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Internal Mandate Matters – it needs to stick for co-design to happen

Before you even get to talking with communities or other participants about co-design, what happens inside your organisation is crucial.

Which is part of the reason why at Authentic Co-design we bang on about Step 1 – Readiness to collaborate – so much! (For more about all 6 steps check out this blog from early 2021).

One super important element in this early step about organisational readiness is the need to build a stickable mandate. This is basically a mandate that sticks – one that enables the commitment to co-design to live beyond the current leadership of your organisation. This is important because co-designing with communities often focuses on activities with longer timelines, or substantial projects with the need for re-connecting with communities over time. There are many other practical reasons why a stickable mandate is essential (which we explored in this blog).

Two cases studies about mandates – Internal team mandates, and Inter-organisational mandates

Max, Susan and I have been involved in two interesting projects recently that both required stickable mandates but for different reasons, and in different ways.

In discussing these two cases studies we are protecting the organisations, communities and individuals involved by respecting confidentiality.

One is occurring in a North American country involving very vulnerable communities, complex technical information and their ongoing health. While it involves different layers of government (Federal, State and Tribal) the stickable mandate we highlight here was one shared by two different teams within the lead organisation. Both teams had strong roles to play with the community and shared and potentially overlapping delivery responsibilities. This could have led to internal confusion, lack of alignment and even miscalculations in delivery into a vulnerable community, which would compound a strong historical distrust from these communities with the work of previous organisations. With a strong sense of organisational purpose (and values alignment), the lead team undertook to create an organisational co-design framework (by co-design!) with the other team to establish an agreed approach for working with the vulnerable communities. The idea is that this becomes a whole-of-organisational approach (and mantra) with strong executive mandate, making it a very stickable mandate.

The second involves a number of different local government organisations (big but less than 10) who have the same role in working to prepare their communities to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The mandate in this case needs to stick inside their many different organisations, be fit for local conditions and leadership, AND be consistently agreed to by all the organisations within the project. The work on a strong internal mandate (to the project) focused on agreed principles and criteria for decision-making, and a shared forum for airing views about the decisions. The mandate in this case needs to thrive across different organisational cultures, and within each organisation itself. In some cases, the local government organisations do not yet have internal mandate for the project co-design outcomes, despite having a mandate for the project. For those organisations, there is strength in showing that their colleagues in like organisations have a mandate. Perhaps this is an organisational mandate version of FOMO (fear-of-missing-out)? While FOMO is not going to build a stickable mandate inside their organisation, it will promote the need for a stickable mandate onto the agenda of their organisational leaders. This bottom-up identification of the need for a stickable mandate can be powerful, and useful to gaining a mandate for co-design.

Lessons from these case studies

While we have given you frustratingly little information about these organisations (to protect them and the communities they support), the lessons learned are universal to generating an internal mandate for co-design. We share three lessons that come to mind for us from these projects:

1. Mandates come from your co-workers too. Sometimes your colleagues need to give you a mandate to co-design before you can even think about asking the community to go on that journey with you.

2. Mandates in organisational strategies need to live on ground to stick. While it is helpful to have a hook in your organisation’s current strategies, annual plans or priorities for co-design, it will only be the mandates that have a real felt experience on the ground that will continue to stick. Plans come and go even faster than leaders, so extending a written mandate into a lived and felt mandate is essential. To use a boring term (that may not be a real word), you need to operationalise your mandate for it to stick.

3. Mandates can be driven bottom-up and adopted by leadership (e.g., Ministers, Mayors, Board Chairs, CEO, Directors, Exec etc) if they align to organisational values, priorities and current needs. It is also crucial that leaders understand the need for the stickable mandate to co-design. Take them through the need using your experience and knowledge from the front-line.

For more on stickable mandates, Step 1 of Authentic Co-design click here… and to do one of our self-paced courses click here.

Do you have stories or lessons from building stickable mandates for co-design in your organisation? Please share your lessons learned here! We’d love to hear them.

(Photo credit: pexels-blue-bird-7218104)

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