(re)Designing #MedEd: Interpretation

Author: Rob Cooney, MD, MSMedEd, Geisinger Medical Center, on behalf of the CORD iMedEd Track


Image Credit: Wikimedia Blog

In yesterday’s post, we explored the nature of design thinking and introduced you to the concept of discovery. Today we’ll cover what happens next?

In discovery, you and your team spent time uncovering assumptions, observing, talking to experts, and collecting data. Now you have all of these data, how can you discover insights from them? Interpretation is the phase in the design thinking process where the designer turns data into “actionable opportunities.” How does the design thinker do this?

Hopefully, in the discovery phase your team captured what it learned. Take time after the observations to share what was learned. If working in a group, this comparison can help to clarify the data. Things that could be shared include:

  • Personal details of those interviewed, such as age, work roles, etc.
  • The most memorable story told by the interviewee; why was it surprising?
  • Motivations: what motivated the learner/teacher? Why did they do what they did?
  • Frustrations
  • Environment: what was interesting about the interaction?
  • Unanswered questions

Here again, keeping excellent notes will make these observations easier to reorganize as your learning progresses.


Image Credit: Wikipedia

Humans love a good story. Before we knew how to create paper, our ancestors shared the tribes knowledge through storytelling.  Even in medicine, storytelling helps our learners to remember key principles of management under the guise of a “clinical case.”  Storytelling also has a role in design thinking. All of the above observations can easily be transitioned into a story that you can share with your group about the individual and the problem you are trying to solve. You can also use direct quotes provided by the subject.  When using storytelling, visual data is important. Pictures and video can offer powerful support to the story.

After sharing stories as a group, it is time to begin the qualitative search for meaning. Qualitative researchers will often uncover “themes” within their data to serve as a scaffold for analysis. The same methodology is used by design thinkers. Uncovering themes begins by trying to group related information together. As a team, review the data points. If you are using sticky notes, it is easy to collect similar data and group it together. These data men can become your themes.  Theme in your data will then allow you to turn themes into problem statements:

  • Learners to not want to attend didactics because lectures are boring
  • Learners to not feel that the faculty care about…
  • We do it this way because…

Uncovering themes provides your team with the scaffold for deeper learning. Once the themes of been uncovered, your team can begin to look for overlapping patterns, contraindications, and unexpected findings. As you begin to gain clarity from your data, your team may wish to step back. Different members of the team may be interpreting each theme differently. There may also be themes that the team is excited about or are highly relevant to the challenge that you’re attempting to solve. It may also be helpful to approach colleagues who are not part of the team to review the data. They may provide unexpected insights.

Now that you’ve gained insight into the problem that you are attempting to solve, it is time to make your insights actionable. Here again, the “how might we?,” question can be quite valuable and serve as good fodder for your next brainstorming session. Choose 3 to 5 of these questions that the team is excited about and use those as the source of the brainstorming session.

Above, we have explored the idea of interpretation. This can be one of the more difficult phases in the design thinking process. Data is often incomplete and you may find yourself going back to the source to collect more data in order to uncover all of the possible insights. Time spent doing this is extremely valuable and will lead to better solutions to the problem that you are attempting to solve.

In the next post, we will explore one of the more exciting parts of the design thinking process: ideation. In the next phase you will take your insights and create possible solutions to your team’s vexing problem.

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