Mothership: Bridging the Gap Between Health Expert and Parent Friend
This is a story about new parents, their children, and navigating the complex world of health on little to no sleep. When it comes to raising healthy kids, there's a ton of information out there, everyone has advice, and judgement lies at every turn. It's not always easy to find trustworthy health information for your unique family.
But, getting the right information and support you need should be as easy as turning to a good friend who gets you. Mothership envisions a world that empowers, respects, and supports families in achieving their health goals. It works to bridge the gap between health expert and parent friend with a digital health education community and a training and certification program for health service providers on building empathy and promoting empowerment.
Millennials are disrupting parenting
Over 80% of new parents each year in the United States are millennials. Consistent with their reputation as a disrupting generation, they are taking different approaches to parenting and making health decisions. As a result, the current health system is not designed to best meet their needs.
Parents' health decisions and behaviors are influenced by a range of factors, including parent knowledge, their social networks and support systems, the beliefs of their community, the spaces where they live, work, and play, access to health care services, and public policies. Many companies and organizations are focused on addressing maternal and child health issues related to a range of these factors, but there is still much work to be done in this space as the United States lags behind other wealthy countries in health outcomes.
With this understanding and after having personal experiences with how challenging it is to navigate raising healthy children and taking good care of yourself, a group of designers and public health professionals came together to try to make it easier. They founded Mothership, a 501(c)3 non-profit startup organization.
Designing a new non-profit's brand and program strategy
Using a design thinking research process and a public health framework to guide the development of a brand and program strategy, Mothership leveraged the expertise of its team and other expert volunteers. We empathized with millennial mom experiences and defined opportunity areas based on key insights. We defined criteria for ideation based on these insights and opportunities, our organizational capacity and greater health system constraints, and the factors that influence health decisions and behaviors. Finally, we explored ideas through several iterative ideation, prototyping and testing cycles, co-designing and refining a brand and programs with over 100 moms and health service providers.
As a result of this grassroots research and strategy effort, Mothership is now working to break down traditional health hierarchies, center diverse and inclusive voices, and uplift the experiences of moms and the expertise of empathetic health service providers. Mothership's brand and program strategy also position it to be a strong partner in the maternal and child health space, helping to fill a gap while complementing the existing work of other organizations and companies.
Design research methods and a public health framework guided our brand and program strategy development. We compiled data from national health statistics and trend reports on millennial parents and millennials and health care, assessed the existing landscape of work being done, interviewed about a dozen moms about their prenatal, birth, postpartum, and motherhood experiences with an emphasis on nutrition and breastfeeding, and observed 4 families during clinical appointments to empathize with the current reality. From there, we defined the opportunity areas to explore further: information curation, personalization, credibility and relatability, empowerment, empathy, and community. Then, we defined criteria to guide our ideation and engaged with over 100 moms and health service providers in co-designing the brand and our programs through multiple ideation, prototyping, and testing cycles.
Key insights and opportunity areas
During our initial desk research, landscape analysis, in-depth interviews, and clinical appointment observations, several key insights emerged that were further supported during later brand and program co-design and testing sessions with moms and health service providers. These initial insights highlight pain points that informed the opportunity areas we continued to explore during the rest of the brand and program strategy development process.
Information overload --> Curation: There's a lot of health information out there. And, millennials are sourcing health information from each other, the internet, social media, family, and others in their social networks, in addition to asking their health service providers questions. Moms also receive unsolicited advice. It's a lot to sift through. How might we help moms sift through it all?
Irrelevant advice --> Personalization: Despite the plethora of information, it can still be hard to find what's personally relevant. Moms were specifically frustrated about health service provider emphasis on sharing information about ideals vs. practical advice for their unique situations and then the subsequent rabbit holes of internet searches. How might we help moms find what's relevant to them?
Confusion --> Credibility and Relatability: It's not always clear from an internet search or reading advice through a social media network what's credible and what's not. And, there's a lot of inaccurate information making the rounds. For some moms, relatability impacts credibility. They noted willingness to trust the advice of other mom friends they knew well more than others, including health professionals, because their friends "get them." They also noted being more interested in what someone had to say if they had a similar experience to them. How might we help moms identify relatable, science-based advice they feel they can trust?
Lecturing --> Empowerment: Most millennials want to be the managers of their own health care vs. be told what to do. Moms talked about how they best understood the nuances of their family's needs and encouraged other moms to go with their gut feelings. They still wanted advice from their health service providers, but it wasn't the only advice they considered. How might we help health service providers empower their patients/clients?
Judgment -->Empathy: The we interviewed moms wanted people to understand them and why they made certain decisions. They wanted their health service providers to view their well-being as a priority in addition to prioritizing the well-being of their baby, especially in the early postpartum period. They noted worrying about being judged for some of their choices, and many shared stories about their experiences of being judged by peers, colleagues, family members, and their own health service providers. Recent news has also highlighted stories of health service providers ignoring mothers in life and death birthing situations, especially mothers of color, exposing systemic sexist and racist biases in the American health care system and further supporting this insight. How might we help health service providers embed empathy into their health practices?
Isolation --> Community: Some moms noted feelings of isolation during their child's first few months. Many actively sought out the company of other moms, in-person or digitally, and encouraged other new mothers to do the same. Having good mom friends helped create a positive motherhood experience. How might we help moms find community, especially during those first few months after giving birth?
Inspiration from within
A particular insight stood out about one mom's positive personal experience because it addressed so many of the pain points from our key insights. She shared her story, "My best mom friend is also a nurse. She understands me, doesn't judge, and also has medical knowledge."
We began thinking, how might we create a similar experience for all moms? And, how might we do it in a systemic way that prioritizes equity, meaning a way that addresses multiple factors that influence health decisions/behaviors and provides access to diverse parents with a scalable program model?
An iterative, evolving brand and program strategy
Design Criteria: Our programs needed to address multiple pain points from the key insights; be appealing to both moms and health service providers; have the potential to start small and scale sustainably as the organization grew; leverage multiple factors of influence on health decisions and behaviors; and could be designed to prioritize and uplift diverse voices and experiences. Our brand needed to reflect our programs and organization vision.
Co-design Sessions: The Mothership team developed an initial brand strategy and brainstormed possible program directions, creating concept sketches to spark discussion during iterative virtual and in-person co-design sessions with moms and health service providers. Participants recruited from the team's social media channels and professional networks helped us to further empathize with their nuanced experiences, solidify our opportunity areas, and better understand the ideal vision moms have for raising healthy families as well as the constraints and leverage points of the existing health system. Learning from these sessions helped us to converge on a program and brand strategy direction.
Brand Strategy: The final brand strategy and accompanying visual system centers on a strong, uplifting and inclusive personality. It positions Mothership as bridging the gap between health expert and parent friend with programs that promote empathy and parent empowerment. Mothership expanded its language to include all parents and a broader landscape of health topics based on feedback from moms.
Program Strategy: The final program strategy addresses multiple factors that influence health decisions and behaviors and is consistent with the brand strategy: 1) a digital health education community for parents facilitated by health professionals who are also new parents, and 2) a training and certification program for health service providers on building empathy and promoting empowerment in health practice. We further tested and refined components of the health education community. We also engaged health service providers who are new moms, a newly identified key stakeholder for the program, in additional co-design. Through these sessions we created a program model that is responsive to their goals. We also completed several rounds of curriculum development and feedback for the training and certification program to understand which activities were achieving learning goals and which ones were not based on health service provider feedback.
Friends with health benefits
Mothership's health education community is a digital platform where health experts who are also parents of young children facilitate a community for other parents. They create content, offer opportunities for interaction, and endorse resources on health topics of interest that are often not well-covered in doctors' visits or require ongoing attention, like nutrition, infant feeding, self-care, and child growth and development. These health partners are relatable. They share science-based information and advice. They understand the practical realities of parenting, and they are trained by Mothership on how to build empathy and promoting empowerment in the community. Mothership's health partners represent diverse families, and it is our hope that parents can see themselves in them. Tools on the platform help parents sift through content, get to know health partners, and curate credible articles, blogs, videos, and podcasts relevant to them from across the internet and social media.
Mothership plans to further refine this program after results from a recent pilot implementation are analyzed.
Being the health partner millennial parents are looking for
Drawing from research in the fields of psychology, human-centered design, and human behavior, the one-day Mothership Certified training workshop focuses on providing knowledge and tools for health service providers on building connection and promoting empowerment in health practice when working with millennial parents. Topics include building empathy, practicing self-care, understanding and overcoming biases, reading emotional and cultural cures, reflecting on your patient's/client's journey, and connecting with and empowering your patients/clients through intentional communication design using space, language, nonverbal cues, and storytelling. The training program is targeted at a range of health service providers, including community health workers, dietitians, doulas, health educators, lactation consultants, physicians, physician assistants, midwives, nurses, peer counselors, and social workers. Early feedback on its perceived value by health service providers is positive.
The one-day format and affordable cost allow it to fit within professional development budgets and plans, and it is approved for some health professional continuing education credits. Currently offered as an in-person training, it will soon be available in a digital version. Mothership also plans to further study this program for impact on health service provider confidence to deliver empathetic and empowering care, changes to health practice, patient satisfaction, and health outcomes.