Co-design: Where the magic happens

Katie Potter and Sophie Bulmer

Co-design is the part of a system change process where the magic really starts to happen. It’s when we take what we learned in the early discovery in and prioritisation in Northern Devon and in Newham and drill down into the prioritised areas, bringing in the real experts, who know exactly what needs to change, and what that change should look like. If set up and facilitated well, then we bring together a diverse range of voices, perspectives and experiences, we see the systems and places we are working in a totally new light, and we work together to create something magical, that will have an impact far greater than the more ‘traditional’ methods of design we habitually go to.

This blog highlights the different phases we went through during our 10-month co-design period with our groups of co-designers and some of the learning we have taken from the five key stages:

  • Stage 1: Recruitment
  • Stage 2: Group Forming, Deeper Discovery & Exploration and System Mapping
  • Stage 3 : Journey Mapping and exploring the changes we want to see
  • Stage 4: Prioritisation
  • Stage 5: Design and bolstering our Co-design team












    Kailo Co-Design Stages Learning Poster

    Stage 1: Recruitment  

    Arguably one of the most important elements of co-design. If we don’t have the ‘right’ people in the room, we are highly unlikely to be designing the ‘right’ solutions. At this stage, we asked ourselves:  

    Working with our local community partners, and our community researchers, we were able to identify groups of young people and community members we wanted to invite to be part of our co-design team. With the relationships already built between our community partners and young people they have worked with, our community partners took on the role of recruiting young people into these teams. Our community partners did a sterling job, and we ended up with 8 young people in one of our co-design groups, and 12 young people in the other, with an additional 2-4 community members (adults who have an interest in the opportunity area) also being added to the mix. We were good to go!  

    Key Learning: Spend time thinking about who needs to be in the room and who your ‘gatekeepers’ are who can support you with the recruitment. People need warm relationships to feel safe enough to get involved!







    Codesign Speech and Recruitment

    Stage 2: Group Forming, Deeper Discovery & Exploration and System Mapping  

    Safety and accessibility were two of the foundational principles driving the setup and facilitation of our co-design teams (we will go into this in more detail in a different blog), which meant we spent a good chunk of time dedicated to relationship building, group agreements, understanding needs, and strategies to support our co-designers in feeling safe, comfortable, and able to engage.  

    Once the group was established, we spent time deep-diving into our respective opportunity areas:

    Key Learning: Young People are INCREDIBLE at thinking deeply about these areas. You will learn so much so give this phase enough time, but make sure you are holding a loose boundary around the key challenge/opportunity area you are trying to find solutions too – it’s very easy to get carried away here!





    Codesign Group Forming, Deeper Discovery & Exploration and System Mapping

    Stage 3: Journey Mapping and exploring the changes we want to see  

    From understanding our key leverage points, we worked together to map out our ‘as is’ journey map, which helped us to think through and understand the experiences of young people. We asked things like:

    Once we had done this exercise in Northern Devon, we were then in the position to be able to think about the change that we want to see in this area in the future, and to create a long list of all the opportunities that could contribute to this change.  

    Our two groups in Newham took slightly different approaches in this stage. One group spent a bit more time mapping out the specific challenges in the potential change areas to try to understand how and where improvements could be made. The other group focused more on creating visions for an ‘ideal Newham’, thinking about how it would feel if those potential change areas were addressed. Both these approaches helped the groups to come up with lots of ideas to bring about these changes. 

    Key Learning: Let your imaginations and brain work hard here – try to encourage the group not to put limitations on their ideas of the change they want to see.


    Key learning: A flexible approach was important and enabled us to adapt to where the different energies and needs were with our young people while still helping us move through the process.




    Codesign no.3 Journey Mapping and the change we want to see

    Stage 4: Prioritisation  

    In the previous stage, it is likely that the group will have a potentially very long list of changes we want to see (which is totally fine, and super useful learning!). However, we need to prioritise what we want to be designing- with limited time and resource, we can’t solve/create everything! During this stage, we are encouraging the group to think about what would be most impactful if we were to work towards a particular change, as well as balancing this with what we think might be more realistic and achievable within the system at the moment.  

    Key Learning: Different people will have different priorities, where possible try and allow space for people to do this individually, and then come together to discuss and collectively decide on priorities – that way you are giving enough time and space to get everyone’s voices heard.






    Codesign Prioritisation

    Stage 5: Design and bolstering our Co-design Team 

    So, we have our prioritised area we want to pursue into the design space!  At this point it is important to remember that nobody has all the answers to all the questions, so it might be that it would be helpful to bring in different people who have different experiences, expertise and knowledge, into our co-design group. We need to ask ourselves: Who else needs to be involved to be able to make this change within the system?  With the group, map out who these people might need to be for your prioritised area, and invite them in. Depending on your prioritised areas, this could be other young people, community members, professionals from different sectors.  Then it’s into the fun part (after a bit of relationship building with the new members)- here we are creating our visions, coming up with the key elements required to turn our visions into a reality, mapping out the intended journeys and experiences of those for whom this design is for, and testing out different ideas for how this could work!  

    Key Learning: Bringing in additional people to the co-design group can be incredibly powerful; relationships can be built between individuals who would never usually cross paths, which create immense opportunities for learning and for generating new and innovative ideas. Be careful though – power dynamics can come into play here which could be harmful to the group. Make sure new members joining the group are aware of, and committed to, the values and principles that the group has been working to, make sure you are clear with them about what their role is, and that expectations are aligned.

    Codesign no. 5 Prioritisation

    Putting co-design into practice in your work 

    Now, we aren’t going to dress this up into something it’s not. Co-design is a very different way of working from what many of us are used to. It requires commitment, dedication, courage and resources to host and facilitate an effective and impactful co-design process, and when we start, we don’t know what the result will be, which can be scary. And more often that not, you may need to revisit certain stages or lengthen them, depending on if it feels necessary or helpful to your process. However, we do know, that whatever is designed will be locally and contextually relevant, it will be rooted in the needs of the local community, and it is definitely worth piloting in some form or other. Plus, even if it doesn’t work out, you can guarantee you will have learnt a lot of other incredibly useful things along the way which can inform how you work going forwards.  

    If you are interested in our work and want to learn more, take a look at some of our other blogs, which go into more detail about different aspects of the co-design sessions, or feel free to email