Addressing neuro-inclusivity in the workplace: a case study - RSA

Addressing neuro-inclusivity in the workplace: a case study

Our health and social care systems have been working to meet people’s needs for over 70 years. Yet the approach to change is often incremental rather than radical or transformational. Given the pace of change and long-term trends and challenges on the horizon, this approach is no longer sufficient.

How can we liberate the collective potential of creative people more systematically, without waiting for disaster or acute service failure? Can we be pre-emptive by working across systems to support efforts at transformational change without waiting for a burning platform or disaster to incite change? How can we harness a new kind of public entrepreneurship able to respond fast, taking risks and experimenting to meet challenges head on?

Together with NHS Lothian, the RSA designed and ran a public entrepreneur programme to do just that.

Through a six-month journey, we supported 12 members of NHS Lothian’s staff to harness their innovative potential, challenge the status quo and find new ways of addressing challenges they face in their work.

In this case study, Alexandros Pagonidis shares his journey throughout the programme as he developed innovative ways of promoting an understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace. 

To learn more about the programme, please read ‘A rough guide to being a public entrepreneur in practice: learning from NHS Lothian’.


Picture of Alexandros Pagonidis
Alexandros Pagonidis
Senior Clinical Engineer, Edinburgh Cancer Centre

Alex is a senior clinical engineer at the electronics department of Edinburgh Cancer Centre.

He started his career in healthcare as a product specialist of cardiological implants and ultrasonic devices. Since then, Alex has worked across a variety of roles ranging from sales management, electronics and telecommunications technologist and service engineer for a number of leading medical companies. Alex came enthusiastically along with more than one idea.

The concept behind my idea came spontaneously to me when I found in my inbox an invitation to submit my big idea for change for the NHS Lothian Entrepreneurship Programme. It was quite personal and a great opportunity for me to make a change within the NHS. Staff on the spectrum of autism, ADHD, dyslexia or other neuro-types, although being great at the job tasks as advertised in job descriptions, in real work environments are daily stressed and anxious due to miscommunication and misunderstandings with their teammates, and often feel not accepted and misjudged due to lack of neurodiversity awareness. Such a lack of awareness can contribute to driving highly skilled and trained people away from the NHS. So, this is my idea; to spread awareness of neurodivergent traits and tackle misconceptions by applying easy communication strategies not only on a managerial level but for all staff.

Immediate impact

During the first few days at the cohort, I was surprised by how much my ideas were welcomed. I also found all the ideas for change in the cohort innovating and impacting with some having similar aspects to mine. I started working immediately by initially trying to educate myself about the subject and a few months later I found the courage to start talking to various groups within NHS Lothian, the University of Edinburgh and the government that were doing similar work or that could support me spread the word. Not all were positive, some took longer to respond, but in the end, we all had a common goal. Surprisingly I found myself becoming a communication bridge between the different organisations and groups by connecting the dots, disrupting the hierarchy and influencing with small yet impactful ideas.

After a few cohort meetings and discussions during which my ideas were challenged by my peers, the idea matured, improved and now has a better and more practical vision. So far, by the end of the programme I have been connecting Edinburgh’s “ADHD and ASD resource team”, the “work well together” group at NHS, the “Leadership group”, the “Spaces for Listening”, the Co-chair and lead for Autism at the DEN staff group and the Scottish government campaign “”. Important key points that had an impact are:

  • Discussing with the “ADHD and ASD resource team” to consider a pilot study to determine the Neurodiversity prevalence within NHS Lothian.
  • After my presentation to them on the importance of diagnosis for autistic and ADHD people as shown in recently published studies, the same team is now considering hiring more diagnosticians and prioritising offering alternative ways to support staff that self-identify as neurodivergent without an official diagnosis.
  • We explored options with Reasonable resources and the DEN on how to support neurodivergent staff.
  • I helped with advertising Autism Awareness Week with banners at the intranet site, newsletters to all NHS staff, and safety huddles.

Taking the entrepreneurial mindset forward

In the near future, I will be organising free webinars on neurodiversity, connecting with the psychologist of the “work well together” group and along with DEN I will be helping to create safe “spaces for listening” and an independent neuro-inclusivity group for neurodivergent and advocates; a safe space to support and promote neuro-cultural exchange. I would probably not have done any of the above if it wasn’t for this programme.

Thank you, friends, at the RSA and NHS Lothian Strategic Planning team for enabling me, and thank you my peers from the cohort for challenging my ideas and helping me improve them and put them to work.

Explore the rough guide to being a public entrepreneur project