Design collaborations: connecting policy and practice in response to complex social issues

Example of persona and actions we can take from the Community Led Primary Prevention 'Roles' Model

Example of a persona developed to support and communicate the different roles of Community-led Primary Prevention of Family Violence. The personas help connect a generic framework with specific localised actions.


Recently I shared a presentation on the evolution of co-design in Aotearoa at UXNZ 2016. One of the things covered in that presentation was the move towards temporary cross agency and cross organisational ‘co-design teams’.  Whilst not without its challenges, one of the advantages of such an approach is that people from different parts of the public service come together to work along side those from service providers as well as other community organisations and community members. Together they use a design process to collectively explore and unpack complex issues and test out or prototype different potential responses. They build new, collectively owned knowledge, ideas and shared experiences that go beyond the individual view points and concerns of any one single person or organisation. The analysis of an issue from multiple view points is important because it allows a more holistic and systemic analysis of the issues and the potential responses than is possible when the questions are asked from one place (or by one organisation or agency) alone.

Another important aspect of these design collaborations is that teams are made up of those with different kinds of capacities for change and influence. They bring together those that work on the ground with communities and community members themselves, with those responsible for developing policy and policy advice and those managing operations and implementation. This creates an opportunity to more directly connect and understand the implications (and potential local variations) of how policy is operationalised in different community contexts (some more thoughts on design helping to connect practice and policy here). This is a critical, yet often missing part of ensuring that the broader policy frameworks within which we work contribute to the kinds of outcomes they are intended to produce.  It also means there is greater opportunity for a systemic response as multiple change points and levers can be identified. In such projects the different team members and participants involved can identify how their organisations contribute to the current situation, their different capacities for creating change, the relationships between them, and who and what need to be activated to enable change to happen. The new relationships built through a collaborative and action orientated design approach will, ideally, also create the groundwork for stronger partnerships and the kinds of trust and collaborations that are needed for any systemic or significant change.

Two recent examples of projects employing a cross organisational team approach that I have been involved in include: The Working together to achieve whānau wellbeing in Waitetmatā initiative, a partnership between Ministry for Social Development, Auckland Council and Family Violence Networks in Waitākere, North Shore and Rodney, and, The Attitude Gap, an Auckland Co-design Lab challenge which explored challenges to youth employment in South Auckland#. The latter brought together team members from Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Work and Income New Zealand (Ministry of Social Development), Youth Connections (Auckland Council) and The Southern Initiative (Auckland Council). In both cases project teams worked with, and sought to involve other organisational and community stakeholders as part of the project.

Both these projects have recently published public reports describing the process and short term outcomes and outputs.

The Working together to achieve whānau wellbeing in Waitetmatā report, available from the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse includes a model for exploring our different roles in primary prevention as well as a set of tools to help initiate conversations and actions within organisations and communities.  The prototyping and testing of the tools will continue in 2017, along with the development of online tools to support tracking and evaluation of the approach. A key aspect of this project was to understand how a generic (draft) Primary Prevention framework developed by MSD and ACC could be operationalised at a local community level, and to test and improve the framework as a result.

The Attitude Gap Report is available from the Auckland Co-design Lab Website. Visual tools help to bring the experiences of young people and employers to life and help to articulate the complexity of preparing both employers and young people for youth employment. It helps to demonstrate the different roles of whānau, education providers, community members and employers in improving current outcomes. It also helps to show how current government services and policy are contributing to the current state and some potential directions for change.  The recent launch of the report saw different organisations and young people sharing how the stories and concepts shared through the work have influenced their perspective and/or ways of working on this issue.

Image from Auckland Co-design Lab "Attitude Challenge" report describing the kinds of things that influence young people when "Getting Prepared for Work"

Getting Prepared for Work: Illustration from Attitude Challenge report


Both projects (and the approach as a whole) deserve a fuller critique in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately their longer term impact. For now, it can be said that in both projects the design tools and processes provided a catalyst and container for bringing together different experiences and backgrounds, for deconstructing, reframing and communicating issues differently, and for taking a more systemic point of view. This is important in that it that allowed for new perspectives and more positive and constructive responses to what often feel like overly familiar or overwhelmingly problematic issues. A collaborative approach that takes a systems view helps to connect policy with local practice. When attributing specific potential for action across the system, it also engenders a more collective sense of accountability and responsibility around who and what can enable change.

#While there seems to be more overall commitment to this kind of approach across the public service the work of the experimental Auckland Co-design Lab has been key to promoting and creating the opportunities for a more design-led collaborative and connected cross agency approach.


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