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Practical Co-design: the path to uptake of a COVID vaccine

Since launching the Authentic Co-design course with Max Hardy and Susan Carter, I’ve been asked about various practical applications of co-design. In particular, people are looking at current issues in their work and wondering if co-design could work to solve a gnarly problem or help deliver a difficult outcome.

One topical area that has come up over the last couple of weeks is how to build a sense of trust in the COVID vaccine (that we all hope is close!). This is a great case study for the need to build trust in a very broad community of people (the broadest possible) when there are real and genuine issues that some people have with a COVID vaccine.

Why the COVID Vaccine?

I’m not talking about convincing the anti-vaxxers (to be frank, they can sit with the climate change deniers, flat-earthers and Elvis watchers while the rest of the adults talk about evidence). I’m talking about the genuine and heart-felt concerns that many have about what a vaccine is, what side-effects it might have, how a vaccine might roll out, who gets vaccines first and why, questions of equity and even morality (as we saw this week in Australia and the UK).

Each of these concerns (and likely many more that I have not listed) are important questions and challenges that anyone rolling the vaccines will need to address.


Because the science shows that for any vaccine to work, there needs to be a high % uptake across the community.

How does Co-design help?

Trust is fundamental to building a high uptake across the community.

These challenges are fundamentally complex! They involve technical issues, ethical issues, moral issues, logistical issues and social issues, amongst other things. It is a complex project.

Co-design is about delivering complex projects in a way that builds trust.

If we revisit the five Principles of Authentic Co-design, each gives us an insight into the practical application of co-design to building widespread trust in a COVID vaccine.

Be Substantial – Involving community in the design of a roll-out strategy is a substantial action. It is an act of leadership and will undoubtedly build trust in the outcome.

Be Collaborative, inclusive, and safe – Involving the broadest possible community voices will build a diverse understanding and coalition for the roll-out strategy.

Foster mutual learning – this is so important when there is such embedded technical detail as there is in understanding how a vaccine works. On the flipside, medical authorities can learn a great deal from hearing the concerns and fears of recipients. Sometimes there are clear and simple responses to fears. Sometimes there is more work to do.

Be open and transparent – trust will come from the broadest coalition seeing the openness of a co-designed roll-out strategy.

Be jurisdictionally aware – As we have learnt so well from the pandemic response in my country (Australia, and I’m sure is visible in many others as well), there are different, important and intersecting layers and levels of Government (and Corporations) that need to act in a cooperative or coordinated way for the response to work. A vaccine roll-out will be no different. Jurisdictional awareness is crucial.

What about logistics of large-scale co-design?

Let’s not pretend that this would be simple on a national or even regional scale, but if we have learnt one thing from COVID, it is that things we thought were logistic or technical challenges frankly are not once we decide we need or want to do them.

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

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