Learning snapshot

101 | Co-design and community collaboration – initiative design superheroes.

In a sense, co-design and community collaboration are superheroes for great initiative design. They’re like Batman and Robin, except they're not fighting crime. They're fighting inaccessible and ineffective design solutions.

Melanie Bainbridge

Senior Manager, Knowledge & Insights

22 June 2023

Let’s dive into the magical world of co-design and community collaboration.

In a sense, co-design and community collaboration are superheroes for great initiative design. They’re like Batman and Robin, except they're not fighting crime. They're fighting inaccessible and ineffective design solutions.

In this article, we will explore what co-design and community collaboration mean, why they matter, and how they work in practice for grant seekers wanting to create impactful community initiatives.

So, what is co-design?

Broken down to basics, co-design (also known as co-creation, participatory design, or collaborative design) is simply when you gather a bunch of people, including end-users (sometimes known as and stakeholders, to design products, services, or systems, together.

We do this because we acknowledge that the end users for whom the product or service is being designed are likely to be the experts in their own needs, preferences, and experiences. In terms of lived experience, you couldn’t have more knowledgeable contributions.

Co-design can take various forms, depending on the context and goals of the initiative. It can involve workshops, focus groups, surveys, interviews, or other methods of gathering input from stakeholders. It can also use tools such as prototypes, mock-ups, storyboards, or simulations to test and refine design ideas in real-world scenarios.

The benefits of co-design are numerous. By involving end-users and other stakeholders in the design process, co-design can:

  • Ensure that the design meets the needs and expectations of the target audience.
  • Increase user satisfaction and engagement.
  • Reduce the risk of errors or oversights in the design.
  • Enhance the creativity and innovation of the design.
  • Build trust and ownership among stakeholders.
  • Create opportunities for learning and capacity-building among stakeholders.
  • Lead to more sustainable and effective solutions that meet the needs and aspirations of stakeholders.

What is community collaboration?

Now, let's talk community collaboration (aka: community engagement, participatory planning, or community-based participatory research).

Community collaboration is when you involve community members in decision-making, planning, and implementation of initiatives that affect their lives and well-being. Again because, and this may seem obvious, who knows a community's needs and aspirations better than the community itself?

Community collaboration can also take various forms, depending on the context and goals of the initiative. It can involve public meetings, town halls, surveys, focus groups, or other methods of gathering input from community members. It can also use tools such as community mapping,
asset-based community development (ABCD), or participatory budgeting to empower communities and build their capacity to participate in decision-making.

The benefits of community collaboration are numerous. By involving community members in the decision-making process, community collaboration can:

  • Ensure that the initiative reflects the priorities and aspirations of the community.
  • Build trust and relationships between community members and initiative stakeholders.
  • Increase the legitimacy and sustainability of the initiative.
  • Empower community members to take ownership and leadership in the initiative.
  • Create opportunities for sharing, learning and capacity-building among community members.

Bringing co-design and community collaboration together

When you combine co-design and community collaboration, it's like the ultimate team-up – the Justice League of engagement. You can involve stakeholders in the design and the decision-making process to create more inclusive, sustainable, and effective solutions.

Grant seekers can even use co-design and community collaboration as a secret weapon when looking to design funding-worthy initiatives. Here are some steps for super savvy grant-seekers to apply co-design and community consultation practices in their initiative planning processes:

Step 1: Understand your community's needs and priorities.

It's like being a superhero, but instead of solving crimes, you're solving community issues. This can be done through a variety of methods, including research, surveys, focus groups, interviews, and community meetings. By really getting to know the community, and listening to community members' concerns and aspirations, grant-seekers can identify the most pressing issues and develop initiatives that are most relevant to the community's needs. You could even use one of the great research tools on the

Step 2: Identify potential partners and collaborators.

It's like building a super squad for your mission to impact your community. This can include community organisations, local businesses, government agencies, and other stakeholders who have a vested interest in the initiative's success. By working with partners and collaborators who are already invested in the community, grant-seekers can increase the initiative's chances of success and ensure that it has a lasting impact.

Step 3: Develop an initiative plan that incorporates community input.

It's like creating the settings for a perfect scientific experiment. This can include developing a timeline, budget, and initiative scope that reflect the community's priorities and resources. Grant-seekers should also consider how the initiative will be evaluated and how they will measure its impact on the community. Throughout the implementation process, grant-seekers should consider whether participants in the initiative should be remunerated for their expertise and input, and if so, how this will be managed.

Step 4: Test and refine the initiative plan.

It's like a scientist conducting experiments to ensure their hypothesis is correct. This can include creating a prototype of the initiative, such as a mock-up or simulation, and testing it with community members and stakeholders to gather their feedback. Grant-seekers can use this feedback to refine the initiative plan and ensure that it is aligned with the community's needs and priorities.

Step 5: Implement and evaluate the initiative.

It's like launching a rocket to the moon and ensuring it reaches its destination. This may involve working with partners and collaborators to secure funding, resources, and volunteers to support the initiative. Throughout the implementation process, grant-seekers should continue to consult with the community and partners to ensure that the initiative remains aligned with the community's needs and priorities.

After the initiative has been implemented, grant-seekers should evaluate (and re-evaluate) its impact on the community. This can include collecting data on the initiative's outcomes, such as changes in behaviour or attitudes, and assessing its impact on the community's well-being.  Grant-seekers can then use this information in their acquittal or impact reporting, to improve future initiatives and to create powerful impact narratives to share their findings with the community and other stakeholders – and that’s the real magic.

  • Author: Melanie Bainbridge

    Melanie Bainbridge is a writer, sustainability professional, multi-arts professional and social impact advocate. Mel melds 20+ years of strategy, policy, project management and community engagement experience with communications and creative development skills to create inspiring impact narratives. Melanie is currently Senior Manager Knowledge & Insights, Lotterywest.


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Acknowledgement of Country

The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.