Mental Health Promotion in the Maaklab

Using co-production in an engineering department to teach international healthcare students mental health promotion: A case study.

One of the objectives of the STRENCO Erasmus+ KA-203 Project was to foster innovation in higher education, working together with practice, contributing to new approaches to teaching and learning in education, and the modernisation of higher education systems in Europe. This page presents our case study on an innovative approach to teaching mental health promotion – using an engineering department, design thinking and co-production with service users, family members, students, practitioners and academics.

The premise

What happens when you ask a team of engineers to increase healthcare students’ knowledge of mental health promotion? And then ask them to do it, using the principles of co-production in mental health?

The Educational Strategy: Design Thinking

The strategy used for the development of the session was based on Design Thinking, a tool developed at the Stanford University, Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( This involved a 5-stage process using the principles of Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and test. Design Thinking as a process is in use in engineering since 2006. It is increasingly finding application outside of product development, and aims to meet potential consumer needs using a business type strategy. It use of a problem-solving process, fitted well with the projects gamification ethos and learning by doing, as it focused on solving the needs of a specific group of people; in this instance potential mental health consumers (i.e. everybody).

As an aid to using the Design Thinking process for the first time, the session utilised the the Innowiz Toolset. This gave the participants an opportunity to tackle challenges efficiently, based on a wide range of inspirational techniques around a four-step process.

Step 1 Problem Definition

In Step 1 Problem Definition, project participants were allocated to mixed groups of service users, family members and carers, students, practitioners and academics. Participants were then presented with the Design Challenge, which was to design a Mental Health Health Promotion or Mental Health Care Tool/Gadget/Eyecatcher/Campaign of their own. As an inspiration, they were shown “Black Dog” metaphor in the WHO campaign for depression awareness.

Step 2 Idea Generation

In Step 2 the participants working in the groups, progressed to Idea Generation, using the Techniques of mindmaping, brain sketching, cherry splitting and generating an image database. this was done with the objective of maximising their ideas. the approach encouraged improvisation, aiming for quality, moving fast, giving scope for changing points of view and zooming in and out on the problem.

Step 3 Idea Selection

In step 3, the groups were encouraged to combine, enrich and develop their potential solutions. With each possible solution they argued about pros and cons of each, ranking them, and ultimately selecting the fittest solution. At that point, the group had to accept the decision and let go of their own preconceived notions…

Step 4 Idea Communication

Step 4 consisted of building the design project in a quick & dirty prototyping process, using a variety of materials from the Maaklab supplies…

…and making a pitch on the project, with guidance from Woulter Vandekerckhove in Vives University Education Service.

Outcome of the process

We did an evaluation of the process, here is what the participants thought about the process.

The co-produced process using design thinking promotes creative and critical thinking
“I didn’t think I was creative, but maybe I am?”
“We had a creativity beyond every imagination. Ideas were created quickly and easily. We all said our opinion freely, without shame”
“Creativity can solve problems in between, teams this equals co-production”

The process exposed students to alternative or diverse points of view and perspectives
“I’ll try to think more outside of the box and use more different things in my work”

It enhanced problem-solving skills and promoted the use of alternative approaches and application of skills in different settings. In the process there was a willingness to hear everybody’s voice.

The experience enhanced students’ ability to work in teams
“When working in a group, if I have concerns and do not believe/agree with a solution I must have a counter offer, otherwise it’s disheartening for the other person and impedes and delays the achievement of the goal”
“After this workshop I believe more in cooperation. Previously, I did not like this collaboration, I think if you work better on your own, but now that has changed, you can get higher”

It increased reflectivity and allowed participants to see the broader context to problems
“It has brought up my creative side and opened my eyes to see that mental health can be tackled in many ways.”

Participants considered that ‘Co-production helped generate ideas’ and allowed them to see different perspectives. They could see how ‘we can learn from each other’.
Working creatively in the mixed groups they found had ‘no barriers an no limitations’. Work was done in the spirit of ‘Openness’, ‘Inclusiveness’ and allowed people to ‘hear the voice’ of all. What stood out in the feedback was the absence of comments on limitations.
The process provided for acquisition of a new skill set namely, ‘how to foster creativity and problem solve’
The process was interesting in how it challenged stigma, with 3 participants changing their status over the process, reporting a ‘dual’ status ‘…and service user’

Most of all they said “It was really fun and eye opening.”