Coggi: involving children in tackling complex health and care challenges

May 2, 2024

Working in partnership with people and communities is a tried and tested approach for meaningfully improving health and care and a foundation of the Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London’s approach to innovation.

While most involvement activities focus on working with adult populations, children and young people (CYP) can also make a valuable contribution to projects.

In this blog, we hear from co-founders Pepita Stonor and Yvonne Biggins about how they have involved CYP in the development of their groundbreaking mental health innovation, Coggi. Coggi is also a part of the DigitalHealth.London Launchpad programme.

Childhood is a crucial period for mental health and wellbeing. A commonly cited statistic is that 50% of mental health problems are established by the time someone turns 14; in turn, this means that the potential for preventative interventions for younger people is enormous.

Our app – Coggi – is a versatile Positive Psychology platform which helps children understand their strengths and overcome feelings of anxiety.

Recently, we’ve used Coggi to support children who need to undergo an MRI scan in feeling confident to be scanned without sedation. Currently, up to half of all children who undergo an MRI need sedation to do so; this adds complexity to the procedure, can cause unpleasant side effects, and significantly increases the cost of the procedure to the NHS.

In our opinion, involving CYP in the development of our platform has always seemed like a no-brainer. Anybody who has spent any time around CYP knows how quickly and intuitively they pick up anything to do with digital technology, which makes them exceptionally well-suited to being development partners for digital innovation!

Whilst there isn’t a huge amount of documentation out there about involving CYP in health and care change work, we’ve found that many of the same principles and approaches we use with adults translate well to younger groups.

For example, focus groups still work well for ideation. In fact, we’ve found that the diversity and creativity of ideas that CYP bring is often much greater than what you might expect from adults.

The same goes for feedback. If CYP likes something, they’ll tell you. If they think it’s boring, they’ll tell you that, too! Sometimes the directness that CYP tend to have makes it much easier to address issues with your product than the politely veiled “constructive criticism” that adults seem to prefer.

Having CYP involved at every stage of our work has helped us develop a better product more quickly. We’ve learned about a range of ways to improve our product; from the type of information we should include about MRI scans, to the devices the platform should be available on, and the role of the platform in providing emotional reassurance. Even our in-app buddy ‘Coggi the Chameleon’ was an idea originally devised by CYP!

One potential challenge around involving CYP in innovation is access. Understandably, safeguarding and related concerns can make the practicalities of working with CYP seem quite daunting.

In practice, though, we’ve found there are lots of groups that can help to facilitate meaningful connections between innovators and CYP.

In particular, we’ve had some amazing support from the team at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) during our pilot of the MRI-focused version of Coggi. Working with their Young Persons’ Advisory Group (YPAG) for research has been brilliant – and similar YPAGs exist across the country under the GenerationR Alliance

Through our work with DigitalHealth.London and the Health Innovation Network South London, it has been great to hear about what other innovators are doing to involve people and communities in their work. We hope that our blog helps give more confidence to other innovators who might be thinking about extending those activities to working with CYP as well.

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For more information on how you can involve people and communities in your work, please get in touch.

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