Making it Real: Co-designing for a better service?

Katherine William-Powlett shares her thoughts on innovation and on leadership in the voluntary sector. Katherine no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

Is co-design worth the effort for charities? In my related blog I suggest that charities could build on their skills at engaging with users by engaging with co-design. They go beyond simply consulting users and truly value user input by involving users in every stage of designing a new service or product. But this does not happen that much. Why?

Brunel University’s research project on charities and co-design found that there were three main barriers:

  • Emotional barriers- users lacking confidence or finding it too stressful, a fear that by involving users their expectations will be raised beyond what is feasible
  •  Practical barriers – resources e.g. transporting users with mobility issues, fitting in with time to suit them
  • Cultural barriers- charities being wary of bringing in designers to assist with co-design fearing that they will take over, cost too much and slow things down

MERU has successfully overcome these barriers to co-design.  See a video about MERU here.

MERU is a charity that designs and manufactures specialised equipment for children and young people with disabilities. Design engineers work closely with the children to come up with solutions for their challenges. A keen pianist who did not have the use of her feet co-designed a pedal switch on her glasses. A little girl who did not have much hand control worked with designers to design washable, tough, graspable zip pulls. MERU experience challenges to communication as well as having to balance input from the children and their carers. This requires engineers who are both technically skilled and skilled communicators.

MERU is designing products rather than services but the lessons of close engagement, good communication and a balance of design skills with user input translate to co-designing services. I can understand the resistance of many charities to taking on designers but there are clearly benefits to be had from involving your users more than just at the outset of a new service and for feedback at the end. It can prevent you going down a road that is not going to work and mean that ideas are tested all the way along so that improving the viability of the end result.

You can download the free tools below to help you and give you some fresh ideas about ways to engage with your users.

Pimp My Cause and ProHelp allow charities and voluntary organisations to find designers or other professionals to help with their projects

Additional video clips of MERU engineers talking about their experience of co-design can be found here

This blog is brought to you in partnership with Brunel University and refers to their research funded by AHRC

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