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Applying For Grants In 2020? Including Co-Design Could Give You A Compelling Case To Win Them

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

When creating solutions for social problems, the main people we have sought to involve have always been the experts.

While experts are important, we tend to forget the most important group: the people we are designing the solution for. By failing to capture their lived experiences, we often end up with solutions that only look good on paper. Unfortunately, the people actually using the products or services still aren’t having their needs met, and they can feel like they have no voice.

Tim Brown, author, CEO of IDEO and Design Thinking advocate, says:

“What we need are new choices - new products that balance the needs of individuals and of society as a whole; new ideas that tackle the global challenges of health, poverty, and education; new strategies that result in differences that matter and a sense of purpose that engages everyone affected by them”

Engaging users through co-design

Co-design – also known as participatory design – is becoming more popular as an answer to this problem. A method of involving the end-users in the design process, it is becoming recognised as a highly effective way to create solutions, and is increasingly looked for in grant applications.

Co-design, the ability to co-create solutions, is a step beyond having empathy for the people you are designing for. It recognises the value that lived experience brings to the design process.

Not only do its participants have the opportunity to provide feedback and have their needs captured – they are also actively involved in the design process every step of the way.

Why use co-design in your grant application

Including co-design in your grant application is important for two reasons:

  1. It demonstrates that you will be creating products and/or services that are truly solving the problem at hand

  2. It makes it easier for you to promote your services to your clients, because it shows that you understand exactly what they need and that you will do the right testing to make sure you get an effective outcome

It’s also important to think about not only involving direct participants, but also their support networks, so that you can consider a breadth of perspectives.

We were recently co-designing a program for people with a disability to explore self-employment as an option. When we involved family, carers, plan managers and local area coordinators, the program had a huge boost in involvement. Because these support personnel understood the program objectives and could see that it was going to take care of their participants’ specific needs, it was easy for them to recommend their clients attend or support their family member’s participation.

How to approach co-design

While co-design is both simple and effective, most organisations planning to use co-design bring on experts to help. Co-design experts will ensure you get the best out of your workshops and that your research is invaluable. They will help you create design principles, giving you a clear guideline of what's most important to ensure that your project not only stays on track, but it helps you keep the right questions in mind for every step of the way.

This was evident in the project that we recently completed for people living with dementia, who also spoke English as a second language as well. Each of the sessions had some special requirements that we were able to design around to get the best outcome:

  • Knowing that bright lights and noise can cause issues, we did not show any videos or use PowerPoint.

  • To get all of the participants comfortable, the first exercise was completed in pairs with their caregiver or a support person.

  • Knowing that language may be an issue .we used icons and pictures so that it was clear what we were talking about.

  • We also had extra facilitators on hand so that there was no need for the participants to write anything down during activities in the workshops.

If you would like to learn more about what co-design is, why it is becoming such an important part of grant applications, and to see some case studies where it has been used for social impact, then view our projects page on our website at

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