Helping non-profit organizations make the case to invest in addressing social determinants of health to improve population health


The Innovation Studio at the School of Public Health transforms the research of the faculty into scalable and sustainable ventures with the capacity to develop and deliver desirable, viable and feasible public health solutions.

In the summer of 2016, the Innovation Studio at School of Public Health, University of Michigan initiated a project under the supervision of Prof. Sharon Kardia and Dr. Jodyn Platt to tackle the challenge of the health disparities in population health domain. Over the course of 10 weeks, the project team had interviewed more than 80 people from various stakeholder groups, synthesized the insights from the interviews, ideated based on our research findings, prototyped potential solutions, and iterated based on feedback received from the user testing.


Most people in the health field recognize that the diseases and health outcomes observed in society are symptoms directly related to disparities. Despite this recognition, organizations focused on health dedicate almost all of their resources to treating those symptoms instead of working on the root causes.


These connections between social conditions and health outcomes exist but are not used on a mass scale to make the case for improving overall health. Professionals in this field generally do have the skills, time, or resources to credibly make those studies available at a local level or explain the potential benefits of their proposed actions in a way that will convince decision makers of the value of those programs.


Empowering population health professionals with the information, tools, collaborations and confidence to be able to convince the decision makers to make the case that investing in social determinants of health would be an investment in their community’s overall health.


Our Design Process

Stakeholder Map

Interview Process

Based on the stakeholder map and the background studies, we broke down each stakeholder group into potential interviewee list. These interviewees cover most of our stakeholder map, they come from different states across the country, very diverse backgrounds, but share a common goal of improving the community health.The contacts of the interviewee candidates are acquired from our the local community, university networks, as well as general online research.

Synthesizing Interviews

The synthesis process played a critical role in generating insights from all the interviews we conducted. Basically, the process started by combining all of our notes (mostly physical) from the different team members into a single digital document, which already filtered the repeated information and added complementary parts. By using this method during the interview phase, we accumulated a database which comprises all the key information from various stakeholders. The next step was printing out these documents, cutting them into pieces and reorganizing them on the wall according to specific categories, such as setting the data needs, data gathering and identifying appropriate interventions. In each category, the information was also divided into three sections which are needs, assumptions, and questions in order to inform the design team about their pain points, what are the things we assumed they have and what do we need to clarify with the interviewees in the next round interviews.

Needs, Questions & Assumptions Document

Framing the “HMW” question

After generating the insights document, the team started another round of brainstorming to come up with several How Might We questions which aim to narrow down our research scope and identify the common interests of our users. We clustered these individual HMW questions into five groups and prioritized them by dot voting. The final integrated version of HMW question became the general topic which provided a frame to the following ideation phase.

How might we incentivize organizations to integrate the social determinants of health into decision making in order to improve the health of the vulnerable population?


According to the HWM question, our target users are the officers of community health organizations, community health officers in non-profit health systems and the directors of public health departments. These personas helped us empathetically understand the situation / pain points from their corresponding perspective.

Michelle Curtis


Jasper Moor


Nicolas Hardy


User Story

As a Community Benefit Officer of a non-profit hospital, I want to have a tool which can establish an evidence-based relationship between health conditions and social determinants of health so that I can convince the decision makers to make a case to invest in the social determinants of health in order to improve the overall health of the community.

Design Criteria

These design criteria were established from the faculties’ research interests & findings and from our previous insights document within the specific user scenarios. These criteria were the first priorities which were then considered in the next phase of conceptualization and prototyping.


Studies directly link social determinants of health to the health outcomes. It is possible to extrapolate the evidence-based relationships to other geographies.


Public health professionals need to be able to speak the language of business to justify the value of their work.


Individuals hoping to make the case about the value of working beyond the bounds of the health care system to address health problems need a tool to convince others of the value in making those investments.


Community organizations are actively seeking collaboration with health systems based on the connection between the community effort and the medical mission of the hospitals.

Finalized Concept & Iterative Prototyping

User Flow Draft

User Flow

Final Prototype

Starting from a structural sketch of the concept, we developed the first prototype and evaluated it by a series of user testing interviews in order to collect non-biased feedbacks. The information from the interviews was synthesized and incorporated into the next iterations of the design. By the end of creating the final prototype, we had conducted four rounds of iterations until user issues were reduced to an acceptable level. The following images show the user interaction flow in TraceRoot and the user interfaces of the main features.

  • Client
    Innovation Studio, UM School of Public Health
  • URL
  • Date
    May 31, 2016