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Innovating for health equity with Johns Hopkins Medicine

How could we improve the Ward Infinity Programme run by Johns Hopkins and increase its impact to drive health equity in Washington D.C.?

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Sibley Memorial Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, started a social innovation program in 2018 called ‘Ward Infinity’ to improve the health and well-being of Washington, D.C.’s most underserved communities with the greatest health disparities. The Ward Infinity program invests in citizens who work to improve the health and wellbeing where they live. 

In 2020, after two cohorts of the programme, Sibley Memorial Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine wanted to evaluate the programme in order to improve it in preparation for the third cohort. The aim was to understand how past participants, known as Innovators, experienced the program, what went well and what could be improved, thus informing strategic enhancements for future iterations of the programme.

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Research approach

I was brought on as the Research Lead for the project. I led a team of designers and public health consultants to plan and conduct qualitative research using a human-centred design approach, and draft a report that documented and compiled the evaluation. In preparation for the research, I developed the research plan, designed research activities, and trained the team in conducting interviews. 

We conducted in-depth interviews with 40% of the participants of the previous two years of the programme. We conducted semi-structured interviews using open-ended questions so we could learn without attributing bias or having preconceived notions. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we conducted virtual interviews via Zoom.

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Following the interviews, I analysed and synthesised all our findings into recurring patterns and key themes. I then facilitated workshops internally with the team to systematically categorise findings into success statements and problem statements, with corresponding “how might we” statements and opportunities for improvement. I developed a framework to synthesise vast amounts of data effectively that worked well in a digital workshop setting with multiple participants.

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​​The key insights about the Innovators’ experiences in the program and opportunities to enhance the program experience have informed Sibley’s strategic social innovation plan and adjustments to the Ward Infinity program for the next cohort and beyond. 


Going back to our research questions:

1. What were the motivations of the Innovators to join the program, and what did they value most about it?

  • Community Engagement: One of the most valued parts of the program was the focus on community engagement and improvement. The Innovators greatly appreciated the program ethos of developing solutions with the community and not for the community. The program provided the tools and resources that allowed the Innovators to design solutions aligned with the needs of residents in their own communities.

  • Human-Centered Design: The human-centered design approach was eye opening and very valued by the Innovators. They felt it was important to have a deep understanding of what their users want and not base it on assumptions.

  • Relationships: The relationships built during the program with other cohort members, coaches, and the Advisory Council members were highly appreciated by the Innovators. The Sibley brand enabled the Innovators to make connections and have accelerated conversations with people in the community, and ad experts on their topics.

  • Growth:The program provided an opportunity for the Innovators to grow both professionally and personally. They found the process to be transformative for their project, their communities, and themselves as a whole.

2. What were the gaps and challenges faced by the Innovators during the program?

  • Trust: At the onset, some Innovators didn't have complete confidence in the program and didn't trust Sibley’s and Johns Hopkins’ motivations for coming into Ward 7 and 8. They were sceptical about Sibley’s intentions and the organisation’s broader vision for community impact.

  • Expectations: The Innovators experienced a lot of uncertainty in the early stages of the program with no clear roadmap. There was a mismatch in their understanding of what they will leave the program with, and how the program will help them in their entrepreneurship.

  • Advisory Council: The Innovators didn't always find the feedback of the Advisory Council constructive and were also disappointed by the inability to follow-up with them afterwards. The Innovators hoped to establish more meaningful connections with the Advisory Council members and receive increased support and stronger relationships with mentors.

3. What needs do the Innovators have after leaving the program to build and scale their social ventures?

  • Post-Program Support: One of the biggest unmet needs of the Innovators is project relevant post-program support. They required additional support to take their projects to the next level and bring them to fruition. Post-program support through coaching, mentorship, and funding opportunities is key to sustaining their projects.

  • Business Knowledge: Upon finishing the Ward Infinity program, the Innovators realised that there were a lot of gaps in their knowledge which were important for building their business acumen. This left them floundering as they tried to implement their projects after the program. They would have liked additional coaching on topics like creating effective strategies for building a business, and securing grants.

We also looked at each stage of the Innovator's journey to identify pain points and successes, in order to come up with practical solutions to improve the programme.

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The final deliverable was a project report that compiled all aspects of the work including background on the programme, our qualitative evaluation approach, findings and opportunities, and recommendations to bridge the gaps for programme improvement. The report was drafted by me and executed along with visuals by the graphic designer on the team. I worked closely with Sibley Memorial to draft the content of the report to ensure it aligned with their requirements and organisational language. 

The report:

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