In this episode of Innovation Insights we are discussing innovation in health information industry with Fifi Monahan, former Senior Innovation Design Manager at Cancer Research UK. Fifi has started out as a veterinary surgeon in the outback of Australia and later pursued a career as a Digital Brand Manager at Novartis helping them bring new digital products to the market.
After completing her MSc in Digital Innovation, she took a role of a Senior Innovation Design Manager at Cancer Research UK. There she worked on designing new health interventions and was also researching new ways of sharing health information with the public in order to help reduce the risk of preventable cancer in the UK.
In this episode, Jonny Fisher, co-founder and CRO at Idea Drop, sits down with Fifi to discuss her career path and what has she learned throughout the years of working within the health information industry. Fifi talks about the importance of having a centralised innovation team within the organisation and shares some of the challenges her team has faced when shaping it. Fifi also explains why is it crucial to be spreading research and information about cancer to inform the public and also why is it so challenging and never straightforward. We also touch on the complexity of trying to create a health behaviour change and how innovation can assist in solving the challenge.
Watch the full interview below:
Below you can find a transcript of this episode of Innovation Insights with Fifi Monahan discussing first her journey towards innovation and its importance within the health information sector, from her experience working in the innovation team at Cancer Research UK.
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Jonny Fisher: Good morning, Fifi, it is really nice to have you with us here today. As a start, it would be really interesting to hear about your background, and how you ended up in Cancer Research
Fifi Monahan: I started as a veterinary surgeon, working in the middle of nowhere in Australia, but it wasn’t creative enough for me so I moved into Brand Management with Nirvatas, which is a global pharmaceutical company. I have managed all of their animal health products, which is where the link with my veterinary experience was, but also their digital products as well, as they had nobody else to do it. I was building some of their e-learning products knowing absolutely nothing at all about digital, so I made all the mistakes you could possibly make when building a digital product. But what I was also doing without knowing I was doing it is focusing on human-centered design.
Something we were always guilty of in Marketing was worrying about business requirements, and not worrying about user requirements so much. We just wanted to make profit and increase the margin. But when I was building that product I was worried it wasn’t going to fit with our customers, so I really tried to understand what it was that the users needed, and how it was going to fit within their organisation. I was starting to do it without having any language on it, and actually loving it and realising that I was not able to really get under the skin of how to do it really well. So I moved back to Ireland and did a masters in Digital Innovation, which is where I finally learned the language of human-centred design, agile principles, test-and-learn etc. And that’s how I got into Innovation.
J. F: What does innovation mean to you personally and in the guise of public health organisations?
F. M: Innovation to me is coming up with a new idea, method, process or service that either solves the problem or find a new opportunity a new way of doing something that hasn’t been done before. What I’m usually working on is trying to work out how to hand out important health information to wider public and get them to take better action for their health. So innovation to me in that context is understanding what people’s needs and behaviours are: what it is that they need, don’t know or want to know and then responding to those accordingly. Those things change overtime and vary among different audiences, and even depend on context with different people. So innovation within the Health Education context is trying to latch on to those new ideas and methods trying to relate to people in changing contexts.
J. F: I’m wondering, does the health information you are targeting your subjects with also change over time? As there has been so much more research and of understanding cancer in the UK? Does the message change too?
F. M: A short answer is “yes”. I do see places like Cancer Research and other health organisations as having the privilege of getting this cutting-edge knowledge first-hand. And it’s up to us to be able to digest and disseminate that to other people. And that’s where the Innovation team plays such an important role. We have separate teams in Cancer Research that are set up to do just that, to disseminate all of the latest information out to the public, We have an amazing nurses’ helpline, which provide information on the phone. We have a Cancer Chat website, which the nurses also man and are able to get information to other people, who are seeking it online. We have the nurses roadshow, so they go right out into the streets sharing all of that information
So what our innovation team should be doing is helping find new methods of supporting the teams that are doing it really well within CR UK and finding new ways to meet the changing needs with the new information.
J. F: So when your were working within CR UK did you have a mechanism internally to capture ideas from employees?
F. M: We did, we had quite a few. And it was kind of disparate and maybe sporadic for capturing ideas from people. And this is definitely a reflection of internal silos – for a big organisation that’s quite normal, and Cancer Research also does so many different things, from fundraising to public health information to actually generating the research, so it’s understandable that we work within these silos. And as a result each different section has different ways of capturing ideas and doing innovation.
J. F: Sound like there were many different ways that was happening – was there any kind of a centralised system or any repository?
F. M: There were a lot of questions around how we centralise not just innovation but strategy and business development over the last 6-12 months, and there were movements within the charity to make that happen. I think that innovation can’t happen without being closely linked with strategy and being right up at the top of the C-suite support from leadership, not just a side-thought of innovation, but a part of what you are already trying to do. And there is a huge move towards doing that now, but what also needs to be happening is a major culture adaptation within the organisation, it’s not just about making sure it is all central and that leadership are on board, but having everyone feel like they could contribute to finding the problems that need to be solved and coming up with solutions to them.
J. F: What would you say are the main challenges facing the Health Information industry in terms of driving innovation?
F. M: Probably one of the biggest things that we found was , what we were working on would always have a slow impact, and that’s really difficult in the beginning of an innovation project when you’re trying to get feelers about what’s going on and probably benchmark some numbers. But if you compare them to the things that have been in the market for many years, these numbers look really small. And in general, when you are trying to create a change this can take a long time anyway. So the speed with which we could prove any kind of reasonable impact was really slow. And hand in hand with that was the complexity of trying to create a health behaviour change – that’s something that is a very big challenge, as you are not just looking at one factor, you are trying to understand how that fit within someone’s complex life
J. F: What do you think the future of innovation looks like within the Health Information industry?
F. M: Problems are complex and we need to take a real systems approach to what it is that we do. I think there is limited impact that you can have with one organisation or one way of thinking to approach a specific problem. What’s really important is getting the right mix of companies and organisations collaborating to create new ideas and solutions
J. F: It’s quite interesting, you’re saying that the future is not about companies creating innovation on their own, it’s actually what we can do with the potential of customers, supply chain, other parts of businesses operating within that same space – is this cross-collaboration what you think will help create much more interesting innovations in the future?
F. M: Co-designing with other people is what we’ve always aimed to do at Cancer Research UK, and hand up we absolutely struggled to do it cause we were often working with hard-to-reach audiences, so just practicalities of trying to reach that were challenging. I think if you can co-design with people whom this problem affects, you’re going to come up with solutions that this actually take hold and are useful to people. So yes, it’s a collaboration between the people who your problems are affecting as well as organisations with different capabilities and skill sets and understanding.
J. F: Thank you very much, Fifi, for taking your time to come in and share all of your insights with us today!
F. M: Thank you!
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If you enjoyed this episode if Innovation Insights, why not check out our other episodes below: