The ‘co’ in co-design stands for collaborative. Co-design is a problem solving methodology that develops solutions through the collaboration of people experiencing problems with professionals of different disciplines. Typically co-design projects use a staged process that starts with the design team developing an understanding of people in context before creating and testing solutions with those people in context.
A significant number of businesses use co-design for innovation in product and services, and increasingly co-design is being used to tackle social problems by social innovation labs, governments and not-for-profits in the UK, Europe, US, Canada, Africa and Australia.
Co-design is founded on a belief that effective solutions won't come from professionals working alone, or even from professionals working across disciplines, but from people and professionals working together - each drawing on the other's expertise. To adopt a co-design approach is to have decision-making about services and solutions be driven by the end users of those solutions. Co-design enables a shift of power - however it is not a true bottom-up methodology, nor a top-down methodology, but both bottom-up and top-down.
Because co-design works with people in their own context, it is particularly suited to giving a voice to and engaging the expertise of 'vulnerable' people as part of the process of developing solutions that work for them. Co-design's focus on developing solutions through testing them in context means that the methodology is also well-suited to developing solutions to wicked and tough problems where solutions are unclear from the outset, and any solution is likely to have knock-on effects.
Co-design is a flexible methodology that can be tailored to suit the nature of the problem at hand. Here are some trigger points we've seen for organisations to adopt a co-design approach:
TACSI's vision is more Australians living thriving lives, and co-design is our methodology of choice for building solutions that contribute to that vision. We use co-design to work with families, Indigenous Australians and people in caring situations to develop new kinds of programs that provide alternatives to or complement existing social problem solving solutions.
Co-design at TACSI is a blend of the best parts of four disciplines - design, social science, business and community development. Design methods help us work out what’s attractive to people and provide the overarching framework for projects, social science helps us determine what creates change and how to measure that, business methods help us develop sustainable solutions, and community development methods help us engage people.
Co-design has evolved from other methodologies including participatory action research, participatory design, human-centred design, service design and transformation design. There are thousands of methods and frameworks, but underpinning all them is a common set of principles:
Everything around us is designed: our shoes, our homes, public transport, the hierarchy in our workplace. The question is how intentional is that design, and what is it designed to achieve? We believe anything can be co-designed - systems, services, and also the websites, brochures, roles, conversations and everything else that goes with them. Because we're about social outcomes, two types of things get most of the design attention: the elements of system that create change for people and the elements that allow the system to grow and spread.
Co-design projects are about co-developing solutions with the community they are for. Starting with a question avoids pre-supposing a solution before you fully understand the context. As you learn more from people, and from testing, your question will be refined. Radical solutions start with big questions, more incremental improvements with more tightly defined questions.
People are the experts in their own lives. Methods like contextual interviews and ethnography can provide surprising insights into problems that can serve as the launchpad for new solutions.
Learning from people in context gives us hunches of what will work. Testing out those hunches in context (also known as prototyping) helps us refine or reject those hunches. Prototyping is about failing early and on a small scale in order to advance ideas and avoid spreading solutions that don't work. Prototyping can also help refine what people are attracted to, what creates change, and what things cost.
In a co-design project we’re continually applying these principles, but the projects themselves are planned as a series of four stages.
Our projects always start with a question that sets out what we are trying to improve and for whom. Projects to develop radical new solutions start with broad questions. In projects to improve an existing solution, the question is more focused.
Spending time with people experiencing challenges, and with people who've gotten through them, helps us to determine good outcomes and also what enables them.
Working with people in context and drawing on international research enables us to develop ideas for solutions that are both attractive and have the potential to create change.
Trying out solutions on a small scale helps us to test what works, what doesn't and how to create change in context - before investing in implementing a solution.
Building co-design capacity and feedback loops into live solutions enables us to keep adapting and improving them, and helps to identify new questions that will initiate new co-design projects.
At TACSI we see ourselves as part of a growing co-design community that includes not-for-profits, governments and businesses all using co-design to develop solutions that have a social impact. We want to do our own little bit to grow that community, and due to popular demand in 2013 we’re launching a new stream of work to build other organisations’ co-design capability, through resources, workshops and mentoring, and a monthly series of co-design drinks. If you're interested contact Chris Vanstone on 0425 363 285.
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