IoT and mental health: training sessions and hacking the system


< Project overview >


Digital technology holds the potential to support healthcare provision, and for communities which conventional healthcare often struggles to reach. In an earlier Pitch-In project (‘Breaking social barriers to the use of IoT for mental healthcare’), we worked with mental health service users to storyboard potential applications and identify key challenge areas for people living in the community experiencing mental health issues.

This work emphasised the importance of participatory co-development for the design, evaluation and deployment of digital healthcare solutions; however, the processes, methodologies and techniques involved are not universally understood across the healthcare technology sector.

In this project, in collaboration with Mindwave Ventures Ltd., a digital design and service company with a rich experience of healthcare applications, we proposed the development and delivery of a series of online training sessions/webinars addressing the most important aspects of digital healthcare development. These sessions would be followed by a ‘hackathon’ at which participants would be able to put into practice the lessons learned to co-design technologies for the storyboarded applications and challenges identified.

Project aims

With Mindwave Ventures, we proposed to develop and deliver a series of four 90-minute webinars, each addressing one of the key elements of digital healthcare technology development.

Rather than adopting a conventional ‘lecture’ format, these would involve a panel discussion among experienced practitioners in the field drawn from academia, commercial sector: it was felt that this format would allow for a richer representation of the variety of approaches and opinions that are currently to be found in this field. Attendance at these webinars would be free and open to all, and recordings would be posted online, constituting an valuable knowledge resource for the sector.

The webinar series would be followed by an online hackathon, facilitated by Mindwave Ventures, in which participants could attempt to apply the lessons gleaned from the webinars in order to develop conceptual solutions for some of the challenges/opportunities identified in the earlier project.

The principal beneficiaries of this work would be anyone working in this field, whether in academia, the commercial sector, or the public or third sectors, who attends one or more of the events or, in the case of the webinars, (re)views them later: the webinars and hackathon would constitute a valuable knowledge exchange/training resource.

In this way, the project addresses the barriers of connectivity (providing opportunities: to meet potential collaborators; for technology and domain specialists to interact; to collaborate and co-create) and of developing a business case in this sector, by providing a wider understanding of the landscape of possible architectures and of understanding how the technology can generate value.

What was done?

In collaboration with Mindwave Ventures, a series of four 90-minute online sessions was designed, prepared and delivered in subsequent weeks during January and February 2021. These took the form of panel discussions, with invited panellists from academic, industry, and public sector bodies/quangos, a format which would allow a diversity of opinions and experiences to be shared with the audience.

The sessions were devoted to the following key topics in digital healthcare development:

  • End-user engagement requirements gathering.

  • Creating successful collaborations for development.

  • Evaluation and evidence gathering.

  • Gaining and retaining users/customers.

The sessions were followed by an online three-hour hackathon in March 2021, again designed and delivered in collaboration with Mindwave Ventures. Using digital collaborative tools, the participants – who included mental health service users – worked in groups to develop solution concepts for digital tools for supporting those with mental health issues.


The online webinars, delivered via Zoom, were free to attend and open to all. They were advertised widely and were popular: over 120 people registered for one or more sessions, and attendance at each ranged from approximately 35–50, with good representation from across the development stakeholder spectrum

Among those who registered 31% were from academia, 22% from the health and social care sector, 19% from commercial medtech companies and 10% from other commercial/industrial organisations, with the remainder drawn from other diverse sectors and the general public.

There was a gratifying degree of support from the approached panellists who, no doubt aware of the importance of such endeavours for promoting better practice in this field, generously volunteered their time and shared their knowledge. The sessions were interactive, with the attendees engaging in a rich discussion in the Zoom chat facility, asking questions, sharing experiences and networking.

The sessions were recorded and later made available via YouTube and the Pitch-In website for anyone to view. The general sensation was that the series of sessions was a success, and make a valuable contribution to the development of the digital healthcare field.

The online hackathon, also delivered by Zoom, and making use of online Miro boards and design aids such as personas, was, perhaps, less successful. Around 20 people registered, but there was a high drop-out rate; this was particularly marked among the non-service users (service users were given vouchers to recompense them for their contribution).

Consequently, the results of the exercise, in terms of the design solutions developed, were decidedly mixed, with, on the face of it, little to take forward for further development; however, as an exercise in delivering this sort of participatory co-design using online tools, there were lessons to be learned for all involved.


Webinar one – ‘discovery’ of user needs in digital health: why bother?

A fascinating and wide-ranging discussion about all aspects of requirements gathering and user engagement in digital health development. The first in a series of four webinars on digital health innovation.

Webinar twodesigning and developing digital health technologies: how to forge a partnership between academia, NHS and industry that really works

A session full of useful insights into one of the most vital aspects of digital health development: how to forge successful collaborations. The second of four webinars on digital health innovation.

Webinar threeevidence and evaluation: how to design digital health tools with evaluation in mind and gather evidence of impact

One of the most important aspects of digital health development: how to ensure that evidence-gathering and evaluation become integral parts of the process rather than mere afterthoughts or even forgotten entirely. The third in a series of four webinars on digital health innovation.

Webinar four – onboarding and implementation: how to acquire and retain users of digital health technologies

A session which addresses one of the challenges in digital health development which is easy to neglect or underestimate: how to ensure that people use – and continue to use – your digital health tool. The fourth and final webinar in our series on digital health innovation.


In the case of this project, the impact was in the form of direct knowledge exchange/training exercises (and ones whose impact may continue to be felt, since the webinar recordings are available to all as community training aids).

It is worth noting in this case that the knowledge did not flow in a single direction from academia to industry (something which, in this field at least, it rarely is), rather it was much more of a collaborative effort inasmuch as the webinars brought together panellists from various sectors to exchange their particular experiences and advice, and, moreover, the attendees contributed their own perspectives, leading to a rich and rewarding experience for all participants.

Next steps

Given the enthusiasm of panellists and attendees alike for the webinars, there would appear to be the potential to create some sort of community of practice based around the common experience of digital healthcare development. However, it is not clear how such a community could be made sustainable, and no concrete steps have yet been taken in this respect.

It seems unlikely that any of the results of the hackathon represent an immediate opportunity for further development and/or grant application.

We have been successful in a grant application that will allow us to collaborate further with Mindwave Ventures, and in particular to use similar co-production techniques as those used here and in project H3 to investigate applications of IoT with schoolchildren (funded through the eNurture Network, one of the UKRI Mental Health Networks, value: £26,000).

Lessons learned

The collaboration with Mindwave Ventures and the University of Sheffield was successful: the combination of the experience and contacts of the former complemented well those of the latter, allowing, in particular, the development of a series of unique and fascinating digital healthcare development seminars.

The attendance (and retention) of participants in the online hackathon was disappointing. Although service users were well-represented (helped, no doubt, by payment for their involvement) and a satisfactory number of webinar attendees registered for the event, among the latter there was a high proportion of no-shows and then of drop-outs during the hackathon.

Clearly this had an effect on the quality and extent of the interactive activities and, consequently, on the results of the exercise. This should provoke reflection on the design and delivery of online collaborative exercises such as this (possibly the format – Zoom + Miro + personas + experience maps + ... – proved too complicated), and on the motivations of those involved and the rewards offered for involvement.

What has Pitch-In done for you?

The support of Pitch-In has allowed academic and commercial partners to collaborate and share their experience and advice with a sector which is in clear need of such best-practice guidance, but in which it is often difficult to find funding for knowledge exchange activities of this sort.

Project lead

Dr Kat Easton – University of Sheffield

Project partners

The University of Sheffield

Mindwave Ventures Ltd