Co-design gives voice to the right people at the right time

Aricle Image for Co-design gives voice to the right people at the right time

September 2018

By Katherine Rich

Policy-makers face many challenges, not least of which are making sure that interventions are used by intended beneficiaries and can be implemented within current systems.

The seminar, Co-Design for Policy Innovation, run by the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Science on 29 August, explored the promise that co-design holds for overcoming these challenges.

The session featured Rebekah Forman, Principal Policy Analyst at Auckland Council New Zealand, who talked about using design thinking to develop public policy and Alastair Child, Director of the Auckland Co-Design Lab, who provided learnings from his experiences using participatory, human-centred approaches to solve complex social and economic challenges.

Having the right people at the right time

Having the right people in the room from the start of the policy cycle was one of the key success factors that both presenters experienced in their work. This helps develop interventions that are:

  1. accessible and appropriate for the intended beneficiaries. Having people with lived experience in the room from the start ensures the solutions are going to be appropriate for and aligned with their needs, improves likely acceptance of the policy, and helps mitigate unintended consequences
  2. implementable, i.e. they are workable within the current systems at play. Having decision-makers, operations staff and service delivery staff in the room ensures that design solutions will work in the current environment and are deployable and accepted.

Alistair emphasised the importance of engaging intended beneficiaries or those with a lived experience in the co-design process – from defining and exploring the problem through to designing the solutions. He structured this approach in four stages: framing the problem, exploring the problem, identifying potential ideas and solutions and testing the solutions for implementation. 

An important learning for the Auckland Policy lab was use of the ‘design solution’. At first, they encountered a ‘system-immune’ response, where formulated interventions were not picked up by policy-makers due to a lack of buy-in or feasibility for implementation. By moving to a model of working with policy-makers upfront, solutions were framed better and provided a clear case for change.

This was also a key element of success for the project Rebekah detailed: a design-led project working with staff across several departments at Auckland Council to investigate links between driver licensing and employment, safety and the justice system. Rebakah made the point that:

People often think co-design isn’t for them – "it’s all pipe cleaners and post-it notes and I’m not creative". The challenge is convincing people that co-design is for them. That it's not about being a designer or policy expert, but about how we frame the problem and the solution, with use and implementation at front of mind throughout the process.

Using co-design in evaluation

At ARTD, we agree on the need to get the right mix of stakeholders with diverse perspectives in the room, so challenges can occur upfront and be worked through in the design phase. Increasingly, we work with stakeholders in the co-design process to develop a program logic that is underpinned by their lived experiences and further supported by literature about how and why interventions will or won’t work. We can then evaluate the potential design solutions against the program logic to strengthen the ideas and ensure the solutions address the problem identified.

Collaborating with stakeholders, we develop indicators for success and systems for monitoring progress and outcomes of the implemented solution. Developing the monitoring and evaluation framework with key stakeholders ensures monitoring and evaluation activities are embedded in the roll out of the intervention. Using an evaluative lens throughout the co-design process increases the probability of success, provides additional opportunities for learnings to be recognised and applied, and lays the groundwork for accountability.

Co-design looks messy and resource-intensive and people aren’t always sure what skills they require to participate. To get the right people in the room we need to be clear about what co-design is (and isn’t) and provide evidence of how experimentation and creativity can contribute to successful outcomes.


Photo Credit: Design Innovation Centre de Competence at Flickr.