Co-Design for Social Innovation: How to Drive the Best Results
10 November 2016 at 9:35 am
Co-design is starting to become less of a fringe concept and more a standard mode of operating for not-for-profit organisations and government, writes strategic adviser Felicity Green who offers her tips on how to drive the best results in part one of a two-part series.
Co-design is not a new concept for the social sector. In recent times, however, we have seen a marked increase in the application of this technique to design solutions to social challenges.
Co-designing empowers the user or beneficiary to drive a service forward and will ultimately develop a solution they actually need and want. Noticing this trend, it’s timely to share insights from recent co-design initiatives. These are tales from the front line, aimed to help leaders from the not-for-profit sector and government leverage the most value from these exercises.
What’s in a name?
Call it participatory design, co-design, co-creation or something else altogether, our view is that it’s not the labels that matter, rather it’s the intent. That intent being to empower users to influence all design decisions of a service / intervention alongside all stakeholders which that service has a tangible impact on.
For different takes on the methodology see these resources: Y&W participatory design, IDEO. The essence across these resources remains the same. That is, co-design moves beyond consultation, to a wrap-around process that results in a discrete output (the service design). It also moves beyond traditional “value-driven design” because, rather than just considering what stakeholders value, it engages them to make the insights evidence-driven. This creates an iterative creative process.
When ideas are formed, they are tested, improved, reformed, tested and improved again, for as long as feasible or what makes sense for your project.
With the focus on the intent there are a number of questions organisations should ask themselves to test if they are being true to that intent:
- Have you mapped out your stakeholders and planned how to engage them all at the same level?
- Do you have users involved at all stages of the design, from identifying the problem you are solving, to the service rollout and implementation?
- Do users have an equal or greater voice to government or funding bodies?
- Does your governance allow for flexibility in funding to be directed to where users want and need it?
- Do you have a neutral facilitator who drives the group to an outcome?
- Could your design process be defined as a partnership between all stakeholders?
Moving beyond this, a mix of methodologies are used with an aim to have users drive the shape of the service.
- Map out your stakeholders with a view of reaching all people the service could have a tangible impact on – not just the direct users.
- Plan to guide. Look at what approaches work best for your organisation or the service you are looking to design / redesign. There is no cookie-cutter approach to this. When you do plan these out, think about how you can ensure that all voices will have an equal voice – particularly when trying to break down the power imbalance that can exist between funders and service providers, between government and users. There is a suite of methodologies that can be used (eg empathy maps, user journeys, service maps). Each will have different advantages that you can use at different stages of the design process. But what is important is that you design the approach so that you are not being leading. Lead to an outcome, but don’t lead to what that outcome should or could look like. These methodologies are meant to guide, not prescribe.
- Run, run and run a little faster. At its bare essentials, co-design is not (usually) a stand-alone workshop, but a series of workshops that build on each other. Space is given for ideas to be incubated and continually iterated. Given this process can take stretch over months, it is important to work in shorter milestones to give focused direction that allows momentum to be built and followed through. The process is meant to be fun and energising.
- Talk. A lot. Communications and logistics for this process should not be underestimated. Getting everyone’s voices authentically heard is powerful, but not a simple task. Communicate early; distribute feedback and outcomes quickly so that they can then be built on in the next step in the design process. Think about this early, as this can be resource intensive depending on the scale of the intervention you are looking at.
- Own it. Not you, the users. So much of the power in co-design is the ownership that can be taken by users. We all know that old adage that the biggest hindrance to strategy is its execution. Where feasible think about how users can be empowered to take the service forward. That could be through a product champion, or resourcing the community to deliver the service themselves. This overcomes that hurdle of trying to create stakeholder buy-in as the users are already integrated into the delivery.
Co-design is starting to become less of a fringe concept and more a standard mode of operating for not-for-profit organisations and government. But to ensure it is done with all the benefits that it comes with, organisations need to be careful not to fall into a few common traps that will be explored in the next article of this co-design series. Why co-design? Together we do better. It’s an old adage but a good one.
About the author: Felicity Green is associate director and co-founder of social business advisory firm, Spark Strategy. A champion of the B Corp movement, Green works across the not-for-profit and private sectors and with government and philanthropy to create profit-for-purpose business models and partnerships to solve social problems.