Co-Design creates opportunities for health professionals, consumers and carers to work together to find innovative ways to deliver effective health services. By their very nature co-design processes are fluid, flexible and geared to meet the priority needs of consumers, whoever and wherever they may be.

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Different individuals and groups will have different needs and expectations, and these will change over time. These differences become apparent in the process of using Co-Design tools, when service providers may become aware that established processes are not working as satisfactorily for consumers as they would like.

Where gaps exist between consumers’ needs and the available services they should, first and foremost, be recognised and acknowledged. Co-Design processes, which involve health professionals, consumers or carers working closely together throughout, may then be utilised explore strategies for overcoming these issues. Co-Design is not a static or once-only solution. It involves a commitment to continuous, active engagement.

Just as Co-Design requires a willingness to venture into new territories, it also, sometimes, requires a readiness to compromise. Health services have to work within the restraints of what they can and cannot do (as defined by policy and ethics guidelines, and limits on resources) and consumers have their own capacity restraints.

If everyone is open to new ideas and compromise, then solutions can be developed to make genuine progress towards improving consumers’ health and wellbeing.

Every Individual is Different

Every consumer, carer and family is different and the level to which they are prepared to engage with clinicians or health professionals will vary from family to family.

Families involved in caring for someone with complex health needs go through different stages as they come to terms with the realities of managing the condition that has impacted their lives. Inevitably different families will be affected very differently, and will progress through different stages in their own ways and in their own time. Many find their lives are an emotional rollercoaster, involving periods of managing well and others of not managing so well as things change over the years.

Co-Design creates opportunities for health professionals to invite individual consumers and carers to actively participate in the process of shaping care and support strategies that address their wants and needs in a way that suits them specifically.

It is the responsibility of clinicians and service providers to take the initiative, and to provide consumers and carers with every possible support and encouragement to participate in this process. This may mean working very carefully with a family to build trust, and developing a relationship with them to gain a better understanding of their life.

Sensitivity and understanding are essential and there will be those who prefer more traditional models of health care. This in itself is a statement about a family’s needs and should be respected.

It is also true that some consumers or carers may form hopes or expectations that simply cannot be met by health service providers. Not everything that every family wants, or hopes for, will be possible. Reinforcing the principles of partnership that underpin Co-Design is important so that everyone involved has a shared goal to collaborate towards realistic, achievable solutions to practical problems, within the limits of available resources.

Diverse and Dynamic Groups

Many groups of consumers, carers or families will be made up of people from different backgrounds, different stages of life and different locations.

Co-Design offers a method whereby consumers and health service providers can work together to identify collective interests and to define the group’s most pressing priorities. It must be acknowledged that this does mean that it will be the needs of the majority that drive service development and delivery. It may not always be possible to meet the multiple and various needs of all individual group members.

The more complex and diverse a group is, the more essential it is that consultation and collaboration processes are transparent and well understood. Defining clear boundaries and setting realistic parameters is important so that all parties understand what it might or might not be possible for the partnership to achieve.

The fact that majority needs tend to shape service delivery makes it all the more imperative that cyclical evaluation and improvement processes are put in place from the outset. In this way, emerging trends can be highlighted (what were fragmented individual concerns may be seen to coalesce, for example) and, as services are bedded down, previously unaddressed needs can become new priorities.

The needs of a group of consumers change over time. Communications technologies, for example, have rapidly changed the ways people access information, widened the volume of information available to them, and changed the ways they communicate with each other. This has led to shifts in what consumers want and expect from a health service and the ways services are delivered.

Groups also inevitably become increasingly diverse as they grow and expand. These shifts can create tensions both in the ways consumers interact with a health service and, potentially, create divisions between groups of consumers as different approaches or philosophies are championed by different people within the group.

Co-Design creates opportunities for health services to gain a macro picture of how a group’s needs may be changing or diversifying, and to act on these accordingly.

While health service providers cannot promise to be all things to all people, a commitment to Co-Design means that structures are in place to most effectively provide care and support to as many people as they can at any one time.