Working with external parties to evolve optimum solutions is mainstream thinking in many sectors, but  it can be challenging for Government to structure such iterative third-party collaboration. iQA  shows how co-design can deliver results.

Government agencies have long struggled to enable experimentation-for-learning and an iterative philosophy. But iQA helped one NZ Agency team defy tradition and employ a co-design approach. Innovation came from both community and NGO sector and was underpinned by informed contracts that enabled community-led design.

Adopting a new way

The project began with three agreed phases over four years and intends to embed continuous collaboration with four NGO provider groups to develop, prototype and implement action by adopting a “test and learn” methodology:

  • Four unique prototypes evolved through co-design processes
  • Live prototyping is currently nearing completion
  • Implementation.

The co-design approach first builds relationships to create a trusted environment where new thinking can occur. In this case, co-design has focused on:

  • Fostering effective communications.
  • Working with contract and investment teams to ensure contracts are driven by results and enable the “test and learn” process.
  • Building relationships with project evaluators, involving them early to co-develop logic models and theories-of-change. Meetings with providers frequently included both evaluators and design specialists.

Busted scepticism

The team overcame an initial reluctance to engage as providers displayed a high level of scepticism following successive funding reductions and losses to the sector. Trust was built through a consistent and relatable approach moving from ‘business meeting mode’ to a deep collaboration.

The lessons offered from this phase included:

  • To be both responsive and proactive in working with each group, being flexible with the time and pace of processes and ensure the design process did not hinder co-development.
  • Maintaining a focus on outcomes required a resolute positivity, ability to change pace, and a willingness to face difficult decisions.

Results are like “Winning Lotto”

Early results indicate unique innovations that respond to local contexts and needs, draw on the particular skills within the provider groups, and expand the current service.

Provider groups have expressed their enthusiasm for the process:

  • “It’s like winning Lotto! (the lottery). We have been able to go at our pace to get the best project underway. And you trusted us when we needed a bit longer. Now we are moving at pace and are getting the systemic change we’ve sought.”
  • “We started out with an idea. It’s taken off, beyond what we thought it could. We wouldn’t have done this without this project. We are now expanding it and have the flexibility to respond to need too.”
  • “We were really hard on you to start with. Now, you’re one of us. I think we now have the kind of partnership that we want. It’s about time.”

Full evaluation of the new services will take several years, but the co-design process has shown promising results and helped to introduce a more experimental culture.