Newly Created Equity Design Thinking Educational Series

As a clinician, educator and researcher in the health technology field for several decades, Annette DeVito Dabbs, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN, professor, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing, has seen firsthand the gaps in understanding of researchers and designers who are developing health technologies.

“My assessment of the gaps in training for members of this transdisciplinary research workforce included the limited exposure to the root causes for health disparities and the need for a better understanding of design justice,” she said.

Design justice is how the design of technologies influences the distribution of risks, harms, and benefits among various groups of people. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of design justice after it upended access to care and illuminated the impact of structural racism as a cause for a widening gap of health disparities.

But a new education series on equity design thinking has a goal of building knowledge, understanding and skills to ensure design justice such that health technologies are equitable, inclusive, and co-created by the communities of interest.

“The goal is to train a research workforce that has the content expertise and skills to meaningfully address gaps in scientific advancement that are not well served by a more siloed approach to research and training,” she said.

The EDT Educational Series was funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health as a supplement to the T32 Training Grant (Technology Research in Chronic and Critical Illness). The T32 is in its 15th year of training for nurse scientists proving how important this work is. “The educational series extends the work of our T32 which is designed to provide rigorous research training and interdisciplinary culturalization to build nursing science aimed at promoting health, managing illness, reducing disability, and enhancing quality of life through the aid of technology,” she said. “We now add a greater emphasis on leveraging technology and design-justice to reduce health disparities and promote health equity for vulnerable populations due to social inequalities.”

The education series is entirely web-based and includes a series of 10, sixty-to-ninety-minute modules covering a wide range of topics; everything from the history of social justice movements to the dimensions of inequality, equity and health disparity, to how technology can advance or undermine the health of a community, to different methods of promoting equity design thinking. Users have access to the entire site and can pick and choose whichever modules they want to complete. A toolkit for educators and training grant directors is also provided and users can print certificates upon completion.

“Learning and applying equity-design thinking to the development of health technologies will extend healthy lives, and reduce the burdens of illness, disability, health disparities and inequalities that result from the exclusion of communities in the process in meaningful ways,” she said. “This curriculum is designed to address these gaps.”

DeVito Dabbs said the University of Pittsburgh worked with experts from Carnegie Mellon University, UMASS Amherst and Cornell University on the modules.

“The content was developed by a team of scholars internal and external to the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, UMASS Amherst and Cornell and from various disciplines related to technology, ethics, philosophy, design-justice, structural racism, feminist and emancipatory theory,” she said. “Advisors and advocates who represent the communities that we serve, including people of color, low-income groups, women, children, older adults, LGBTQ+, breast cancer survivors, the deaf, the Autists and others. Assembling such a diverse team of faculty contributors, advisors and advocates was informed by design-justice and the need for co-creation of more inclusive, equity-centered innovation research training practices.”

The website launched on January 31, 2022  and is free to anyone.