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The Starworks Network

The Starworks Network

The Starworks Network is a young people’s prosthetics research collaboration. It has taken a co-design approach to bringing children and families together with experts from healthcare, academia and industry, to creatively explore and address the unmet needs in this area.

Funded by The UK Department of Health / National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

Project led by NIHR Devices for Dignity MedTech Co-operative, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.

The Lab4Living team was led by Joe Langley and Gemma Wheeler.

There are an estimated 2000 children in the UK living with a form of limb loss and many will use upper and/or lower limb prosthetics from an early age. However, product and service provision for these children is usually based on scaled-down versions of adult prosthetics, which often do not meet their unique functional, social and emotional needs.

In 2016, the Department of Health released £750,000 to build a network of clinicians, academics, industry experts, and crucially, children and families, to support research in this area. It aimed to ensure a balance between ‘clinical pull’ and ‘technical push’ in translating much-needed innovation in child prosthetics into everyday use. 

Our regular collaborators, Devices for Dignity (Sheffield Teaching Hospitals) invited Lab4Living to bring a co-design approach to the building and maintenance of this network. We have played a key role in the design, facilitation and reporting of each stage of the project, ensuring that children’s voices were central throughout. 

“The Child Prosthetics Research Collaboration led to inventions and optimizations that reflected what children and families need. The experts and academics who develop prosthetics would probably never have heard from families and children how a poor-fitting or unattractive limb can limit a child at home, in the classroom and in the playground.”

(Gary Hickey, INVOLVE)

Needs assessment
We engaged children and families across the country through workshops, phone calls and postal activity packs tailored to a range of ages.

Sandpit events
A series of four one-day workshops in Salford, Bristol, London and Sheffield, brought the key stakeholders together to creatively and collaboratively explore key challenge areas emerging from the initial needs assessment. We designed a set of bespoke tools to support activities in problem definition, inspiration, ideation, prioritisation, development, pitching and network-building. 

Proof of Concept projects
From this, The Starworks Network has funded 10 proof of concept projects looking to address issues of comfort, fit, customisation and training.

We have continued to provide design support to these projects and the Network as a whole, and are pleased to announce that it has been awarded follow-on funding from the NIHR to continue supporting research and innovation in this important area. Starworks 2 has begun and will further engage with all stakeholders to bring new innovations and technologies to children with limb difficulties.

“This, to my knowledge […] is the first of its type in scale and content and hopefully will produce some exciting, useful and relevant developments […] for our paediatric clients, who have sadly, by nature of their relatively small numbers and even smaller voices, been largely ignored by industry and the profession. Empowering the client group that you are trying to help and allowing them a voice in what is being developed for them is surely the best way forward.”

Rose Morris, Clinician, in ‘Attracting innovation in child prosthetics’, The Clinical Services Journal, February 2018, p56-58.
Funding announced

Devices for Dignity MedTech Co-Operative has announced the funding of 10 Proof of Concept projects, addressing a variety of needs for children using prosthetics.

Raising Awareness

Starworks has raised awareness of co-production methods through coverage in a Nature special issue on Co-production of research, published on 3rd October 2018 and in an upcoming guidance document by Involve (www.invo.org.uk).

Raising Awareness

A recent article in a clinical journal raises awareness and demonstrates recognition of the potential of the Starworks research collaboration. Raj Purewal, business development and partnerships director at NHS innovation specialist, Trustech, discusses how the project aims to increase progress in innovation in child prosthetics even further in an article for The Clinical Services Journal, February 2018, p56-58.

Supporting Collaborations

The Starworks project has supported the formation of collaborations between researchers across the country through Industry Forum events.

Resources

Related research on Sheffield Hallam University’s Research Archive

Toilet Talk

This project used creative methods to engage children with continence issues, alongside their parents and/or siblings, in discussing the challenges they face in daily living and in ideating potential solutions. 

Project funded through Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Both groups are National Institute for Health Research Healthcare Technology Co-operatives (NIHR-HTC).

Partners:
Devices for Dignity (Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield); 
IMPRESS (Incontinence Management & PRevention through Engineering and ScienceS)

Project Team:
Project lead – Dr Joe Langley

Researchers:
Dr Gemma Wheeler (Lab4Living); Nathaniel Mills (Devices for Dignity); Sarah King and Dr Peter Culmer (IMPRESS, Leeds); Chris Redford (Freelance Illustrator).  

Approximately 900 000 children and young adults are affected by incontinence in the UK (BBC 2015), whether as a result of medical problems or issues with toilet training. Although children represent a smaller percentage of the population with continence issues, the impact upon them should not be underestimated. The effect on a child’s wellbeing at school (risk of bullying, potential lack of confidence in participating in social or sporting activities) may have lasting implications for the rest of their lives. Despite this, the effects of incontinence are not well understood and require further research.

To respond to this challenge, a partnership between Devices for Dignity and IMPRESS (Incontinence Management & PRevention through Engineering and ScienceS; funded through the EPSRC) was formed. Lab4Living researchers Joe Langley and Gemma Wheeler were invited to join the team to help design and facilitate a bespoke Family Day event, using creative methods to learn about the lived experiences and unmet needs of children living with incontinence, and their families. The aim of this workshop was to inform future innovation of relevant medical technologies in this area, to better support these families in their day to day lives.

The stakeholders were children with continence issues, their parents and siblings, healthcare professionals, engineers and researchers looking into incontinence and its effects.

Impact

A conference paper, Child-led, Creative Exploration of Paediatric Incontinence, has explored the methods and impact of this project.

A range of bespoke tools was developed in collaboration with an illustrator to creatively and collaboratively explore the challenges faced by children with incontinence issues. These tools aimed to place the young people as the experts in the rooms, reflecting on their wider life (i.e. their hobbies, friends, family) and took an asset-based approach to highlight the skills and resources they already leverage to address their personal challenges. Later, ideation activities were used to empower the families as inventors to highlight and address any unmet health needs.

“What can I say, but ‘what a team!’ I was really overwhelmed by the response from the families – the kids were fantastic and the parents engaged and obviously committed to supporting this in the long term.”

(Dr Peter Culmer, project partner at IMPRESS)

During the workshop, the illustrator visualised emerging findings on a live mural in order to demonstrate progress made through the session and to highlight the value placed on the participants’ input. Central to each of the activities was the aim to reframe a traditionally ‘taboo’ topic as something that is safe, and even fun, to explore through creative means.

A range of ‘blue sky’ ideas generated at the workshop, in response to the challenges identified, was incorporated into a comic (available at: https://tinyurl.com/ToiletTalkComic). Based on this input, two further workshops have been organised by the project partners (including Lab4Living) with children and families to develop a smart watch app to help children develop regular toileting behaviours. Early feedback has been extremely positive; we are currently seeking an industry partner to take this forward.

Impact

The IMPRESS network has shared findings from the workshop, including the comic on its website: The http://impress-network.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/KidsToiletTalk_COMIC.pdf http://impress-network.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/KTTreport4web.pdf

This first phase of funding drew to a close at the end of 2018 but the work of IMPRESS continues via the Surgical Medtech Cooperative under their Colorectal Theme.