Posts tagged ‘service 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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ServiceACT

We try our hardest to reflect on our work professionally, but it’s not often that we have to explain what we’ve done and how we’ve done it to a broader audience. Recently we chose to enter our ground-breaking strategic service design project with the ACT Government – in the Good Design Awards Australia. As part of that process we took time out to create a video about the project with our mates at Newcast Studios here in Canberra.

Service ACT transforms the strategic approach to the delivery of services for an entire government. With Chief Minister and Treasury, DMA re-framed what ‘one-Government’ means in the ACT by collaboratively developing a suite of strategic frameworks and conceptual models to support service delivery across the many arms of government.

The work focused on defining service and user types, visualising an entire Government service system from a user perspective and provided a principle framework for the design and delivery of current and future services, resulting in a shared language for decision-making on service design and delivery across Government and an agreed and shared philosophy on user experience.

We hope the video gives an insight into why we think this is such important work.

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digital

The digital steam train (or is that light rail) continues to career ahead. Every day Ministers, Department Heads, policy officers articulate the need for services to go digital.

A significant part of our work is looking at digital services strategically and developing digital services for clients. As we are currently in the headspace because of a digitisation project across the broadest of customer groups who regularly interact with non-government digital products and services, we wanted to capture the lessons we’ve learnt about what digital even means in a public sector service setting.

 

What is a service, What is a digital service?

A service is the seeking and receipt of a specific outcome of a customer/user across a range of interactions and touchpoints over time. The value of the service is as much about the quality of the experience for all the people involved (customer, service provider) as it is about the resolution.

To us, a digital service is simply where any aspect of that service, as defined above, utilises any aspect of ICT to enable and/or deliver the desired outcome to the customer. The value of the service is enhanced by the use of digital technology, not marked out by it.

 

What we think it means when government says it wants a digital service

While there are many areas of government that are digital converts for the right reasons, the drivers that send government to digital aren’t always about the service part of digital service.

The desire for digital services is generally wrapped in the customer-friendly language of ‘access and ease of use’, but invariably the motivation for ‘having a digital service’ seems to still be a range of factors that are very much from the government (at any level) point of view:

  • “We need to reduce costs and digital will be cheaper because the service is online and I’ll need less people.”
  • “The digital service will be entirely automated which will enable (or force) customers and clients to ‘self-manage’ which puts them in charge of their service experience.”
  • “We’re expected to reduce red tape and move things to digital to suit a whole-of-government directive.”

We think that when government uses the words ‘digital service’ it is often referring to transaction, not the broader definition of service. But part of the drive to digital from government must be that it is done for the right reason – a better service experience or outcome.

 

Four* lessons we’ve learned

A digital channel is critical. Crucial. Not optional for any organisation. But we’re service designers, not UXers, nor interaction designers or even technologists. What we see, and have been lucky enough to do when creating digital services from scratch are captured in these four un-ordered lessons:

  1. Digital service not only extends beyond the interaction or channel, it extends beyond what the public sector might even define as the service. This means that when a client asks for a transaction or data collection activity (i.e. form filing) to be digitsed where they actually need to start is by understanding the services system in order to change and improve what the service actually is from the customer perspective.
  2. Conversely, it’s not good enough for the public sector service deliverer to only think of digitising a transaction, they need to think about the designed service within which the transaction is available. This comes from our experience, and from the frustrations of clients who come to us having to build on platforms and decisions that don’t understand how they actually operate or their capabilities. It means the expectation that existing core digital platforms can even cope with the introduction of a range of digital services should be explored early – if the experience is to be a so-called seamless one.
  3. There is a an educated expectation on the part of customers that moving a service online means customers expect to see a corresponding, if not direct, drop in charges. This means service deliverers are dealing with government- and digital service-savvy customers who believe that digital is cheaper for the public sector to run and deliver.
  4. Probably don’t make it an app. This means make it device-agnostic, and consider the volume of transactions and regularity of the use of the service to determine whether the customer is willing to engage with it on the valuable digital real estate that carry around with them daily. Post-script to this lesson is make sure your organisation has a policy of responsive development for multi-device delivery.

 

Digital isn’t the end game, it’s just another in a long line of service game-changers – albeit a huge one. So making sure the service is designed – with customers, users and organisational sustainability in mind – should always be the starting point.

*as always, we have four lessons now, but we reserve the right to learn more!

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AboveBeyond

When we look at the work we do we always think of our clients as design partners. As partners we work with them to discover insights and opportunities to improve or create new services. In that partnership we bring technique and approaches that can often push them beyond their comfort zone and enable decisions that we (or rather the outcome of the work) might recommend or suggest. Much of the time we provide evidence for a design and spend time encouraging our clients to implement change.

That’s why we were so pleasantly surprised recently when the client pushed beyond the envelope of innovation and decision making we’d presented to them.

We are working on digitising a financial service for a local Statutory Authority. Our research has shown – on this and other similar projects – that users of government services are coming to expect ‘rewards’ for using a digital instead of face-to-face service. This makes sense in the context of online being seen as cheaper and placing more responsibility on the user to ‘get things right in their time’.

So with our current client we suggested thinking about how to make the digital service less onerous for people. In this case one of the large overheads for users is bearing the onus of proving their identity and their connection to an amount of money. Based on our work with them we suggested an amount that should apply to trigger a more streamlined burden of proof, and the service description of what should happen for people who fall into the category and asked the client to think about it.

They went back to their desks and, armed with the insights and the logic of ‘reward as reducing red tape’ that we had built for them, looked at their data.

Not only did they call us back to say that they agreed with the recommendation, they suggested – with a clear business rationale – a limit of more than twice the size of our suggestion. Effectively opening up the concept of ‘reward’ to even more of their clients.

When a client is not only a design partner, but is enabled to improve their own business decision-making and innovation parameters, we know that design as evidence for change has done its job.

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3Change

For us, service design is about design for change. Sometimes that change is improvement, but as we spend most of our time working in the public and community sectors, sometimes that means dealing with change around you and having to redesign yourself to be positioned to take advantage of that change.

After a hectic couple of months of working in a range of projects with a range of very different users and stakeholders we’ve had a chance to reflect on how real that first line actually is. We’ve also taken the time be remind ourselves how service design continues to really work.

1. Change must be designed into how a business operates

We’ve had a long-term design project with a large Federal Department running for some time that has focused on developing a Service Delivery Architecture deep in the enabling capabilities of the organisation. The intent of the work has been about how you make the service delivery of the 80% hum, in order you can free up focus on the much harder 20% of new and improved change. Moreover, being in a position to intentionally grow that 20% of time, investment and resource.

Two years of work culminated this past month in the delivery of the detailed design of Innovation and Connection phases of the Architecture. This group responds to business need, who are in turn responding to user need. What has been critical in this work has been:

  • Building into the design the informal, as well as the formal, networks and relationships. Because work doesn’t always begin with a well-written concept brief or requirements. “Kitchen conversations” happen – work with them, don’t try and stop them.
  • Constantly connecting the strategies of the organisation to the people who use their services – both internally and externally. We’ve worked hard to make sure, even though the Group may not come up with the user experience framework for all citizens, they absolutely have a clear line of sight to citizen outcomes.
  • Designing a business by connecting it to its users – and demonstrating how what this Group does helps, enables and champions what is important to those users – for strategic outcomes, and for business outcomes.
The proof that real change will happen: The Senior Executive responsible for the area, having seen the emerging Innovation and Connection Phases remarking “This means we have to fundamentally change our operating model, and I’m happy to be the first to make the changes.”

2. Change happens when you design an environment for people make the change themselves

A recent project kicked-off that leveraged the work we’d undertaken for the Digital Canberra Challenge; applying a service design approach to a local government digital product development. Our client has been trying to get a digital service off the ground for some time and in just six weeks we’ve been able to take to them from service value proposition, through design, to proof of concept stage.

But what’s been great to witness as we’ve worked with them is how they have changed their own mindsets, models, and in a few instances, the very legislation that hampers the great service they want to have. They have pointed out to us that it has been the design approach we have undertaken with them that has really fired up their thinking in terms of opportunities. We’ve done this with them:

  • By visualising how key staff currently operate using experience and service maps. For the team, it’s been the first time they’ve seen their own world represented.
  • Through conversations and on-site observation with their realities. We’ve helped them not only understand what the digital product they thought they wanted is but actually enabled them to understand what their ‘service’ actually is.
  • By designing the product as a service, defining the users and the service system as a whole. This has led to the Agency re-visiting its risk strategies and potentially making the impact of the digital service even more long-lasting and beneficial for users.
  • Through the development of an agreed set of design principles, that will guide not only this project but their ongoing business conversations.
The proof that real change will happen: A member of the team who plays the key role in the service delivery when asked to consider changing a task, saying “Oh, I don’t do it that way anymore after going through this process. I can see that I can do it differently.”

3. For real social change “Nothing about us without us” is key but that isn’t just about the participation of end users

We’ve been committed to not just working with, but applying our capabilities to support the community sector for some time. In August we were part of the sponsorship of the ACTCOSS-University of Canberra Conference “Designing Social Change: Beyond Talk, Taking Action”.

We documented the two-day conference (Conference Summary available from ACTCOSS) which meant we were busy, but also deeply engaged in discussions ranging from the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to the need to move beyond GDP as a measure of society. The Conference was a great reminder of the importance of keeping the academic, activist, policy and design conversation as one.

When Sue Salthouse, from Women With Disabilities ACT, used the quote ‘Nothing about us without us’ and talked about being in the room, being allowed and respected as experts on “us” this really resonated.

In our experience and from the case study discussion on the day, this means change is beyond the “us” as recipient. It’s about working with, engaging with, designing with users, representatives, peak bodies, experts, designers, stakeholders, resisters, activists, politicians, non-users. This means:

  • Leveraging informal networks that often fill the gaps of formal connections.
  • Challenging traditional consultation models that government easily operates within e.g. “we have an answer – what do you think?”
  • Being prepared to be in a room to just listen – even if the reason you’re in the room is because you are an expert.
  • Challenging power models of government and institutional representatives if those power bases are truly seeking change and innovation for social outcomes.
The proof that real change will happen: The constant and unforgettable call to arms of representatives of different groups about listening to them and including them in the growth of the sector. Including this powerful key note from ACOSS President Cassandra Goldie.

 

 

 

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CSIRODHSConf

In 2011 two major Australian public sector organisations, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and CSIRO joined forces to establish the Human Services Delivery Research Alliance. With a focus on service delivery innovation and engaging science and services, the Alliance has led to a number of important projects over the past two years.

To celebrate the Alliance’s work, the DHS-CSIRO Service Innovation Forum was held last week. As well as presentations from projects within the Alliance, the organisers looked outside of the research projects to explore service innovation in a broader context. As part of that exploration, we were asked to present on Service Innovation in the Public Sector from a design perspective.

The presentation / conversation gave us a chance to publicly launch our collaborative think piece with Snook with a highly engaged audience of public sector service deliverers and cutting edge scientists. As always we met a group that understood the complexity of public sector design – matching the language of user-focus and co-design with the operating realities of large organisations. Of the four principles we have developed with Snook most questions and comments were around the models that help design to be sustainable in organisations – no simple answers there of course.

Once our presentation was out of the way we were able to sit back and take in one of the best collections of topics and presentations we’ve been to for a long time. Interestingly a range of project-specific presenters responded directly to our principles so it was good to see resonance across the topic areas.

Some highlights of a fascinating day included:

  • Laura Moore (ATO) and Jordan Moore (DHS) talking about ‘onboarding’ the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to the DHS-managed my.gov.au. As we were involved in early service design improvements to key components of australia.gov.au as it transitioned to myGov this was a subject we were very interested in. Their reflections on trying to create a consistent user experience across arms of Government is very much supported as a client expectation by some of our recent projects in the online services and digital space.
  • Dr David Lovell from the CSIRO Transformational Biology group transfixed us all with his exploration of innovation and how that has translated to an organisational journey for CSIRO from Divisions to Flagships and beyond. David worked closely with DMA’s first ever client over a decade ago – the CSIRO CEO.

For us, the standout presentation in terms of its application to our service design approach was given my Dr Karen Stenner from the CSIRO Behavioural Economics team. Behavioural economics has popped up in many conversations around service design in the public sector recently. We were keen to understand the links between the two disciplines rather than why one is ‘better’ than the other.

Dr Stenner spoke about a number of projects her team had worked on with DHS, experimenting with language and other prompts to encourage the use of tools as specific as DHS phone apps. The results look pretty spectacular. With just a few prompts based on social norms and other triggers (all with a deep knowledge and research base behind them) clients were drawn to online relationships where appropriate.

The interesting thing from our perspective around behavioural economics will be how the public sector choose to take it up. The work of Dr Stenner is based on years of experience and a detailed discipline approach, when people hear that a poster can create change, will the public sector just make more posters or engage the behavioural economist to find out what they should use? We hope it’s the latter.

The links between the two disciplines jumped straight out at us. The act of service prototyping, and bringing together what the behavioural economist knows about basic and irrefutable traits of humans, combined with designing the service experience from both inside-out and outside-in would be an extremely powerful combination for learning about what really works. We’re looking forward to catching up with Karen in the future.

We felt honoured to bring a service design perspective to this science / policy service forum, the fact that we learnt so much be being participants was a bonus.

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DMASnookIt seems like just a last week, but was in fact about 18 months ago, when we found out that one of our favourite designers, Sarah Drummond from Snook was visiting Oz.

After a catch up in Melbourne where we talked all things service design, it became clear that though our approaches and backgrounds might be different, our experiences of designing for the public sector had a lot of common themes – despite practicing in different hemispheres.

We decided immediately to define what these themes were, and started working on a collaborative Think Piece,

Service Design Principles for Working with the Public Sector

Which we are proudly releasing here in Australia today!

The Think Piece explores design approaches, models for design project and capability delivery, case studies on design work, our thoughts about the future of public sector design, and importantly, our joint Four Principles For Embedding Design in the Public Sector.

For both Snook and DMA it became clear that context is everything in public sector design, so things like hierarchy, procurement and the complexity of the public sector organisation itself directly affect the way you can embed design in the sector.

Accordingly, the principles are pretty simple to describe, but a challenge to implement:

  1. Apply design consciously.
  2. Recognise that the public sector is in the service business.
  3. Ensure the public sector has the capacity for design.
  4. Don’t let solutions overtake politics and policy.

The Think Piece is both an attempt to draw a line in the sand on what we know now and a call to arms, from private sector designers to and with our public sector collaborators.

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DCC

Back in November we announced that we’d been chosen out of 11 ‘innovation’ teams to be a finalist in the Digital Canberra Challenge.

This week the competition ended with both finalists (ourselves and another local group of innovators DigiACTive) presenting their digital proof of concept to a judging panel and the winner being announced at an awards event / trade show.

We’ll get the bad news out of the way first. We didn’t win.

But that’s okay, because there is, as it turns out, lots of good news!

Bringing Service Design to new audiences

As we mentioned in our previous post on the Challenge we were really pleased to attack a digital product competition from a service design perspective. During the challenge we found that at all levels of interaction – with collaborators, clients, users, challenge judges and politicians – we were able to describe the benefits of a service design approach and the difference it can make to achieving both user and business outcomes.

Those who know us, know we are not evangelists for design. We rely on quality outcomes and the insights gathered and success for our clients. The opportunity to even use the language of service design with the Treasurer and Deputy Chief Minister, the nation’s largest ICT research group in NICTA and the Directorate we worked with on the challenge was a real buzz.

At the very least, we now know that our friends and collaborators in the Road User Services unit, when presented with complex business challenges, have the means to think about their business as a service and think about designing that service from the outside-in. That’s pleasing.

Building a killer product team and a killer product

The challenge gave us the space to set up a dream design team. Because of the digital focus, we looked to the local and global design community to pick out people that we thought would help us build a great product – it just so happened these were people we had wanted to work with for some time!

We contacted local designer-at-large David More to see if he’d be interested in brushing off his expert interaction design techniques; James Peek, who we’ve worked with in the past, stepped up as digital lead/developer and we reached across the Tasman to Empathy in Wellington to bring a broader ‘capital-city’ eye to the project.

The outcome was fantastic from a work and result point of view. Empathy gave us a perspective around the experience of booking a licence test that we hadn’t necessarily identified here in Canberra where the system is culturally and systemically quite different. David took the research findings and insights we had developed to design an interface and multiple product and service storyboards that really translated the IP into a functional and useable product. The design up-front meant James built in a relatively short space of time a functioning proof of concept that took all of our knowledge and delivered our multi-device platform, user-focused front-facing, back-end intergratable digital solution.

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 1.30.32 PMWe are really proud of the product and hope to commercialise it – not just with our ACT Government partners, but more broadly in the market.

More importantly though, we are really happy that we got to build and work with an expert collaborative design team.

Creating a new body of knowledge for local government

While the product was killer, one of our key aims within the necessary constraints of the competition was to ensure we left our government team members with much more than just a tech proof of concept. We treated the Challenge like any normal paid job, moving through our normal service design stages, we created a wealth of IP around the concept of online booking and payment. The insights guided the product development, but also were wrapped up in a full design specification that not only outlines the product but user typologies, design principles and other key service design outputs.

As we’d done similar research for AGIMO about online government services just a few years ago, we were really fascinated about the difference in user needs identified this time around. Some of the key insights were:

  • Email remains critical as a confirmation device and is expected as part of any digital service.
  • Eligibility and other complex concepts must be masked by the digital service.
  • Digital-first is a service, but it must remain part of a multi-channel approach for users.

Along with the insights, we were able to leave the RUS team with some guiding principles to take into their future projects as part of the full design spec:

  • The digital product and service is designed to enable users to successfully achieve THEIR outcome.
  • There must be reduced EFFORT to complete a task online.
  • The use of the digital channel should be REWARDED.
  • All common digital channels must be CONSISTENT across government.

If you’d like to see copy of the final Proof of Concept and Case Study just get in touch, we are happy to share what was a public project.

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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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NCWACollage

Today we were extremely happy to be part of a presentation to local ACT Minister for Housing Shane Rattenbury MLA by the National Council of Women ACT, of a report on NCWA Older Women and Homelessness Seminar held on 31 October 2014.

The Council approached us in October last year to ask us to help support a seminar they were running on the topic.

The seminar drew on the leading experts from both the research and practitioner fields, as well as community advocates and service providers, to discuss this often hidden and misunderstood issue.

The goal of the Council was to bring to the fore the causes, the present provision of services and solutions for the future for older women in the ACT. The information presented, which ranged from personal accounts of women becoming at risk of homelessness as they aged to more general reflections on homelessness as an issue, highlighted some key themes for policy makers and practitioners in the field as well.

Causes

The common situations which escalate to homelessness for older women include:

  • Relationship breakdown – domestic abuse, a women’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the family financial situation, often compounded by belittling and/or controlling partners.
  • Unsuitable housing situation – Partners refusing to move out. having nowhere to go, or lack of knowing of where to go, the challenge of proving that a women is separated but living under one roof with their ex, couch surfing – where the women has temporary accommodation, but can, in some cases lead to survival sex where the women may exchange sex for a (insecure) roof over her head, stuck in a waiting list, or in a refuge (if one can get in).
  • Health Situation – often escalated by the insecure housing situation, particularly impacting existing mental health issues.
  • Employment Situation – loss of employment, low income or part-time work.
  • Poverty – lacking the resources to own your own home or afford rental accommodation.
  • Women new to the country with little support, or English as a second language.

Present service provision

The services currently available to older women (both homeless and at risk) sit within an overall homelessness service network:

  • The values that underpin service delivery for the homeless and those at risk of being homeless are based on safety, social justice and the right to have somewhere safe to live.
  • Though there is a range of services available from a range of providers, the sector is good at working in a coordinated way.
  • The waiting list for public housing continues to grow.
  • There is still no overall view of the true cost of homelessness to our society.
  • Older women should have a right to feel safe in their movements and housing, and we need to bring up our young people to feel that too.
  • The definition of assets and income (including superannuation) can make access to services difficult for some older women. Even before emergency services are required, CALD women are subjected to discrimination in the private rental market.
  • The question of culturally appropriate housing must be taken into account when planning solutions.
  • Domestic violence was our lens into homelessness, but this preconception needs to broaden to issues such as housing affordability, changing housing requirements and a lack of women-focused service models reflecting inequities in employment and earning capacity.

Possible Solutions

The solutions put forward can be as simple as “building more houses” or as complicated as restructuring the investment portfolios of major industry superannuation funds, but all presenters were unanimous in the view that the response to the emerging potential “tsunami of older women and homelessness” must be addressed now:

  • Community housing is being pursued as a critical model in the Canberra market – the ACT is relatively poor in terms of availability of this solution.
  • The move into housing provider for traditional community organisations can be difficult as the range of factors involved in determining what “affordable housing” is are complex.
  • Accessing the private rental market is difficult in Canberra not only because of cost, but transport, home modifications and the willingness to see elderly women as legitimate tenants.
  • Co-gender accommodation can work well as a solution for elderly women, solutions do not need to be exclusively female.
  • “Marketing” elderly single people as tenants of choice is working with some real estate agents.
  • That the simple solution of building more houses, though complicated, would help.
  • That systemic inequity (lack of assets, financial insecurity, inequitable pay and super) will be the emerging triggers for homelessness in the future and must be addressed.
  • That there are new and evolving solutions and models appearing all of the time and though many of these take time to launch, they should be explored.
  • The phases of potentially homeless older women (emergency homeless, at risk due to being aged now, and the young with low financial literacy or independence) must be acknowledged in order to understand the sheer size of the potential problem.
  • That there are models that should be explored outside of the focus on emergency care – such as utilising superannuation savings to invest in affordable housing.

As service designers we recognise that the kind of situation emerging with older women is complex. Social, cultural and economic tradition and pressures mean accessing and delivering services for this group requires significant re-thinking of the homelessness model.

From our perspective (and the Council)  it was clear that further work must be undertaken in at least three areas:

  • Understanding the older women and homelessness user groups as they stand now.
  • Exploring more agile traditional housing solutions in innovative ways.
  • Addressing systemic people capability issues.

Those are the themes we presented to the Minister today and we are excited about the response and recognition that the profile of this important issue has been raised.

Working with the Council was a great experience, as was hearing from the experts in the field. We’ll be keeping our eye on the issue into the future.

The report (a record of proceedings on the day) will also be available in electronic form from the National Council of Women ACT.

Thanks

The day itself was a success due to the organisations represented and we thank the following groups and people for giving up their time and providing such excellent information on the issue:

  • Shane Rattenbury MLA, Minister for Housing
  • Helen Dalley-Fisher, Equality Rights Alliance
  • Marcia Williams, Women’s Centre for Health Matters
  • Carol Benda, Women’s Legal Centre
  • Sue Sheridan, First Point
  • Chris Redmond, Woden Community Service
  • Chin Wong, Canberra Multicultural Community Forum
  • Alice Tibbits, ACT Housing
  • Susan Helyar, ACTCOSS
  • Terri Stiller, Argyle Community Housing
  • Heather Douglas, Abbeyfield
  • Leigh Watson, Shelter ACT
  • Frances Crimmins, YWCA Canberra

And of course, thanks  the organising committee of the National Council of Women ACT.



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