On co-design and creating better public services

Published:  November 27, 2015

Public sector service providers and designers have the chance to come together to explore the implementation process of co-design this December at the Co Design: Close The Gap To Your Clients event presented by ideasondesign.

With an aim to assist service providers and designers looking for innovative ways to improve the efficiency and user outcomes of public sector services for social innovation, the event will be held on 1 December at RMIT University city campus.


The event will feature Ingrid van der Wacht of PROUD, a group of organisations from across Europe exploring co-design as a strategy to get citizens and stakeholders involved in the formulation and solutions to problems.

Van der Wacht will share tangible examples from the PROUD project in Europe and insights to the opportunities that can arise from cross pollination between designers and health and well being planners.

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desktop caught up with van der Wacht ahead of the event to learn more about the PROUD project and how the public sector can benefit from co-design.

Give our readers a quick background of the PROUD project in Europe.

PROUD is an acronym for People, Researchers and Organisations Using Design (PROUD) for innovation and co-creation. So first and foremost PROUD is about people.

PROUD Europe has been developed and implemented from 2010 by a group of partners representing different design and innovation institutions in North Western Europe. The overall aim of PROUD was to employ design as a driver for innovation, economic transformation and sustainable development. PROUD partners created cross-sectorial partnerships between public authorities, industries, businesses and designers to work together with user communities. The focus was to involve representatives from a variety of organisations and engage them in the development of new and relevant services, products and spaces through a co-design process.

The mission for partners in the project was to get design thinking and co-design embedded into the activities, planning and strategic direction of public authorities and SME’s as a way to build North Eastern Europes’s capacity for solving today’s real world problems in meaningful and sustainable ways.

Lancaster-2Let us get the definition right. What is co-design and why the need for it?

Co-design as a term is at least 40 years old. What the terms stands for and its popularity has changed remarkably over the last 10 years.

During the course of PROUD the partners worked with the following definition of co-design distilled from a Report of the European Design Leadership Board:

“Co-design is a community centred methodology that designers use to enable people, who will be served by a designed outcome, to participate in designing solutions to their problems”.

So why co-design? These are interesting times in which we are confronted with complex challenges that ask for a multi-disciplinary approach – thus co-design. Collaboration, empathy and achieving creative knowledge exchange are key in co-design processes.

What are the challenges when in come to co-design and how can those challenges be overcome?

Co-design implies an open mindset and the process you follow should at least be supported by the management of the co-designing organisations. Before starting up a co-design process it should be assured that the results will have genuine consideration within the development of future products, services or spaces. In addition, it is important that the process is not carried out with a predetermined outcome. It is always very challenging to get the right people involved in the co-design process. What is important is to define who should be involved and find the right ways to engage them.

Give us some examples of successful co-design projects you have encountered. What were their success formulas?

There are numerous projects to be mentioned here. But the success of PROUD Europe has been greatly determined by the Beyond the Castle project run by partner Imagination Lancaster (UK). Their co-design process delivered more than 1,000 ideas that have been categorised and are further elaborated, not just by civil servants but also by a core group of volunteers. Beyond The Castle delivered a sustainable and truly engaging co-design process touching upon 2,000 residents and had 700 residents actively involved.

In Eindhoven, several co-design projects were developed over the year. The city created new plans for schools with A Perfect School Day. The Dutch Cooperation Brainport (Dutch Design Foundation) delivered a project for school kids, co-designing a healthy lifestyle –Design for the Fittest. In Belgium, DesignRegio Kortrijk elaborated different interventions by a multinational team of co-design professionals to make the Buda Island a pleasant place to be for residents or visitors.

There is not just one underlying success formula; co-design processes are living processes that take place in different contexts with different people. Therefore PROUD developed the fundamentals of co-design for designers and co-design clients like non-government organisations, governments and non-profit organisations. These fundamentals can serve as a kind of touchstone to check whether the basics for a good co-design process are there.

Lancaster-1In your opinion, how can the public sector be made better by design?

Today’s public sector (in Europe) has to deal with complex problems as well as budget cuts and more critical citizens. Citizen participation is key but not easy to achieve when government organisations remain closed and siloed. Openness and transparency are fundamental to engagement and when better services are crucial. By adopting a design thinking ‘mindset’ first steps can be made to change of the public service system. Integrated design specialists can play a key role here. Co-designing on certain challenges can improve communication and thus create trust and a better relationship with citizens.

Clue us in on what to expect on 1 December at the Co-Design: Close The Gap To Your Clients.

Let’s get to know each other better on 1 December. Whether you are designer, a civil servant, knowledge worker or whatever role you play or take. Let’s discover how co-design can help you to build a bridge between you and your clients, how creative ways of sharing ideas and building concepts can lead to valuable innovation and contribute to change for the better.

During my IPAA talk at Canberra Design many public servants reacted enthusiastically. Some co-design interventions already take place. Really nice ones – like a co-design ‘cubicle’ office to make an inventory of the ideas of the employees. But it still remains that a further change in culture is needed. So let’s plant seeds in Melbourne too!


Co Design: Close The Gap To Your Clients presented by ideasondesign
1 December 2015
RMIT city campus, Melbourne
Book your tickets here.

All images courtesy of PROUD.

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