Doing co-design authentically is a big task
Co-design is an alluring word. It’s used on the left and right of politics. It’s a word that’s good on the eye; it makes a beautiful promise that’s hard to disagree with. But for such an agreeable word, it smashes together and obfuscates two very disruptive (yet powerful) concepts.
Doing the ‘co’ means to share power with groups typically marginalised. Doing the ‘design’ means to do practical and iterative innovation. Doing both, together, authentically is a big ask. Especially if you’re not used to either.
The word co-design should be used authentically. Perhaps not everything that has been promised to be co-designed can be. There may not be time, money or authority, and if that’s the case then it’s important to be transparent about that. Co-design done poorly is a very effective way to break trust with community members.
Professor Megan Davis, a constitutional lawyer and one of the architects of the participatory development of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, recently referred to co-design as “a bureaucratic buzzword void of any real meaning”.
But we believe that co-design can have meaning – and the Victorian Public Service should give it that meaning. It’s what people with lived experience have been asking for.
- If leaders want ‘co’ they will need to model that sharing of power with their teams and with leaders with lived experience.
- If leaders want innovation (and the commission demands it) they will need to allow time for creativity and by learning through doing.
- If leaders want communities to lead local change then community members need to be given time to opt-in, get their head around what’s being asked of them, and move at their own pace.