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Authentic Co-design – a framework for solving complex issues with communities

About a year ago, I started working with @MaxHardy building an Authentic Co-design process to assist Government, corporations, or community organisations with delivering complex projects and build trust across multiple stakeholders. Most of us have faced the complex project over time – the one with the multiple stakeholders with skin in the game, with complex or uncertain science or technical elements, and with a need to deliver it and at least maintain trust. Often there is a community involved who are deeply engaged and probably feel like they are not being heard.

Out of a series of workshops with entities who had such projects, we built the Authentic Co-design approach. It has a Framework with 6 steps, five principles and a set of conditions for success. Unsurprisingly we built it by co-design with people who had these challenges, for use in co-design to solve the challenges!

It has matured to a point now where there is a 90 page “how to” manual, a simple ready to use one page Framework, and a full online course delivered in partnership with @SusanCarter from The Community Studio. The course is available here...

We are often asked why 6 steps?

Each step has a specific role and need. Each can be done in what depth is required and at sometimes two steps even roll into one for delivery. There are moments in the steps where you ask yourself, is co-design still the approach for me to use to delivery this project? If not, we point to alternatives.


Are you ready to commit to collaborate? This step is about getting prepared and understanding the level of readiness of all the potential participants. Some call it the ‘readiness runway’. It is essential that it happens BEFORE you start to co-design as you will need a “stickable mandate” for your co-design.


Step 2 – How do you build a shared understanding among a group with potentially little or no understanding in common, or with opposing positions? This step is about building a shared understanding about the problem, the co-design process, and the context for participants.


Step 3 – This step is about generating agreement that the problem to solve is one that enables all participants to share in the decision-making. This is important and at all times, refer to the Five Principle of Authentic Co-design that @MaxHardy discussed recently here.


Step 4 – This step is about how participants co-design what they have agreed to do. Sounds simple really! There are loads of tips and lessons to learn about how to actually co-design.


Step 5 – This step is about building something or actively delivering a decision that was co-designed. Of course, once you’ve planned something together, there is nothing more satisfying (and important!) than delivering it successfully.


Step 6 – Did we, collectively, achieve our goals? This is a process of genuine review by all who agreed to be involved. It is about adaptive learning, as well as holding each other to account that you did deliver on what was agreed. Super important to check in to see if we achieved what we aimed. If not, you might need to go back into Step 1, or perhaps to a later step depending on what the review found.

We also get asked why it is in a figure of 8 shape and not a line or circle, or other shape.

It is a great question and is driven mostly by three things. First, it is a continuous cycle for improvements and hence should lead back into itself at the points it needs to, so that you can adaptively learn and deliver complexity. Second, while it is linear in a sense, there are cross-over points where you do need to be aware of how all 6 steps interlink. We felt that a circle does not allow for that. Finally, there is the practical reality that a figure of 8 just fits more neatly into a portrait image than other shapes do! While practicality and real-world delivery drive us, honestly the last reason is less than 20%, and the other two make up the majority of the drivers.

So, there we have it - six simple steps that enable you to authentically deliver co-design for complex projects that are full of multiple stakeholders and close to the heart of an engaged community.

Check out Max Hardy’s blog about why it is called the Authentic Co-design Framework, and what inauthentic co-design might look like here.

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