Planning the Co-design Activities

Activity for Co-design Plan


Once your team has a sense of the goal and desired outcomes for your co-design engagement, you can begin to plan the activities.

Activities can vary depending on where in the design process you are. For example:

  • At the Discovery stage: Activities may be focused on gaining a deeper understanding of the issue or topic you’re working on.
  • At the Brainstorming stage: Activities may be focused on creative idea generation.
  • At the Refinement stage: Activities may be focused on getting feedback on a set of ideas, or picking which idea(s) you want to go forward with.

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To engage participants in more creative and inclusive ways to achieve the desired outcomes and goals of the co-design process.

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It is important to involve members of the community and co-design participants when planning the activities because they will be most knowledgeable about what activities will work best for them. They can provide context-specific details needed to get the most out of the activities (eg. realistic work scenarios for an elderly care attendant), as well as a cultural understanding that can greatly impact the process.

The following example emphasizes the importance of understanding a community’s culture and of taking the lead from community members:

  • Context: A workshop for participants who are hard of hearing or deaf.
  • What happened: Our team developed worksheets which included open-ended questions. The purpose was to guide the participants’ conversations.
  • The problem: Community facilitators told us that open-ended questions may not be accessible for the participants. Open-ended questions require extensive reading and writing skills in English, which most deaf participants did not have. Reading and writing were not their main modes of communication.
  • The solution: The facilitators suggested turning the questions into a list of items with checkboxes. This would lessen the amount of reading and writing required by the participants. Visual diagrams and mind maps were also introduced to allow participants to document their conversations in a less text-dependent way.

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By working together, designers and community members can more readily develop activities that take into account the lived experience of the community. The resulting activities will also be more likely to meet the needs of participants and the project goals.

There are several ways you can design the activities together:

  • Designers can begin by suggesting ideas for activities with community members, and the group can collaborate on developing the activities further.
  • Community members can plan the activities themselves, with guidance and feedback from designers.

Questions to help you design your activities:

Establishing shared goals

  • What are the challenges, issues, or topic areas you wish to co-design around?

    • Ideally these will emerge from the community and be selected together with community members
    • E.g. transit accessibility
  • How much do you already know about the challenge or topic area? From whom does this knowledge come from, and from what perspectives?

    • E.g. we understand the high-level issues about transit accessibility based on a few government-funded reports. They are from the perspective of government agencies.
  • What outstanding questions or gaps in knowledge are there? Whose perspectives are missing?

    • E.g. we’re missing the perspectives of people who live in areas that do not have convenient or good access to transit. What makes transit inaccessible to them?
  • Based on your outstanding questions or gaps, what is the goal of your co-design session? What outcomes do you want?

    • E.g. the goal is to understand what the barriers to accessible transit are for people in poorly-served areas. Desired outcomes are that we want to create a shared understanding of these barriers, expressed in ways that emerge organically from the session. (eg. journey map, system map, sketches, etc).

Planning the activities

  • What are the activities that may achieve the desired goal and outcome?

    • E.g. interviewing friends and family in the neighbourhood, or doing auto-ethnographic diary studies on how people get around in the area.
  • What activities will work best in this community’s context? Questions to consider:

    • Who are the participants? What daily activities are they the most interested and engaged in that you may be able to embed a co-design activity in?
    • Have they participated in design or creative activities like this in the past, or is this something new and unfamiliar?
    • What space or environment will you be co-designing in?
    • What are other things going on in the lives of your co-designers that might make attendance or participation challenging, and how can you take that into consideration?
    • What else is happening in the world that might be affecting your co-designers’ capacity to participate?
  • Can any activities or questions be done before the co-design activity to prime co-designers and get them thinking in this space ahead of time?

Facilitating the activities

Documenting the activities

How will you capture and communicate the ideas and outcomes?

  • Recording the session with audio or video, with participants’ permission
  • Taking photos of all the artifacts created
  • Keeping detailed notes, or notes of any decisions made

Pacing your activities

Factors that will impact what you can do in each session include:

  • How much time you have in total
  • How much time each activity will take

Please consult our scheduling guide for our recommended pacing of activities throughout the day.

Note of caution:

You may want to cover a lot of ground in one session but being rushed often hinders creativity and accessibility. When considering the length of an activity, consider making time for the following:

  • Introducing the activity with instructions
  • Having time for people to ask questions and clarify
  • Completing the activity
  • Learning and troubleshooting the software, if the session is done remotely
  • Sharing and discussing any ideas that are generated

Individual activities often take less time than group activities, especially if group activities require the members to reach an agreement or to collaborate and combine their ideas.

Document your plan

Recording your plan is key to sharing it with others in order to get their feedback. Thefacilitation guideallows facilitators to reference details about the activities, while facilitating.

The things you may want to document in your plan can include:

  • An agenda for the session
  • Steps to be taken for each activity
  • Suggested duration for each activity
  • Required material for each activity
  • Additional tips and suggestions on how to lead the session

Get feedback on your plan

Make sure everyone is in agreement with the plan before starting. Get feedback on your plan, especially from co-design participants or other community members.

Test your activities out

One of the most important parts of activity planning is testing it out!

  • If you are in a pinch, you can test out the activity on yourself to check that the questions make sense and flow well.
  • Ideally, you can test the activity out with people who are a part of the same group or community as your co-designers, or even your co-designers themselves.
  • Testing activities will provide invaluable information on format, accessibility, timing, appropriateness, and more.

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Co-design materials

Accessibility for co-designers

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Scheduling guidelines

Facilitation guide

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