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How Participation Drives Impact

Recently we worked on an amazing project with Australian Multicultural Community Services (AMCS), an aged care provider for the multicultural community in Melbourne’s inner west. The objectives of the project were to co-design new services to enable people living with dementia to stay connected to their community.

Some of the people that we were working with spoke little English, were over 65 and were living with dementia. From a facilitation perspective, it was probably one of the more challenging projects we have encountered. We had to really think about how we could create a comfortable and engaging environment, and design tools that allowed everyone to be involved. This meant doing a bit of additional research prior to the workshop to ensure we understood what people could or couldn’t do.

A couple of simple things we did to enable participation

  • No audiovisual equipment - We usually love to show a few videos or present case studies using a projector, but in this workshop it was not appropriate. We learnt that bright lights and loud sounds can disorientate people with dementia. So we instead went with simple print outs.

  • We created a checklist to audit the workshop space prior to the event -  This was to  ensure the workshop space was accessible and dementia-friendly. We learnt it was important that the lighting of the room was consistent and there were no dark corners or highly reflective surfaces.

  • We used icons and pictures where possible - To help remove any language barriers where it made sense, we replaced any text with icons and pictures. We also involved additional staff to help participants if they needed assistance writing down information or moving things around the room on their behalf.

Taking the time to research the needs of the people we were working with, allowed us to deliver a really successful couple of workshops, where the voices of the people could be captured and understood, and together we designed services that we were all very confident would be highly desirable and successful when launched to the community. This experience made us reflect on just how important the way we design workshops is and how it can affect the impact that our work has.

When we invite people to participate, it is our duty to create an environment that enables everyone to be involved. If we can achieve this, then people will feel able to be their best selves. You will also achieve better outcomes for your organisation and greater social impact. Involving your service users is a good starting point, but for co-design to really work well, we must aim to be able to communicate through any of the barriers, and that in itself takes an element of empathising and designing.

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