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Co-design in the public sector: 10 top tips

A few weeks ago my colleague Emma questioned whether co-production had become a tick box exercise in many cases, and stated that for IMPOWER co-designing is part of our DNA. We take a co-design approach to all of our work, whether this is within children’s services as referenced in Emma’s blog, or any other public sector policy area.

Co-design is not a new term; increasing numbers of public services are embracing it as an approach to designing services, recognising that the understanding of a problem and the solution can be improved if staff, providers and customer all look at it together.

Having worked on hundreds of projects across the public sector, we have compiled a list of ‘10 tips to co-design’ that have helped us to change behaviours, re-design systems and improve outcomes.

The three in particular that have helped me adopt a co-design approach are:

  1. Do not assume the problem you are solving. Do not assume the solution to that problem – too many times people assess the issues and jump to a solution based on their own experience rather than spending the time exploring the service from a range of perspectives
  2. Co-design as peers – treating staff, managers, customers, providers and partners as peers enables everyone to participate on an equal footing
  3. Co-design requires simplicity – the process should be simple to enable everyone to engage easily. In co-design the focus is on visual materials, story-telling and prototyping, rather than formal interviews or responses to large reports.

At IMPOWER we recognise the importance of co-design as an opportunity to change the relationship between the citizen and the state. For public services to be sustainable and deliver better outcomes, we need to start changing the nature of these relationships and co-design empowers people to start doing this. Co-design is not easy, however done well there are big wins to be had.

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