Young makers can teach us how the healthcare system might apply big dreams, risk-taking, and feedback to achieve better, more human-centred results.

In 2016, I had the honour of attending a maker camp with my 10-year-old stepdaughter. I volunteered my time as a mentor because I miss working with kids and it got me in one of the coolest camps ever.

Throughout the week I started noticing some things that I found interesting and I started to think about how these insights might apply to healthcare.

The week was spent with 7-14 year-olds as they made their own sketchbooks, built arcade games out of cardboard, learned to solder electronics, made 2d designs for t-shirt, silk-screened those shirts by hand, turned a 2d design into a 3d printed object, sewed various things, made plaster molds of their hands, and much more. It truly was an amazing week! 


1. the world as a place full of potential

Everything around the kids became a possible thing they could build with or make. They were combining everyday objects and actually making things from them.

No idea was too silly or shot down (except slicing wildly with a box cutter…that one I killed). I was a bit in awe as they put things together that I wasn’t convinced would work:

  • Fabric to make supports for a basketball net.
  • Egg cartons and tape to make a stand for a game.
  • Tape and a toilet paper roll to make a working drum kit pedal (yes, it actually worked when you stepped on it)

They taught me a valuable lesson: see the potential in everything. The solution might just be right in front of you. What if we encouraged more making in healthcare? What new and interesting solutions could curious staff or people using services come up?


2. They failed, picked themselves up, learned and tried again

A 9-year-old really wanted to build his own drum kit. He really wanted a working kick pedal and was not having much luck. He worked at it for at least 20 minutes trying different positions of the pedal and the drumstick. I could almost see his brain churning.

Then, when he ran out of options, he asked for help. The camp leader found a youtube video where someone had made an entire working drum kit out of cardboard, including a working kick pedal. Unfortunately, the video was not a how-to guide. But it did offer him some visuals of the pedal in action.

That was all he needed. He noticed that there could be an elastic involved and that’s how he could make the pedal actually work. He quickly paused the video and flew off to get some supplies. After another 30 minutes (and my failed attempt at helping him) he figured it out.

He just kept trying.

This got me thinking about the tolerance of failure. Don’t get me wrong, I get that in healthcare, people’s lives are at stake. Of course, we don’t want to harm people. Not all failure leads to harm though. In fact, I’m a strong believer that we might need to try working more like these kids. What if we supported people in trying, failing, and learning? What if we took some small risks? How might we improve care and the experience of care?


3. asking for and using feedback from users

The major make of the week was building an arcade game out of cardboard.

The kids pretty much had the freedom to build whatever they could imagine, as long as they tried it out with users and got some feedback. Oh, the game also had to fit in a car (or transportation method of choice), so it could be taken home with them. Small constraint.

As they were building, they kept testing their own designs almost instinctively. They would ask each other to try something out. They weren’t afraid to say what they liked or didn’t like about a game, and how it might be improved. The cool thing about it was that ego wasn’t part of the process. They were all starting from the same place and seemed to recognize that.

They were also very attuned to the fact that negative feedback can be hard to hear. I watched as they carefully yet easily phrased constructive feedback and generously offered up compliments about what they liked or enjoyed about a game. It was true collaboration in action. 


As I sat back and watched all of this, I wondered why some of us have such a hard time with this type of collaboration and feedback.

In healthcare sometimes we say we want to know what isn’t working, but when people are courageous and tell us, we’re not always so receptive. Or we take their feedback and aren’t able to turn it into actual changes.

We say we want collaboration, but we struggle with the tension that creates between being an ‘expert’ and admitting what we don’t know.

  • What if we could co-design alongside people and families?
  • What if we could involve them in everything we do, even when it is harder and might take more time?
  • What if this type of co-design can help us tackle really wicked problems that we haven’t been able to crack on our own?

These little makers taught me a lot about why making matters and how the experience leads to better results. I hope they keep their maker spirit as they grow and venture out into the world. We need it.


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