The plains of public participation are vast, so it's not surprising that we get lost in the terminology. But, whether it's co-design, design thinking, community experience or engagement you've likely noticed the paradigm shift happening in the public sector.
There is a collective examination of how we make crucial decisions about others' lives happening — with many moving to prioritise data and feedback from the people they serve to discover, design, test, implement and refine programs of work.
Here's what it takes to design with, not for.
Elevating lived experience
Too often, we speak about communities instead of with them. We assume we understand other people's needs and make important (and often costly) decisions based on assumptions. Elevating people's voices and contributions with lived experiences means acknowledging power differences and working together to shift the systems we're a part of and which are a part of us.
We can ask questions like: Where are the voices of lived experience missing from our efforts? Can you create opportunities to elevate lived experiences? Can you build enabling conditions to better value and elevate lived experience?
One of the first victims of frustration, overwhelm, and poor work culture (a pandemic and mass resignation, for example) is curiosity. It can feel like a nice to have, not something we do when we’re busy and working in scarcity.
Ask yourself: Where is curiosity missing from your efforts?
Where can you soften your defences to increase your understanding?
Can you make your curiosity public? Role model your commitment to others?
While hospitality isn’t complicated, it remains missing from many engagement efforts. When we offer hospitality (giving before we get), we are rewarded with communities time, their full participation and the precious commodity of their hopefulness. But just saying it's a safe space doesn't make it so.
Part of leaning into co-creation is growing our willingness to be uncomfortable, unclear and confused while learning and opportunities emerge (something we've all had a lot of practice in the last few years). Time spent asking the right questions, ‘mulling’, deferring judgement, unpacking and exploring with others can lead to powerful insights and responses.
Ask yourself: How do you relate to ambiguity? How do people in your team relate to ambiguity? How will you build time for being in the grey into your efforts? Practical things, like project plans?
Learning through doing
Learning through doing is a preference for trying things out over talking about them in meetings. It can move us out of ‘planning paralysis’ and, at the other end - avoid premature implementation. So often, we see engagement practitioners start projects afresh before taking the time to evaluate what worked and what didn't.
Ask yourself: How can you default to learning through doing, over discussing and guessing? How are you building your skills for productive failure?
Bang the Table Australasian office is based in Carlton, Victoria, on the lands of the Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) peoples of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging across Australia.
Granicus and Bang the Table, Level 1, 96 Pelham Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia