Using co-design to develop a tool for shared goal-setting with parents in speech and language therapy

Ingrid Singer, Inge Klatte, Rosa de Vries, Remko van der Lugt, E. Gerrits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Despite the compelling case for engaging parents in speech and language therapy, research indicates that speech and language therapists (SLTs) currently have a leading role in the goal-setting process of therapy for children with developmental language disorder (DLD). Therefore, we set out to develop a tool that aims to support the dialogue between SLTs and parents and enhance shared decision-making about children's communicative participation goals. We used co-design techniques with SLT–practitioners to include their perspectives throughout the design process. Although co-design has been used for some years in healthcare research, it is still a relatively new research methodology in the field of speech and language therapy.

To provide a detailed description of the co-design process that led to the development of a physical artefact that can support SLTs to engage parents of children with DLD in collaborative goal-setting.

Methods & Procedures
The Design Council's Double Diamond model was used to develop a tool in co-design, together with eight SLTs, who participated in all stages of the development process. Usability was tested in actual goal-setting conversations between four SLTs and 11 parents of a child with DLD resulting in stepwise improvements. In addition, usability of the first and final prototypes was tested with five usability criteria that were rated on a 10-point scale by 64 SLTs.

Outcomes & Results
The co-design process resulted in the development of a physical prototype of the tool called ‘ENGAGE’, consisting of a metal ‘tree trunk’ on which parents can stick magnetic ‘leaves’ containing potential participation goals for their child. The ‘tree’ shape represents a child's development and opportunities for growth. This first prototype received marks between 7.0 and 8.0 out of 10 on attractiveness, user-friendliness, safety, functionality and affordability. After several iterations, there were significantly higher marks for attractiveness, user-friendliness and safety in favour for the final prototype. Marks for functionality and affordability did not change significantly.

Conclusions & Implications
As researchers we usually develop pen-and-paper tools, interview protocols, apps or questionnaires to support clinical practice. Including the SLTs’ perspectives in the design process resulted in a tree-shaped physical artefact that, according to the SLTs, helps to order information and encourages and guides their dialogue with parents. We strongly advocate the inclusion of end-users in developing innovative user-centred tools for speech and language therapy and we hope that this will become widespread practice.

What is already known on the subject
Collaborative goal-setting is at the heart of family-centred speech and language therapy. However, research indicates that goal-setting processes for children with DLD are currently predominantly therapist-led, instead of family-centred. Reasons for the lack of parental engagement are that effective communication with parents throughout the goal-setting process appears to be complex, and parents are not always invited and supported to engage in this. We used co-design to develop a tool that aims to support SLTs in their dialogue about therapy goals with parents.

What this paper adds to existing knowledge
This paper provides an example of applying a co-design approach for the development of a shared goal-setting tool for SLTs and parents of young children with DLD. The co-design approach enabled us to incorporate needs, experiences and ideas of SLTs in the design process. We report the four stages in the co-design process from (1) discovering the needs, wants and desires of the people involved, (2) defining the problem that SLTs experience, (3) developing several solutions and selecting the best solution, and (4) developing and testing the prototype. The detailed description of this process can add to an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of a design process that includes the perspective of end-users. The result is a physical artefact representing a tree, which aims to support the conversation between SLTs and parents about a child's communicative participation. Items describing facets of communicative participation are printed on ‘leaves’ that can be hung on a tree trunk by parents. The tree shape is a positive metaphor for the growth and development of a child.

What are the potential or actual clinical implications of this work?
This study describes how SLTs can be meaningfully involved as partners in a co-design research approach. Incorporating experience from clinical practice was highly relevant since our study aimed to create a solution that would support goal-setting and service delivery by SLTs. We want to show that it is inspiring and beneficial for SLTs to partner with researchers in innovation of their own clinical practice and provide examples of co-design activities that illustrate the involvement and influence of end-users in a design process. Including the perspective of SLTs in the development of a new tool to facilitate the dialogue between SLTs and parents of children with DLD regarding therapy goal-setting is expected to add value and enhance its implementation in clinical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1281-1303
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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