The brainchild of Drs. Nicholas F. LaRusso, Chair, Department of Medicine, and Michael D. Brennan, Associate Chair, Department of Medicine, the idea of SPARC began on a run. LaRusso and Brennan, both avid runners, imagined a space where new ideas might be thoroughly tested before implementation within the clinical practice. The two believed that its insular protection from the demands of the practice would improve the rate of innovation in health service delivery. This vision rapidly evolved when Ryan Armbruster was asked to lead the development of this capability. Consequently, they recruited Dr. Alan Kendall Duncan, Jennifer Dusso, Dr. Prathibha Varkey, and later Dr. Victor Montori to realize this vision.
In 2002, the group engaged the well-known design firm IDEO to help envision the concept of a physical laboratory for service innovation. What emerged from a lengthy design process was a concept that was realized through additional design talent of Steelcase. The central feature of the laboratory was the concept of a design studio embedded in a clinical practice, placing designers, business strategists, and medical professionals in close proximity to permit collaborations on a variety of projects.
The laboratory opened in June 2004. Its methodology, See-Plan-Act-Refine-Communicate, is a description of a design methodology that is rooted in the techniques of ethnography, prototyping, design thinking, and business integration. The laboratory was created through internal funds, philanthropic support, and a grant from the VHA Health Foundation SPARC currently employees a staff of 10, including designers, business professionals, and health workers.
The research group functions as a design consultancy and has worked on multiple projects over the course of over two years. They created the first patient-use service kiosk at Mayo Clinic Rochester; as well as creating a vision for the physical design of the ambulatory practice of the future. Often, their work formed the basis for major transformational work at Mayo. SPARC has collaborated with a number of other groups, notably the Knowledge and Encounter Research Unit