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  • Anthony Boxshall

Co-design is an essential tool for COVID economic recovery


COVID-19 has closed economies...


Governments and businesses at all levels are looking at driving economic recovery. We are currently in what I would call “the stimulus package survival phase”. Soon we will transition to investment designed to drive our economies back up again.


While many major consultancies and businesses are focused on new ideas for recovery (and coping with survival – e.g., see the latest from PWC), there are more and more announcements from Governments about manufacturing and infrastructure being a major driver of Australian economic recovery. There has been a strong history of investing in infrastructure to recover from economic shocks with a real focus on “shovel-ready projects. A recent article by Prof IIon Noy from (Chair in the Economics of Disasters at Te Herenga Waka (Victoria University of Wellington)) gives a great short assessment of why this recovery should not be like a “normal” economic recovery. Basically, the economic damage from COVID-19 has not be to infrastructure (unlike a natural emergency), and “shovel-ready projects” will not be the answer for recovery. He focuses on other interventions based on studying recovery from past economic shocks and pandemics.

While think-tanks and others will argue for diverse and targeted investments to drive the economic recovery, there is strong evidence to suggest that infrastructure and investment in the built environment will be a big-ticket item for Governments of all levels. This is likely a great idea as part of a broad strategy. We trust what we know, and it certainly does employ people… and adds value to business and communities (especially if targeted to climate resilient infrastructure investment – e.g., nature-based solutions to coastal protection).


We need to change HOW we deliver complex projects

If we do use the age-old approaches to drive economic recovery, we need to change HOW we deliver new large complex projects (from infrastructure to urban and rural planning to industry transitions, and all in between). They are sub-optimal and often result in time and/or cost delays. A deep analysis published in late 2019 of the causes of delays and disputes in a database of 1000s of large projects globally showed that the major drivers were generally “changes in scope” or poor contracting arrangements. When you dig deeper into the reasons underlying these headline categories and add together those related to “late approvals”, regulatory or “cultural differences” it is clear that stakeholder’s views are an essential input to avoid or delays and disputes.


As project teams cannot anticipate all changes at the outset, it is essential to build in flexibility to respond to the shifting market conditions and requirements of the multiple stakeholders that infrastructure investments typically serve” (my bold). (CRUX Insight #2)


Traditional ways of responding to stakeholder requirements don’t always work

Trust is core. Currently, it exists now (mostly) due to good leadership in this country focused on the pandemic response and supporting communities and businesses. And people (aka stakeholders) have accepted a lot in COVID due to the existential threat – will they continue to do so as we rebuild and stimulate ourselves out of lockdown? Unlikely.

It is only natural that people (aka stakeholders) will want to influence and have some sense of control, or at least genuine input into projects designed for economic recovery. Even within COVID we are seeing patterns of people wanting to take some control and a change in the old ways – some of the best evidence comes from the increased percentages of people who want to work more from home. This is an Australian and global trend in the economic north.

But the question is often how do I bring multiple stakeholders into a project? Safely? And in a coordinated way?


Co-design is how to give multiple stakeholders input and influence. 

In the context of a government or corporation, co-design is simply defined as the act of creating a fit-for-purpose solution or product with ‘communities of interest’. For projects that are complex and potentially controversial (like those that evidence suggests will form part of the economic recovery) co-design offers a better way of working with communities to implement your project. It builds trust, lowers outrage, incorporates local know-how, enables stakeholders to have influence and leads to project savings as projects are more likely to be delivered on time and within budget (especially by avoiding ongoing protests, legal costs, and even political interventions). Frankly, it is also a more enjoyable, satisfying process for all concerned (even despite some of the inevitable challenges as people learn to work together.


Governments (of all levels) and corporations can use co-design to fuel a stakeholder-led economic recovery that brings people along with you.


How to “do” co-design…

There are many ways to incorporate co-design into your project. @Max Hardy, @Susan Carter and I have built one approach we call Authentic Co-design that incorporates a set of five principles and a how-to guide to help you deliver your complex project faster and better.

@Max Hardy and I have been posting recently about the guts of Authentic Co-design. Here are a few links about co-design with technical complexity; how to make co-design safe; the Authentic Co-design framework; and why co-design over other approaches.


Get skills in Authentic Co-design

If you want to skill up to deliver the large or complex project that we know will be coming as part of the economic recovery from COVID-19, get in touch or visit the course landing page for more information. And get tips and ideas by joining our community of interest


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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.