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Co-designing at scale: two delivery models

You may have noticed that Uscreates has been growing, doubling our size in the last year, and expanding to tackle social challenges on an even bigger scale through service and strategic design. The team has been reflecting on the experience of delivering co-design at scale, and I’d like to share some of our thoughts with you.

First though it would be helpful to define terms in order to differentiate co-design at scale from similar looking activity, such as mass public consultation and crowd sourcing.

We are using “co-design” to mean bringing the end users of a system into the process by which that system is designed or changed. This involvement is more substantive than in consultative programmes (which involve gathering feedback on change that has already have been decided upon or designed) and crowdsourcing (which involves sourcing ideas and desires as starting points for the design process).

Also the phrase ‘co-design at scale’ is to be differentiated from ‘co-design for scaling’, the former concerned with involving lots of people in the process, the latter with co-designing scalable solutions, which is an interesting subject in itself and deserves it’s own article.

Two of our recent projects have illustrated two ways of approaching the challenges of co-design at scale.  There is a degree of inherent tension between the deep, qualitative ‘designerly’ approaches of co-design (typically tending to work in small groups of 5 -7 people), and the numbers, breadth and scope of mass participation and involvement.

Over the past year we have been collaboratively designing the Q Initiative – a post Berwick Report community and platform to improve the quality of health and care across the NHS – with the Health Foundation and a founding cohort of 231 members.

We are also currently partnering with the University of East London and Barts Health Trust to run a community led design process across 10 London wards to understand and improve the uptake of antenatal care. This process has involved 320 people in insight gathering, and over 80 in co-design activities.

These programmes have been running co-design processes at somewhat comparable scale, but taking different delivery models to overcome the challenges involved. These models might be termed mass co-design and multiple co-design. The mass model consists of running co-design with the whole group of 231 people at large conference sized workshops, and the multiple has delivered 10 parallel streams with smaller groups of the total population. Following are some of the pros and cons of each approach.

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Find out more

Through our experience in co-design we have helped many clients involve people in the process of change and improvement. To find out how Uscreates can help you deliver change at scale, please contact