Co-design reflections from lockdown…

As our city (Melbourne, Australia) sits in our 5th lockdown (the 3rd of the short, sharp variety to help contract tracers nail the spread) in our weekly online chat @Max Hardy, @Susan Carter and I thought about what co-design for complex projects tells us about lockdowns… or is it the other way around…?

We didn’t have to push the reflection too far to find a few obvious things.


Some projects feel like they never end!

Like COVID lockdowns, some complex projects seem like they will never end. They have too many angry people, or not enough engaged stakeholders, or just too many complex decisions needed in a short period. While lockdowns thankfully don’t always have those, complex projects often can. Unfortunately, we probably can’t co-design our way out of lockdowns… but we can co-design a way forward with complex projects where the decision-making about technical, social, political, and other complexity is shared to find a solution.


Difficult projects test your core values

Lockdowns globally have resulted in people really dipping back into our core values. Some of the genuine human responses we have seen to build communities and safety have been uplifting. This is people being tested and falling back to our core values.

While we can never claim co-design to be so grand as the complete solution, it is true that difficult and complex projects in challenging stakeholder environments do require us to fall back to the shared core values of the people involved. Co-design is about building trust. And trust in us as decision-makers relies on others being clear that our decisions are based on a set of core values. In Authentic Co-design these are the five co-design principles.


Some projects need something to calm the chaos

Sometimes being in lockdown does feel chaotic. Sometimes it feels like the passive-aggressive kind of chaos sitting there taunting you and not letting you get anything done. Some other times it is chaos up in lights, writ large across a community that really challenges us and our resilience.


Again, complex projects are not that bad, but when you are in the middle of them and your boss, your Minister, your Board Chair calls you and asks you to explain to her why this is happening, it can feel like the project chaos is taunting you! She needs to know why the project is not meeting the KPIs and what that will mean. She is getting emails or DMs from disappointed stakeholders… and you feel like you are in chaos.


At that moment, don’t double down on doing what you have always done and attempt to ‘manage’ stakeholders. Do something different and co-design a pathway forward with the right people in the room discussing the right technical and other complexity. Co-design brings people along. Co-design is about delivering complex projects in a way that builds trust.


So… it is funny how a weekly online catchup in yet another lockdown gets you thinking. Maybe there is something we can learn from lockdowns about how and why co-design works for solving complex problems!


Find out more about the Authentic Co-design course here, including a link to get a FREE copy of the framework.


Maybe you can think of other reflections about co-design from COVID lockdowns… share them here. We’ve finished Netflix… so we’d love to hear them and chat with you about them…


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