Collaborating Across Boundaries to Tackle Taboos: Connecting Innovators, Researchers and End-users

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Over the last three years, Zinc has run three venture-builder programmes, focused on addressing society’s toughest challenges. It’s no coincidence that, in doing so, we have helped to build ventures that focus on issues many people are hesitant to talk about: erectile dysfunction, miscarriage, mental health, women’s sexual wellbeing. Having a meaningful impact often means shining a spotlight on issues that are neglected or hidden in society.

The challenge of being open about taboo health conditions can negatively impact on people’s wellbeing and hamper innovation, leaving important needs unmet. We’re connecting researchers, start-ups, users and other experts to open up new conversations. Join our community to learn and share as we tackle taboos together.

The challenge of taboo health conditions
At Zinc, we’ve created an environment where people come together to build startups answering unmet needs within some of the greatest challenges society faces. So perhaps it’s no surprise that many of these startups are pushing boundaries, opening up conversations on topics that still aren’t all that comfortable, and aiming to deliver for and with groups that are sometimes seen as ‘hard to reach — but better characterised as underserved.

To create successful products that truly engage people and genuinely improve health outcomes, ventures need to work closely with users through human-centered design and rigorous research. But how do we make progress when the issues we’re tackling are taboo, and many user groups — especially people underserved by existing solutions — are not empowered to engage or speak out?

In the R&D team at Zinc, we’re pursuing this line of enquiry in our Tackling Taboos programme, supported by a Public Engagement Award from the Wellcome Trust. The potential benefits are significant. When issues are taboo, this can cause people to withdraw, reduce the chances that they seek help and receive help, create harmful misperceptions and/or lead to a lack of appropriate and attractive products and services.

We’ve already engaged in thought-provoking discussions with a range of experts.

  • We have heard about work to develop shame sensitive practice in healthcare from Luna Dolezal. Luna is building on research about how people experience shame, to improve clinical practice and change how patients experience clinical encounters.
  • We explored the inspiring example of The Departure Lounge, hearing from Holly Rogers how this pop-up shop opened up conversations with the public about dying by establishing a calm, interactive space where people could ask questions that would normally be taboo.
  • We heard from Chamut Kifetew on lessons from managing the National HIV Prevention Programme, emphasising the importance of an evidence-based approach to tackling stigma in communities, of working in partnership to reach people with messages from sources they trust, and working together to build ownership with communities.

Building a community to tackle taboos
Through our programme we’re continuing to build a diverse community of people who are passionate about tackling taboos. By bringing together service users, researchers, public engagement and marketing professionals, health experts and entrepreneurs, we will create and share expertise that drives forward best practice for effective and engaging solutions.

The early stages of new health startups provide a science-rich environment and unique opportunity for engagement with the public, where co-created solutions can get to the heart of these issues. As part of this programme, seven Zinc ventures tackling taboo topics will extend their work to actively engage users and develop products that meet the needs of groups currently underserved by the digital health market. You can read more about the taboos they’re working on in this blog. They will share learning from direct experience, and also benefit from the expertise exchanged in our tackling taboos community.

Join our community of Taboo Tacklers

In the wider community of Taboo Tacklers we will:

  • Provide opportunities to share expertise as we tackle taboos together
  • Run events and workshops to explore issues and share findings
  • Build relationships between people working in different industries and sectors to learn from one another.

Not only will this lead to more effective and engaging products that tackle important issues, but it will also allow us to build a better understanding of how founders and researchers can work collaboratively with end-users, empower the public to engage with their own health and health research, and increase integration between academic health research, public engagement, and innovation in technology.

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Taboos are perpetuated because the people experiencing them, and the people committed to tackling them, are often isolated and don’t have their voices heard. Through this programme we aim to change that, amplifying people’s voices and making connections between silos. We hope this will lead to better support, greater awareness and improved health outcomes for people experiencing taboo health issues.

If you’re interested in joining our community, to be part of this collaborative network and find out about events and workshops you can join, or if you’re just interested to hear more about this work, please fill in this short form. We’re looking forward to sharing our learning and inviting you to learn more through events and workshops as we tackle taboos together.

R&D at Zinc research@zinc.vc


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