Combining Mass Civic Participation and Futures Thinking to Facilitate Meaningful Co-Design of a New 10-Year National Strategy for Volunteering

  • 2023

  • Social Impact

Designed By:

  • ThinkPlace Australia Pty Ltd

Commissioned By:

Volunteering Australia

1 Farrell Pl

Ngunnawal Country

Canberra ACT 2601

Designed In:


When crafting new national strategies, you might think of ‘reference groups’ and ‘consultation’. But what if we can do it in a radically different way-one that is informed by design, inherently participatory, and empowers people who those strategies affect? That is how the National Strategy for Volunteering came to life.

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Image: Volunteering Australia
Image: Volunteering Australia
Image: Sarah Wilson, Volunteering Australia
Image: Sarah Wilson, Volunteering Australia
Image: Sarah Wilson, Volunteering Australia
Image: Sarah Wilson, Volunteering Australia
Image: Sarah Wilson, Volunteering Australia
Image: Sarah Wilson, Volunteering Australia
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  • Volunteering Australia received funding from the Government to lead a new National Strategy for Volunteering. The previous NSV was developed through limited consultation and was never implemented. Since then, the volunteering ecosystem faced a hollowing policy vacuum. Faced with these challenges, VA approached ThinkPlace with the challenge: how can we undertake a co-design process to build the new NSV–one which allows anyone engaged with volunteering to have a meaningful say? ThinkPlace responded with an innovative, participatory futures approach–inviting community partnership to build a bold vision for volunteering's future, and balancing different perspectives to create a tangible plan for the future.

  • The design journey took 12 months. We started with 'Discovery', involving mixed methods research to build an evidence-base. We heard about the current state and emerging change drivers. We commissioned academic research. 'Visioning' was at the heart of the process. Through community workshops across Australia, we invited volunteers and local organisations to shape the vision for volunteering's future. Their ideas were synthesised into a 10-year vision. In 'Build' we convened a Core Design Team. Framed by the vision and other insights from Visioning workshops, the CDT built actionable detail through co-design. Finally, we presented drafts openly and made iterative refinements.

  • As a 10-year strategy in early implementation, full impact will be observed in time. So far, the most critical impact is how it brought together stakeholders across an expansive ecosystem around a unifying 10-year agenda. The connections forged have never before been observed in a group of this size. The design means implementation is taking place across levels. Organisations can use the NSV to evaluate and improve their own programs and activities. This has been a recurring piece of acclaim. As one of the first examples of national strategies being designed this way, we attracted great interest domestically and internationally.

  • Key features of the project design included: - Four Voices of Design. Throughout the project, we balanced four voices: the voice of intent, the voice of experience, the voice of expertise, and the voice of design. It was important for us that all four voices were equitably represented and heard, and that we worked to achieve the 'best common denominator' outcomes which would work for all of these voices. - Devolving Power. Traditional approaches to strategy development concentrates power and influence on the voices of intent and expertise. We were successful in disrupting this equation by ensuring those with lived experience built the framing vision for the NSV. - Participatory Futures. The method for this project brought together human-centred design, complexity, and futures and foresight. We invested time and effort to create activities that transported participants to the future. This enabled us to meaningfully shape a strategy that is fit-for-purpose for the long-term. - Evidence-Based Approach. The entire NSV is underpinned by robust, validated research evidence. This provides transparency and legitimacy. A more detailed case study slide-deck has been provided that outlines key information and statistics that informed the design of the NSV.