Communicating the Co-design Approach from the Start

Activity for Partnership


Developing a shared understanding of the co-design approach with all participants at the beginning of the collaborative process.

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When collaborating with project partners, it is important that everyone has the same understanding of the co-design approach, as it may be new for some and may differ a lot or a little from what people are used to.

The core of co-design is identifying and levelling power dynamics as much as possible - this can be non-traditional, new, and potentially a bit uncomfortable for some organizations or individuals. Having a shared understanding of values behind co-design will help ensure that each organization is on board with this approach, as well as help guide decisions further down the line.

Features of the co-design approach that make it different from more traditional approaches include the following:

  • At every step, the co-design approach strives to make decision-making as collaborative as possible, rather than having decisions made by administrators, executives, or representatives.

    • For example: Who will be included in the co-design process, and what the focus of the co-design is (whether it be a digital tool, service, etc), how the outcomes are interpreted, and more - are decisions that should be made collaboratively as much as possible.
  • The designers and technologists do not play the role of experts about what the design needs to do, or look like, etc. They play the role of supporter to enable what the community has identified, articulated and requested.

    • For example: This can come in the form of facilitation support, activity-planning support, sharing previous experiences and insight to the technology, rather than making decisions about feature sets.
  • The co-design process can be a bit slower than traditional design methods that emphasize the traditional roles of research expert vs research subject. It is a carefully and collaboratively crafted process that aims to be reflective and critical of itself, striving to meet values such as leveraging community leadership, design by community, centring the perspectives of the most impacted, and ensuring mutual benefit.

  • The co-design process tends to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity, and surprises, and departs from the more linear nature of traditional design approaches. This flexibility is intentionally there to create space and welcome changes that different co-designers may bring, to ensure that the process in the end has incorporated and considered as many perspectives and experiences as possible.

    • For example: Changing co-design processes based on what’s needed, being open to results that one may not have anticipated

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This co-design kit articulates the values and approaches of co-design. It can be used as a starting point for conversations with your partners and collaborators.

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