Posts tagged ‘co-design’

5lessons

We’ve been busy at DMA with some amazing projects over the past couple of months. This period has seen us covering topics as wide ranging as domestic violence, homelessness, biosecurity and ICT as service.

The one thing the projects have had in common is the label and intent of ‘co-design’.

We usually don’t use the term ‘co-design’. We do service design, we collaborate, iterate, navigate, all the -ates! We help work out how things are, how things could and should change, and then we define and describe that change. But ‘co-design’ as a term is hot (or, at least, back). For the most part, when we’re approached for some co-design it’s totally appropriate, but we’ve definitely been learning some new lessons and firming up some truths.

 

Lesson 1: A workshop alone is not co-design

For us the process of design involves deep research (desk and in the field), observation, collaboration, analysis and synthesis. A technique within collaboration is developing and delivering a workshop, but the workshop itself, on its own, is not co-design.

We’ve been faced with requests for co-design processes where we, as the design leads, have had no opportunity to do background research, no influence over attendees, and been required to prepare ‘co-design templates’ for use but no further involvement – that is not ‘co-design’. It disrespects the discipline, but worse, it disrespects the people you want to co-design with; from recipient to deliverer.

In fact, when offered a project like this recently, we said no.

Luckily with our clients, and our appreciation of the constraints of community organisations and some Departments, when faced with only limited opportunity to do background research and a requirement of a workshop-only approach we’ve been able to set the activity to work optimally by:

  1. Talking directly with subject matter experts in order to design the workshop with respect to known and shared knowledge.
  2. Describe to the client the types of people who NEED to be invited to make a working session buzz.

The resulting and hard-earned “we trust you” in the development of material means we’ve pulled off some amazing (but tight) co-design processes. It can be done lean, but the workshop isn’t enough.

That brings us to our next lesson…

 

Lesson 2: Co-design must be a led process

We define co-design as:

The process of deliberately engaging users of the system, deliverers of services and other experts, being led by experts such as designers, to actively understand, explore and ultimately change a system together.

In practice what this means is that just because you have an activity to elicit collaborative development of services as a designer, you do more than facilitate. You lead. You challenge. You push. You set up design activities that take the pressure off participants to begin with a blank page, and instead start with a framework for people to collaboratively fill in as a prompt for conversation.

People are there because they know their stuff or have lived experience, that means designers must provide the freedom to explore with focus, within intent.

The wonderful result we’ve experienced is skeptics of the process turning around, quiet voices turning vocal, and insight and content developing that has moved change agents from discussion to action.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and sunshine…

 

Lesson 3: Sometimes empathy means you just have to shut up

We recently ran a series of workshops to explore the service needs and expectations of a number of different cultural groups and demographic cohorts in identified geographic areas of need. These have had to be repeatable and scalable and result in content that turned into practical information. Two workshops stand out where with all the background research, preparation of the event for participants, and all the ‘design professionalism’ in the world meant almost nothing when faced with very justifiably angry people – not with us personally, but with the agent we represented, and the system they are, by their reckoning, ‘forced’ to operate under.

As much as we wanted the participants to “just work with us to get what we needed for our design-led process”, we realised we had to just shut up. Just listen and make sure to listen to understand, not to get ready to respond.

What we were doing made sense, and worked for 90% of the audiences we’d engaged, but design is about people, and experiences, and empathy. And sometimes letting people just ‘be’ is important in terms of creating community (not just design outcomes).

Related to understanding before responding is…

 

Lesson 4: Analysing and creating are different processes

So don’t try and do them at the same time. This especially matters when you’re dealing with multiple projects, not to mention multiple topics.

Analysis gives you focus. You must develop understanding of what you have before moving too quickly to what it means. It helps the people you’re co-designing with. It helps to be more effective when multiple artefacts for multiple audiences are required. That means sometimes you have to demand this time and focus of the client, of participants in a workshop.

When you do this, then you can really create something together.

Which brings us to our final lesson…

 

Lesson 5: There is no co-design without people

No matter how ideal or not a co-design process is, they don’t happen at all without agencies willing to think differently, and uncover possibility. In all five projects, the agencies we worked with were willing to open up their traditional decision-making process to the sometimes difficult and confronting process of co-design (even when they asked for it).

And for every great agency you need willing participants. To get true lived experience of service systems and deep insights about service delivery, you need experienced and willing service deliverers and users. And this means taking them away from their day jobs. It was a shock for us to realise that many of the participants in our processes not only had to do the day job but were also called upon to go to so many co-design activities some barely have time to do their work; so you need to respect that.

 

Postscript: participants, service delivers and agency representatives have sought us out to express their appreciation of the co-design experience and it makes it all worthwhile:

  • “I truly believe that for the first time we have been able to talk about what’s important in a way that embraces the expertise and experiences of the sector. Thank you for designing a process that has enabled us to talk about the important things in a non-threatening way.”
  • “[the] design work is really connected to the experience of people and workers. It matters, and it makes a difference.”
  • “[the experience was] very genuine, and created a space for the sector to have conversation that it doesn’t always have – and it was good being pushed by knowledgeable outsiders.”
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JR

“We’re asked if we can read, write and count, but what about behave?”

“I’ve had to continually redefine myself.”

“I had to learn about how to plan my day – that meant making sure I had somewhere to go during the day. I had to learn to do that.”

 

Imagine sharing this kind of vulnerability to groups of community providers, government workers, government bureaucrats, designers, academics and civil society experts. Five former participants of the ACT justice system, willing to share their lived experience, did just that in the first of two all-day workshops exploring justice reinvestment and the potential opportunities for developing a 12-month trial based in the ACT.

When seeking the ‘user voice’ in design, engaging ‘the voice of experience’, understanding the ‘user journey’, hearing from those with ‘lived experience’ – the reality of is you are bringing someone into a process who may not have had a good or even voluntary experience of that system and you’re asking them to share this. Sometimes, you’re asking them to help shape a better system. Most often we do that one-on-one through observation or ethnographically-based interviews. But this work required rapid engagement, rapid shared understanding, rapid development and iteration.
Have we said ‘rapid’ enough?

It is possible to work quickly and to engage all the users and we wanted to use this post to share how a current project committed to ensuring that the lived experience voice was not compromised by time.

Rapid process impacts depth not breadth

The project concerned involves the exploration of potential Justice Reinvestment trials with the ACT Government’s Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS), ACTCOSS and the Justice Reform Group (JRG). The outcome of the work will be to identify potential candidates for the trial, with the development of concept briefs to be considered through formal governance frameworks.

The time frames and structure of the service sector mean we’ve had to move quickly and engage large numbers of people and groups from across the justice system (and other related systems like health, housing and community services). As JACS, ACTCOSS and the JRG drive this project they have still insisted on a co-design approach. They know they don’t have the answers on their own.

The challenge of working to an aggressive time frame is things have to happen fast. When moving rapidly there can be pressure to not engage with the actual users of the service, that is a particular pressure when the users are at the complex end of service delivery such as prisoners and past-detainees and their families.

But at the same time, and despite that pressure, if you don’t involve the lived experience of those people in the justice system then it simply isn’t a co-design process.

Critical to this involvement was ACTCOSS and their commitment to co-design and their relationships in the community. We wouldn’t have access to lived experience participants at all without their efforts.

Facilitating the sharing of actual experience

After kicking off the workshop with traditional scene-setting, housekeeping and approach for the day the very first session was hearing from people with experience.

Each lived experience person sat at a table that included a range of public servants, community sector people, corrections officers, social workers and others they came into contact with in their daily lives, and they were ‘interviewed’ by their support or case worker about their experience of the justice system. We prompted what the questions were but they told their story, in their words.

For them, this was not just ‘lived’ experience; they are living it everyday.

It was critical to bring this experience to the table so that participants knew that they weren’t having abstract conversations for the rest of the day – they were talking about outcomes for real people. And those people were going to be working with them for the rest of the day. That also meant that all participants were focused on driving to an outcome for people, grounded in the experience of people who would end up as potential users of the trial.

What it was like for the lived experience participants

Interestingly, we expected our participants to leave after their session – we were told that was possible and worked the design of the workshop around not expecting (or demanding) that they be there. But as it turned out, each of them got so much out of the workshop as they realised that their opinion and experience was valid, and welcomed and necessary, and every single one of them stayed for the whole workshop.

For some preparing for the workshop meant they were given an opportunity to think about their experience from a different perspective. One participant said she’d never thought about ‘support’ before and her thinking helped her realised how important her family and friend’s were, as well as the ‘formal’ programs.

Another said said that she had personally got a lot out of the interview session as she’d “never actually been asked to describe [her] experience before”.

No compromise on user experience, engagement, involvement

We don’t underestimate the courage needed by these participants to front up to the room in the first place, and while we were extremely pleased about the influence they had on proceedings from a co-design process level, we were even more pleased that they got something out of it personally too.

The workshop, the co-design, and the experience could not have been the same without these voices. Designing the process to ensure they were able to be there, able to share, be protected and valued as much as all of the other participants, meant we came a long way during the day, and the second workshop later in July focused on defining the trials will similarly benefit from the voices of lived experience.

 

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CommSector

“Co-design is the new buzzword – can you help our members work out what it means?”

And so began our happily evolving journey with a number of community sector organisations such as Youth Coalition of the ACT and ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS), to name just two.

By coincidence, while recently reviewing our website content for a refresh we realised that our desire to be practitioners first was increasingly backed-up by our active role in empowering clients, and potential clients, to understand their role in a co-design process through preserving their own expertise, and drawing on practitioners and the process to facilitate desired outcomes and real change.

 

Our position on “Co-Design”

Co-design is the process of deliberately engaging users of the system, deliverers of services and other experts, being led by experts such as designers, to actively understand, explore and ultimately change a system together.

Our motivation for engaging with groups like ACTCOSS and YouthCoACT and their member organisations is to provide an environment which prepares them with a view of what co-design means from a very practical point of view. In our case that means how co-design as an approach links with our more defined view of service design – but regardless of your design discipline, we are keen to make the point with the sector that design is, just that, a discipline.

Late last year when we saw that the respected ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) newsletter had decided to publish an edition with the title: “Co-Design: Improving Policy and Service Development and Implementation Seeing consumers as active participants and assets”. As we’d just been asked by the Youth Coalition of the ACT to present at their annual conference on a similar topic, and knew interest in the topic was at an all time high in the sector, we approached the Council to ask if we could submit an article.

The article was published in December and provides a short summary of the messages and content we delivered in full at the ACT Youth Affairs Conference.

Our preference for transferring knowledge has always been a “theory through practice” model. This has meant creating material for the sector that seeks to support their aims, and to engage in a meaningful way in an attempt to improve the capability of the sector. Consequently, our desire to educate the sector in a collaborative way has been proven to be a welcome approach. Our slideshow from the Youth Coalition Conference gained views on slideshare faster than any other presentation we’ve done. The article for ACTCOSS has received positive feedback from the sector. And the conversations we are having with a range of community peak bodies and service organisations now are based on a more mature understanding of what a co-design approach involves.

 

The challenge of the community sector

We find that too often the desire for co-designed solutions in the public and community sector leads to processes that are more about consultation than co-design, and rely on generic “design thinking” and business management tools than design discipline. As the funding bodies for community organisations start demanding “co-design” as an approach, we believe empowering organisations with a point of reference for what that actually means ensures they retain their expertise, whilst understanding and having respect for the discipline itself.

We have no doubt the drive for co-design will continue, particularly as funding bodies move more to outcome rather than output measures, and this excites us. We look forward to continuing our relationship with peak bodies like ACTCOSS and YouthCoACT to continue supporting their growing understanding of what co-design is and what it can bring.

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