Reflections on NewMind Workshop

Today I attended the workshop on the launch and development of the Research Roadmap by the NewMind – Technology in the service of Mental Health – network. Feeling very conspiratorial as the venue was through a restaurant and two flights down in the basement, I was keen to see the title “Vision of future mental health supported by technology” filled with life.

Rather than giving a description of the three talks and two workshops (link to agenda here) I want to give my reflections on the day and highlight some of the issues that stood out to me. We have been told that the slides of the talks will be made available and I will link to them as soon as I have that information.

One of the main points that struck me about the event was a real willingness to question the use of technology in health care and the place it may take. Participants have been invited to “step back” and evaluate during the day, which I found interesting. Technlogy was considered an “enabler, but not always the solution” by Charlie Young, a developer in user-centered health care solutions.

Another theme was human-centred design, which was seen by many as the only way in which technology can work in any care setting. Not only in the development, but also during the use. Again the idea of the “enabler” is taken up in the view by Chris Taylor, the principal investigator of the network that technology should employ strategies that “work for you, not something that someone decided should work for you.” This ‘vision’ to draw on already exisiting strategies has been picked up in the first workshop and it has been mentioned that an understanding what people do themselves is missing and should be a focus of research as well.

Even though ‘living well’ and the use of technology beyond managing mental health is written into the roadmap, it has not been part of the ‘visions’ that emerged during the workshops. When asked to develop future scenarios – in which science fiction was actively encouraged – the solutions felt quite tame to me. Most still aimed at help in the moment. Self-management and peer suport were big topics, mostly based on data input by the user or based on the context. What counted as data was quite varied which I considered interesting. Rather than ‘classical’ quantified self data, I felt there was a trend towards more qualitative data, e.g. one group aimed at measuring thoughts and emotions to achieve a better hospital experience.

Even though I was excited about the afternoon workshop, which was based around questions of ethics, privacy and trust, it was interesting to see that hardly anyone wanted to engage with this topic. With some people gone already, others stepped out of the workshop at this stage. The little interest this evoked has been an eye opener to me, particularly as many different ways of data gathering have been mentioned which may not only be points of attacks for hackers, but may also enforce power structures.

The day has been engaging and I think the approach of the NewMind network to question the role of technology, the openness to draw from users expertise and the approach to bring service users, developers and researchers together is highly interesting. The framework developed so far has been evaluated by the particpants and this iteration has brought up further questioning of concepts. In addition more practical aproaches like a developers meetup and a possible funding budget for feasability studies of health care applications have been discussed. I am further glad to see that the issue of ethics, privacy and trust are part of this framework, but the lack of interest today has rather convinced me to go with it and make it a focus point of my research.

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