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Getting the ball rolling on co-design

Getting started is often one of the hardest challenges for organisations willing to co-design solutions to complex problems with the community, especially where trust is low.

Let’s consider some of the assumptions behind the reluctance of the community to become involved. For highly controversial projects, such as Murray-Darling Basin Plan, active members, or the hyper-engaged, of the community may assume there is not much to gain by ‘playing nicely’ with authorities, or even community engagement practitioners. For less active members they may assume there is nothing much they can change; feeling defeated already. Getting the ball rolling with the community is an obvious challenge if you are hoping to ultimately co-design a new solution.

So how do you begin building support for such a process? Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way. Firstly, it’s important to recognise it won’t be easy, and you will need to be respectfully persistent.

Secondly, it’s really important to show more interest in listening, than in trying to land your key messages. People will usually choose to start working with you on the basis of whether they believe you ‘give a damn’ about their fears, concerns or aspirations. It is really hard to get anywhere if the community does not believe you do.

Thirdly, there needs to be enough ‘on the table’ to make involvement worthwhile. Being clear on the ‘givens’ or ‘non-negotiables’ is important, but if the things that really matter to people are way out of scope they may rightly believe they have little to gain by playing in the space you are providing.

Lastly, provide opportunities to modify your process and plans based on community feedback, suggestions and ideas. If communities can influence the process they may begin to believe they can shape an outcome, and move to the next stage in the process. What has worked for you in getting the ball rolling when trust in your organisation, or process, is extremely low?

This is just one of the challenges you may face when considering a co-design process for a complex challenge. I will talk about others in coming blogs. There are also internal challenges, which I believe are even more challenging. Read Anthony Boxshall’s recent blog in this regard.

To learn more about co-design follow this link! We, Susan Carter of the Community Studio, Anthony Boxshall, Science into Action and I) have recently developed a brand new course on Authentic Co-Design which may interest you!

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