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  • Anthony Boxshall

Authentic Co-design – common internal challenges and how to manage them…

As @Max Hardy and I developed the Authentic Co-design process to assist Government, corporations, or community organisations with delivering complex projects and build trust across multiple stakeholders, we found a number of common challenges to why this will not work for you.

We all know the feeling of trying something new and suddenly hearing the chorus of people telling you why you should not go on. This is a natural reaction to new ideas. And it is especially important and relevant for the kinds of complex projects that lend themselves to co-design. Co-designing complex projects provides a rich tapestry for those who express their (mostly) genuine concern about what could go wrong – there are the multiple stakeholders with skin in the game, the complex or uncertain science or technical elements, and the fact that your project needs to be delivered while at least maintaining, or better building, trust. That trust is likely to be with a community who are deeply engaged and probably feel like they are not being heard.

The common challenges we identified with the help of senior leaders trying to deliver complex projects fall into two broad categories: those internal to your organisation; and those external to your organisation.

We find that more often than not, those people who express the common challenges have not had a chance to think about the alternatives, or look at the opportunity from delivering such a complex project well. This works for both internal and external common challenges. This reality enables you to lead with good reasons, and be prepared with information about the challenges when they arise.

This article covers three of the common internal challenges we identified, and highlights some of the strategies to overcome them that you will find in the Authentic Co-design online course we developed with @SusanCarter from The Community Studio. Follow this link to find out more about the course.

What are some of the common internal challenges? What follow are three of the common challenges that often arise in your organisation as you embark on delivering a complex project using co-design. While some of the these may come from external sources as well, here I focus on some ways to overcome them when they are internal. @Max Hardy has a twin article discussing common external challenges here.


1.      Pressure to walk away from the process as soon as something goes wrong. The pressure may come due to negative comments about the process from the community, or a media story, or it may come from your internal governance processes, or perhaps even from a colleague who is now aware of the project plan.  When you are adapting to the challenge, some key messages can include: • Expect some challenges • Co-design does not guarantee that there will not be challenges. Let’s rise to them. • Sticking to the principles will help to build trust • Reverting to business-as-usual will probably not help • There is little to lose by trying this different approach. 2.      Fatigue from working so hard for many years with mixed results. The mixed results are often in connecting to the community and/or building trust. People ask… “why will this process be better?” When you are adapting to the challenge, some key messages can include: You will not know until you try… The main difference is that you will be inviting the community to work with you, rather than just trying to reassure them you have all the answers or plans Here is some literature on how and why co-design works. 3.      Fear that that community will not be able to comprehend technical complexities. This is a very common one, especially when there is a lot of scientific, engineering, or technical complexity in the project. When you are adapting to the challenge, some key messages can include: Citizens are more able to comprehend when given the opportunity It helps to understand what the community know, and what they are paying attention to Curiosity is important. It becomes contagious. The stronger the relationship, the more your evidence will be considered First things first – people need to trust you before they can begin to trust the technical complexity.

When confronted with any of these three common internal challenges you can apply the following of the five principles of Authentic Co-design: Be collaborative, inclusive and safe, and Foster mutual learning. If you’d like to receive a FREE copy of the Authentic Co-design Framework, and receive our Q&A videos, please join the community of practice.

#codesign #complexity #scienceimpact #collaboration #gettingthingsdone #projects #solutions

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The creators of Authentic Co-design reside on the Country of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge the custodianship of all Traditional Owners across Australia, and the historic dislocation and dispossession of their lands. We celebrate the extraordinary resilience of their culture - the oldest living culture on the globe. We pay respects to elders past, present and emerging. We look forward to our shared future together.