Skip to content

Follow us

Return to mob menu

Marissa Cummings


2nd October 2023


Setting a future direction for Digital Lifelines Scotland

On 5 September 2023, representatives from organisations across Scotland came together for the annual Digital Lifelines Scotland conference in Perth, hosted by the Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre (DHI).

Digital Lifelines Scotland (DLS) aims to reduce drug deaths in Scotland through digital inclusion and digital solutions that support people who use drugs. For me personally, it was inspiring to see the hard work that is being put in on this in a very person-centred and human-rights oriented way.

In the morning, attendees heard a talk from Elena Whitham, Scotland’s Minister for Drugs and Alcohol policy, followed by an update from Dr Margaret Whoriskey from the Scottish Government’s Digital Health and Care Directorate on the work of the programme over the past year. They also heard talks from Professor Catriona Matheson on the evaluation of the programme and international speakers Dr Ivan Montoya and Gordon Casey on the work which is being done overseas to prevent drug deaths.

Afterwards, attendees separated out into breakout workshops to discuss two strands of Digital Lifelines: Digital Inclusion and Digital Products. I joined the Digital Products workshop, where we saw a summary of the different products being used in Scotland to prevent drug overdose. After the presentations, we discussed what could be done to combine efforts where the products overlapped (for example, around service provision). We also discussed what the products weren’t doing and how we can expand our efforts to improve coverage in future.

Above: Marissa leading the afternoon workshop on the stage at Perth Concert Hall.

In the afternoon, I was given the task of leading a design workshop to discuss and define the future impacts and benefits of DLS. Normally for a workshop like this we would expect around 10-20 attendees. In this case, we were expecting around 100 people to participate! Luckily, I was aided very ably by my colleagues who circulated around the room supporting attendees as we went through the activity. I planned out a simple brainstorming exercise in groups followed by dot voting, which attendees were likely to be familiar with. I led the activity from the main stage, with instructions projected on a large screen at the front for attendees to refer to. We also provided more detailed step-by-step instruction sheets on each table.

Above: worksheet for the impacts and benefits activity. The blue shapes show themes for future improvement from DHI’s Phase 1 research. The bottom section for discussing measures of success was folded underneath until it was needed in the second part of the activity. This kept things visually simple for the participants.

To complete the activity, each group was provided with a large worksheet. These had been printed with themes for future improvement which were identified during the Phase 1: DHI Discover and Define research undertaken with people in recovery from drug addiction and the services who support them. Each group was asked to write down their ideas for future impacts and benefits which they would like to see emerge from the next phase of DLS. They reviewed these as a group and discussed what they thought about the different ideas, and then used sticky dots to vote on which ones they felt were the highest priority. For the next phase of the activity, each group moved their top voted idea (or ideas) down to a pre-marked square at the bottom of the worksheet. Next to it, they considered how success would be measured for this area of impact.

Above: attendees working in groups.

After the day, I reviewed the ideas that had been put together by the activity participants to understand what areas were suggested as top priorities for the next phase of DLS.

Participants identified the following themes for future work:

  • The big stuff – Participants wanted to address high-level issues such as a reduction in drug deaths and an overall reduction in drug use, and would like to see a national approach being taken towards this.
  • Working together – Participants wanted services to be better coordinated with local initiatives/third sector, and have less fragmented services and duplication of effort, using a “no wrong door” approach. They also wanted to increase staff retention and sustainability of their work.
  • Digital at the ground level – Participants felt that services should have digital baked in from the ground up. They wanted to have better data sharing with services and service users, and to build a shared evidence base to inform future work.
  • Digital access and skills – Participants wanted to give service users more digital access to information and services. To enable this, they wanted to see more skills training for service users (particularly using digital champions), and to help service users stay safe and access trusted resources online.
  • Co-production – Participants wanted to involve service users more in the development of services, and to give them more ownership and choice around their support. The benefit of trusted relationships with staff was highlighted as an important outcome of this.
  • Supporting the individual - Participants wanted to give service users tailored, personalized support that addressed holistic needs such as housing and mental health problems.
  • Stigma & trauma – Participants wanted to reduce the stigma and trauma faced by service users by making them part of the community, not forcing them to tell their stories multiple times, and offering peer support.
  • Equity & inclusion – Participants wanted to address overall issues of equity and inclusion (particularly digital inclusion) by addressing the intersectional support needed by disadvantaged groups, and giving better options for remote/rural access.

Above: a digitized version of the combined input from all groups.

A big thank you to everyone who participated in our workshop on the day! Design can play a crucial role in tackling complex health and care challenges. Through collaboration and participatory methods, it can be used to explore and address tangible and intangible issues, transforming them into change opportunities. Design helps reconfigure services, products, and processes, meeting the needs of citizens and leveraging new insights for transformation. Our next steps will be to continue to refine this with the wider group and to pull together a plan for the next phase of our work.

Learn more:

Marissa Cummings is an innovation designer and research fellow with the Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre and The Glasgow School of Art. She is starting work on the next phase of the Digital Lifelines Scotland programme.

We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. For more information read our Privacy Notice and Cookies Policy.

Click Continue if you consent to use all non-essential cookies or choose your own cookie settings.