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How to co-design with young Victorians

3 Jun 2019
Research and Publications

Co-design is a participatory tool for problem-solving that brings those with technical expertise and lived experience together, on equal ground, to design solutions.

Co-designing with young Victorians


Download: Co-design self-assessment tool (DOCX, 13 KB)

VicHealth have identified that one of the key action areas, outlined in VicHealth’s young people, health and wellbeing strategy 2017–19, is to meaningfully involve young people in the design, delivery and governance of VicHealth initiatives, and support partners to increase youth engagement in their work.

To increase the impact of this work VicHealth recognises the need to provide partners and stakeholders with an educational resource that increases co-design capability across the youth sector. To embody the principles of this practice, this education resource was co-designed with both end users (stakeholders and staff) alongside young people.

Co-design with young people is the act of co-creating alongside stakeholders and young people to ensure that the results of the design meet the needs of those young people. Here are four key resources for background information to co-design.

  • Download this visualisation (PDF, 4.3 MB) to learn where co-design sits on the spectrum of approaches to program design
  • Use this template (PDF, 13 MB) as a reminder for the five principles of co-design
  • This article contains historical and modern case studies of co-design in action
  • The Outer East Children and Youth Area Partnership Co-design [OECYAP] has created a detailed resource of the theoretical and practical workshop content by co-design expert, Ingrid Burkett
  • Why use co-design?

    Our world is becoming increasingly complex and our challenges and issues more diverse. Collaboration and a user-focused approach is essential because no single discipline, framework or approach can tackle the unique challenges young people face in today’s world, so young people must be directly involved in the process.

    Co-design presents an entirely different approach to program development and delivery. By centering the lived experience of young people to not only identify and understand the issues they face, co-design ensures young people are equal partners and have bought-in to the solutions.   

    Below are examples of the benefits of using co-design:

    • Nothing about us without us is a series of videos produced by LifeHack New Zealand discussing the benefits of co-design when engaging young people
      • KEY TAKE OUT: Allow for communities to build capabilities to lead the process themselves.
    • Finding Ways to Walk Alongside Communities is an article examining the theory and practice of co-design in Australia.
      • KEY TAKE OUT: ’We’ve all got knowledge, it’s just different knowledge’.


  • When should I use co-design?

    The flexible and non-linear nature of co-design allows for its application at any point in the process. This is because co-design is not a single event, but a process that is founded in a genuine commitment to change from everyone involved. While having all key partners on board from the start is ideal, co-design recognises that not all of these partners may be identified or available in the beginning. The adaptive nature of co-design allows for new partnerships to form so that different services and young people can be engaged at any stage of the co-design process.

    Below are resources that highlights practical advice for effective co-design.

  • What can I use co-design for?

    Co-design can be used to create, redevelop and evaluate a product, service or system. When working with young people, co-design can be used for a variety of purposes, and at any point through the design and implementation stage.

    Co-design has been adopted to successfully inform and assist service delivery and policy development across the community sector. Some examples of these are below:

    • LGBTI Victorian Roadshow applied co-design to gather stories and experiences of rural and regional LGBTI communities to identify their needs and improve support networks.
    • The Cross Sectoral Alliance to Respond to the Royal Commission into Family Violence is the biggest co-design exercise in Victoria’s history seeking to address family and intimate partner violence in the Victorian context.
    • A seat at the table applied a co-design or co-production approach to bring together young people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds with local service providers, to improve the mental health of these community members and participation in mental health services in Melbourne’s western region.

  • How to implement co-design

    There are many tools and frameworks to prepare yourself and your team to be in the right mindset for co-design and design-led thinking. Below is just a snippet of insights.

    User-experience journey mapping

    Journey mapping helps you to understand a person’s experiences by creating a map of their interactions with an organisation or system. Journey mapping puts you in the shoes of another person to clarify the various components of their journey and what sort of experience that person might have.

    Check out some of the mapping tools and resources available online:

    • Open Government Toolkit is a comprehensive guide on design thinking for policy problems – including journey map information, tools and examples from the UK Government
    • Government journey mapping tool – Australian government journey mapping tool with a focus on mixed online/offline journeys.



    Personas are research-based characters that you create to understand the real experiences of people who will use your service or be affected by a policy.

    For some templates and frameworks for building personas, see:



    Role play helps you understand and prepare for a situation by acting out a scenario with fictional personas.

    Role play enables you to get a sense of what customers are likely to be feeling in a situation, develop empathy for people in unfamiliar or difficult situations, predict which approaches might work (or not work) for people, constructively challenge ideas or identify approaches to improve them, spark brainstorming sessions and improve communication and develop listening and creative problem-solving skills.

    See below for some tools and resources for running role-play sessions:


    Prototyping helps you to build ideas for policy options by testing a model and refining it through active user participation. The prototype could be a simple working model or a more detailed simulation. What matters is that people can test it to show you how it might work in the real world.

    Check out the below resources and guides for how to prototype:


    Experience interviews

    Experience or empathy interviews are an inexpensive way to learn from people about their experience of a service or system. Experience interviews enable you to understand how various factors (for example a person’s lifestyle, context, culture, life circumstances and deeper emotions) impact their experience and needs of policy. They also assist with gaining into people’s lives from their points of view and in their own language.

    There are different ways to structure your interviews:

    • Framework interviews – use a question sheet to guide the interview. The structure can help you focus on a particular area of research. They are basic and generate limited insight, but can be done quickly.
    • Semi-structured interviews – use a structure of prepared questions but be more open to conversation flow. This offers more depth and enables people to share their personal views more easily.
    • Observation interviewing – get a deeper understanding by spending time with someone as they go about their day. This requires some investment of time, such as spending several hours or a day with people.
    • Digital interviewing – use digital interviewing techniques like online forms or video chatting to ask people questions.

    Interviews generate emotive, qualitative evidence, rather than statistically robust evidence. The interpretation of interviews can easily be influenced by personal bias, but this can be minimised by asking open-ended rather than close-ended questions. This is a limitation and constraint of interviews to be aware of.

    Ensuring that you are empathetic throughout the interview process is critical – check out some tips below:

  • Co-design workshop activities

    Here are some co-design activities you may find useful.

    Problem/opportunity definition

    The purpose of this method is to narrow down a specific issue from a broad, complex set of interconnected issues. It asks participants to consider the following questions:

    1. What is the issue?
    2. Who is it a problem for?
    3. What social and cultural factors shape this problem?
    4. What evidence do you have that this is a significant problem?
    5. Can you reframe the problem?

    Open Space Technology

    Open Space Technology (OST) is a way for hosting meetings, conferences, corporate-style retreats, symposiums, and community summit events in a democratic and participatory way. Open Space events begin with little to no formal agenda, beyond the overall purpose or theme. Instead, participants create the agenda for themselves, in the first 30–90 minutes of the meeting or event. Each individual ‘host’ of a breakout session will take responsibility for naming the issue, posting it on the bulletin board, assigning it a space and time to meet, and then later showing up at that space and time, kicking off the conversation, and taking notes. There are several desired outcomes from an Open Space event:

    • The issues that are most important to people will get discussed
    • The issues raised will be addressed by the participants best capable of getting something done about them
    • All of the most important ideas, recommendations, discussions, and next steps will be documented by a host
    • Participants will feel engaged and energised by the process.


    Cross the circle

    This activity encourages each participant to consider the different views they have towards social change. Our understanding of change is often very individual, determined by our past experiences and who we are. This activity asks us to unpack our own assumptions and understandings of the change as a process and theory, to better understand our own perspective and be consider the different perspectives of others.

    1. Form a circle.

    2. Explain how the game works by using a few examples (e.g. cross the circle if you like Solange more than Beyonce) – facilitators make a statement, if participants agree with the statement, move to the other side of the circle.

    3. Explain that we will be using it as a way of acknowledging our different perceptions of change, how it happens and how it is created.

    4. Kick the game off with a few statements, and then invite others to jump in. Acknowledge that we will not all agree on everything and that is okay.

    Example statements:

    • The best way to create change is person to person
    • Good intentions are most important thing in social change
    • You need to promote yourself in order to achieve greater impact
    • Storytelling and communicating your impact is essential to social change
    • To empower people, give them skills
    • To empower people, give them inspiration
    • To empower people, give them money
    • To empower people, give them jobs
    • Open-mindedness is more important than critique
    • Businesses are key to solving complex social challenges
    • Identity politics has gone too far
    • Individuals changing behaviours will create big social change
    • Humans are inherently selfish
    • In Australia we don’t have that many social challenges


    5. Reflect as a group on these questions:

    • What did you notice through the game?
    • Did anyone feel uncomfortable making a black and white call when what you actually think may have been more in the grey? What was that like for you?

    For further resources on co-design activities, check out the below links:

    DesignKit provides a range of human-centered methods for unleashing creativity, organised in categories of inspiration, ideation and implementation
    ServiceDesignTools is a suite of resources and guides for co-design activities.

  • Co-design in action: Case studies

    Plan International – Safer Cities for Girls campaign

    Imagined by Plan International, Safer Cities for Girls works to tackle unequal power relations and challenge harmful social norms that perpetuate the insecurity and exclusion of girls in cities. This program has been developed in partnership with UN-Habitat and Womens in Cities International. The program goal is to build safe, accountable and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls. The program provides girls with a platform to discuss the issues they face and the opportunity to provide input into the development of their cities. It is essential that girls are listened to so their specific needs around sanitation, education, public spaces, transport and access to city services are addressed.

    This program highlights the value and importance of adopting a user-focused approach to program development and implementation - for example, check out their video ‘Safer Cities: A Girl’s Eye View of Living in Delhi’ here.


    Family Safety Services Hub (ACT Government and ThinkPlace)

    The Family Safety Services Hub represents a massive change in the way family violence is addressed in the ACT. It has been co-designed over the past 18 months by ThinkPlace and a range of stakeholders in a process led by the ACT Government’s Coordinator General for Family Safety.

    The hub aims to catalyse systemic change in the community in ways that improve the ability to prevent, intervene in and respond to domestic and family violence. The hub is not a physical space. It’s not a new building. It’s a network of interconnected people and services that allows for better communication and much more effective coordination in identifying people at risk of family violence and providing better support and pathways to safety for those who are affected. Check out this short video about the hub, or read more about the design process here.


    Entrepreneurs: It’s Your Move curriculum

    That's the goal of It's Your Move, a program developed by ThinkPlace in partnership with the ACT Government that uses ideas of design thinking and entrepreneurship to help secondary school children create innovations that address health issues within their school community.

    Students begin the curriculum by choosing a problem to solve. They research the problem first-hand, talking to and observing the people who experience it. They build empathy and understanding. Next, they work together in groups to come up with possible solutions. Plenty of them. This requires a freedom and creativity of thought; and an openness to experiment without fear of failing. From a large pool of ideas – some feasible, others more improbable – they will choose a few to test. And then from those few they will choose one with serious potential and develop it, first as a prototype, and then as a progressively-polished reality. By the end of the program, their idea is real, and having real impact. The Entrepreneurs: It’s Your Move curriculum has been a stunning success. It is now available to all Canberra secondary schools and is currently being used in 15 high schools around Canberra. Results have been hugely encouraging.

    It has even won a prestigious international design award. Read more about it here.


    Life Without Barriers

    The community service sector is undergoing a period of rapid change and Life Without Barriers (LWB) recognised the need to be selective in the opportunities it pursues to secure a strong foothold for growth. LWB engaged Nous to co-design a five-year growth strategy for its Victorian operations.

    The co-design approach set the organisation up for success. The approach was new to the organisation and was commended for its success in engaging key stakeholders in decisions throughout the project; increasing buy-in to recommendations; and creating a general sense of excitement around the proposed direction.


    Horowhenua District Council (NZ) – Reviewing land information service

    Horowhenua is a progressive council located on New Zealand’s North Island, 90kms north of Wellington. Council recently piloted an approach to review the way in which its Land Information Memorandum (LIM) report was delivered to stakeholders. Council embarked on an exercise to engage their community prior to making decisions. Council’s project team were set the task of asking the community members what they wanted, and started by drawing on ‘relevant areas of expertise’ within the community. Council held workshops with key stakeholders, which included focus sessions with local Real Estate Agents, the ‘older person network’ and the ‘younger person network’ groups. These groups were impacted and/or used the report in different ways. The sessions were positioned as a  ‘we need you to help us’ approach to ensure council delivered to all the different needs within the community. Council summated ideas and feedback the findings to the stakeholders prior to conducting further workshops to encourage more ideas. The common feedback from all groups was that the report was taking too long to generate. The digitalisation of the processes resulted in the report being available in six hours, rather than ten days!


    Youth Force Program (Nous Group and Whitelion)

    Nous Group and Whitelion partner to co-design an innovative employment program and digital platform to empower disadvantage young people. This program is called Y4Y Youth Force and supports disadvantaged young people with high barriers to employment to build confidence and capability by leveraging opportunities available via the gig economy. It connects them with these opportunities via a custom built, easily accessible digital platform. The Y4Y program was co-created with young people, with accessibility in mind. The result was a service design that diverges considerably from traditional employment programs. Y4Y is geared towards enabling young people to access short-term task-based job opportunities online – rather than long-term work. These tasks are the first micro steps on the employment journey and are enabled by a group work environment led by young people rather than a caseworker or a teacher.

    Watch more about their efforts here.


    East Boston Voices (based at MIT)

    East Boston Voices is a podcast special by Peas in a Podcast centered around events of gentrification and displacement in East Boston. The mission of Peas in a Podcast is to unveil the hidden stories of the neighborhood to the greater Boston community, hopefully instigating change among East Boston’s residents. Each member of the group interviewed someone in the community who’s dealing with the effects of gentrification and displacement directly, compiling their stories and presenting their contents to the audience with added data and thought-provoking questions.

    Check out Peas in a Podcast here.

  • More examples of co-design

    Open Book (based at MIT)

    Open Book is a platform for people to share stories in a multisensory way, interacting with the written and spoken words of their neighbors. Open Book/Libro Abierto is designed to be a versatile platform for community members to share their stories. The print medium allows users to interact with the book in a tactile way, physically making their mark on the story of their community. The book presents handwritten and printed words along with photos of community members, and offers viewers access to audio interviews via QR links. Our goal is to create a hackable book that invites viewers to share their stories and start conversations, responding in whatever medium they choose. The book will be exhibited in Urbano’s Nomadic Sculpture, where visitors will be able to read the stories and respond by writing directly in the book. We hope to foster productive and honest conversations about what displacement and community mean to the people of Egleston Square, both physically written in the book as well as verbally during and after the exhibition.

    Check out the project page here.


    Fascinate, Inc. (based at MIT)

    Fascinate, Inc. is an organisation with a mission to bring cutting-edge technology to underrepresented students nationwide and facilitate pathways into STEM-based careers. Cultural relevancy is their strategy of choice in getting students excited about STEM. The project we chose to focus on relates to the Dope Tech Showcase, a technology showcase held in a local makerspace with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) students and volunteers. Their goal is to work collaboratively in determining a process that will make the Dope Tech Showcase cohesive and replicable over an extended period of time. The result would be a showcase guide that the event organiser and/or volunteers could use to smoothly operate their own Dope Tech Showcase.

    Click here to check out their work!


    Rainbow (based at MIT)

    Rainbow is a public installation that tells the stories of about Cambridge residents and their history with the area. The goal of the project to highlight important issues mainly gentrification in and around Central Square. Using audio recordings and photography, this installation will help the voices of people who live in the area to be heard and shed light on how universities and businesses are changing Central Square and making the lives of low-income people increasingly difficult.

    Check out their final presentation slides here.


    Plan International/Crowdsport/Monash University’s XYZ Lab – ‘Free to Be’ campaign

    This year Plan International partnered with Crowdspot and Monash University’s XYX Lab to launch the Free to Be around five cities in the world – Sydney, Lima, Kampala, Madrid and Delhi. It’s a crowd-mapping tool enabling young women in the selected cities to identify and share public spaces that make them feel uneasy, scared or happy and safe. It has empowered young women in these cities to call out unsafe experiences and geographically identify spaces where change needs to occur. This unique interactive platform gave girls a chance to share their experiences in a powerful way. In total, over 20,000 data points were collected across the five cities. Read more about the project here (Australia) and here (UK).

    All of the stories collected can be viewed via an interactive archive map for each city. Check out the interactive archive map here.


    SAP Design AppHaus

    SAP AppHaus are creative spaces run by a design-minded team where SAP and customer co-innovate jointly in a new way focusing on the real needs of end users. Building upon a history of creative environments, AppHaus is a ‘customer facing’ co-innovation space in which customers, SAP, and end-users collaboratively work on projects. There are currently five AppHaus’s located across the globe; Heidelberg, Palo Alto, Korea, Berlin and New York.

    Check out some examples of the co-created and co-designed projects happening in AppHaus here.


    ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science – 3Ai Masters’ Program

    The collection of technologies we are currently calling AI is heralding the next industrial revolution. To face challenges like these head on, the ANU strategic plan outlines the need for new education models and new pathways towards commercial and social applications for ANU research, via structures adjacent to established research and teaching programs.

    As part of their commitment to intellectual leadership, the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science is implementing a radical postgraduate curriculum inspired by Silicon Valley-style rapid and iterative prototyping to inform the creation of this new applied science. Student participants engaged in the program will be involved in co-designing the curriculum as they learn: they will be involved in prototyping these immersive postgraduate courses. The 3Ai courses will be delivered in an accelerated time-frame and will serve as a pilot for a formal, named suite of degrees from 2020.

    Read more about the unique iterative program here.


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Artwork by Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022
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Artwork Credit: Dexx (Gunditjmara/Boon Wurrung) ‘Mobs Coming Together’ 2022, acrylic on canvas. Learn more about this artwork.