healthcare providers and technology companies. All collaborative partners will use their extensive networks to share the findings from the research project at various networking events and discuss the wider implications for other research projects and collaborations. Work from the project will also be published in internationally peer-reviewed articles.

Publications

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