Research was conducted with the service providers to understand how to design the most meaningful learning program. We did observational research by visiting service providers as they worked with clients. A longitudinal research study using an online tool was also completed. Engagement with each participant occurred nationally to gain insight into who they were, what they believed and their feelings about their projects to understand the unique challenges faced in the Non-Government Organisation disability sector. Data was gathered, analysed and synthesised to build the co-design program. This increased the knowledge, mindsets and skill sets of the service providers.
The second stage of the project was to take what we had learnt from our research and design and run our 'Co-design for Community Inclusion' program. This took the form of a two day workshop. Providers were introduced to the origins and principles of practising co-design. It included activities and tools that work together to demonstrate a co-design approach, all built around a relevant industry challenge. The workshop finished with a focus on co-design mindsets and action planning for starting to integrate co-design into their ways of working. Service providers found the two days challenging —we covered an immense amount of ground, however they remained engaged and excited and demonstrated great enthusiasm.
We ran two follow up videoconferences with the service providers across Australia. We discussed the current challenges they were facing and the questions they had about embracing a co-design approach and mindset in their practice. In these sessions we heard how service providers were trying co-design tools and techniques in their organisations. Some ran workshops with colleagues to ideate solutions to recurring problems, others tried new, more collaborative approaches to planning sessions and some worked with service user circles of support in new ways. We also talked about what tools and methods they had tried and shared reflections about how that went.
Despite differing contexts, service providers face similar challenges in integrating co-design into their ways of working. Huddle set up an online portal via Basecamp to create a community of practice and enable sustained collaboration. Part of the success of this mode of interaction is its flexibility; Basecamp can fit into their working lives non-intrusively and overcomes barriers of time and place. It's not mandatory or incorporated in a system and stands out from their normal processes. This was highly successful amongst our group of service providers who are continuing to use Basecamp regularly as an authorising environment.
Participants felt empowered to make a difference. The tools developed enabled the service providers to uncover the real problems, and make tangible changes to peoples lives. In one example, a service provider's client had never been employed. He was obsessed with working at a particular fast-food chain. Unfortunately, the fast-food chain was not able to provide a job. The situation was deadlocked for months. After the program, the service provider approached the client to gain insight into what aspects of the job appealed to him. She learned he liked the idea of belonging to a team and wearing a uniform. Armed with this information, they found another job and the client is delighted to be working.
The impact on the people who attended the program was immediately noted. The diversity of service provider background, knowledge and skills in co-design, provided great ground for the group to learn with and from each other. The the social impact of the work is now emerging as service providers are practising what they learned.“Now I see everything is a solvable problem.”This project provided actionable tools and support to frontline staff supporting people with disabilities and their families. Participants are teaching families how to use simplified versions of the co-design tools to solve issues and problems they are having or may have within their network.
Taking this approach is new in the disability sector. The project uncovered insights applicable to the whole sector, and have contributed to the conversation with Australian Government. These include: The challenge to define and communicate co-design and difficulty applying practises within the current context and constraints; Desire for learning, which is largely underfunded; There is a need for connection between services providers, to create community and offer support, encouragement and opportunity to share learnings; Co-design takes time and focus: embodying a new way of being takes courage, time, confidence and freedom from some of the day to day operational constraints found in this sector.