Service Design Thinking For Campus Mental Health


How can we better understand the thoughts, feelings, behaviours and experiences of a student navigating campus mental wellness services?

By answering such a complex question, we can learn how to improve all aspects of a student’s interaction with a service, starting from how they enter the service in the first place, to when and how they choose to leave the service. By placing the human experience at the center of the way we design health services, we end up improving not only the processes and efficiencies of the service, but creating services responsive to real human needs.

Service design’ is an innovative approach for improving how students experience and navigate campus mental health services. Through observational research, student/practitioner interviews, service ‘blueprints,’ and systems maps, we have been working towards the design of more humanistic and compassionate service experiences at OCAD U, and even across the greater mental health system. I’m delighted to be leading a project that is the first of its kind in Canada and working with prominent design leaders to do so. Here I’ll share some of our work to date.

In the summer of 2013, I led a workshop with the OCAD U Health & Wellness Centre to create an initial service map of counseling services (you can see a sliver of it above in the image for this post). By working with the entire clinical team, we were able to capture individual and group insights and understand the basic service journey of a student accessing mental health services.


Stages of mental health counseling services

Not surprisingly, when you ask people for their perspectives and observations of the same process from their different vantage points within the clinic, you start to stitch together interrelated but unique narratives. By going through the various stages of the service (help seeking, service entry, intake, counseling, exit, etc., see above) you can start to break down the complexities of the student’s experience. This served as a helpful exercise in elucidating and confirming process and, importantly, helped us start to construct an empathic understanding of the student. Layering the thinking, attitudes and behaviours of practitioners and students on top of this map has helped us identify positive and negative service experiences as well as opportunities for change.

The artifacts and insights from the workshop helped lay the groundwork for a couple of projects I initiated with the OCAD U Strategic Foresight and Innovation (SFI) Program with leading healthcare designer, Dr. Peter Jones. We are engaging SFI students as key stakeholders and researchers through a staged strategy of course work and project work. Through one-on-one interviews with practitioners and students (service users and non-users), and ethnographic research, we are visually mapping out the overall service structure and process. Our plan for redesign of the Centre will start by focusing on creating change within multiple layers of the service including its goals, service offerings, branding, evaluation and physical space.

Meaningful provision of mental health services also necessitates an understanding of how these interventions and changes interact with the wider University and provincial mental health system, which is why we decided to engage a second SFI team around the creation of a systems map of the postsecondary mental health system. Applying a systems lens enables us to situate OCADU’s mental health services within the greater service system.

I look forward to the outcomes of these projects and am particularly excited to see their impacts on the mental health system and the way we approach our strategy and redesign work. Service design in particular tends to be a less common practice in Canada, making this project a real test case for the postsecondary sector. Please let me know if you’ve done any work in this space – service design, systems mapping – on your campus. Feel free to comment below.