Bringing Design Closer with Gerry Scullion

Emma Blomkamp 'The Evolution of Co-Design'

John Carter
May 5, 2022
37
 MIN
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Emma Blomkamp 'The Evolution of Co-Design'

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Hello and welcome to Bringing Design Closer. Our goal is to have conversations that inspire and to help move the dial forward for organisations to become more human-centred in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems.

My name is Gerry Scullion, I’m the Founder of the Human Centered Design Network and CEO of This is Doing - home to many of the worlds best design and change maker courses online.

Today on the show we have Emma Blomkamp - a facilitator researcher and strategic designer based in Melbourne and leader within the co-design space. In this episode we speak about Emma’s past and how they go into Co-Design and Design generally.

We speak about the evolution of Design and where Co-Design sits now and what that looks like potentially in the future.

Episode Transcript

This is an automated transcript, generated by AI. If you see anything that is wrong, feel free to tell us.

S1: Hello and welcome to Bringing Design Closer. Our goal is to have conversations that inspire and help move the day forward for organizations to become more human centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems. My name is Gerry Scullion and I'm the founder of the Human Centered Design Network and CEO of this is to Income, home to many of the world's best design and changemaker courses online. Today in the show we have Amma Blomkamp, a facilitator, researcher and strategic designer based in Melbourne and leader within the co-design space. In this episode we speak about Emma's past and how they get into co-design and design generally before we speak about the evolution of design and where co-design sits within that and what it looks like now and potentially in the future. It's a great one. Let's jump straight in. Emma Blomkamp, very warm welcome to Bringing Design Closer and I'm delighted to have you here with me today. Emma, you are someone that I've been following on the Twittersphere for for quite a while. And of course in true Australian nature, we sat down and we spoke when we realized we know a bunch of people together. But before we jump into all of this, maybe tell our listeners where you are now and what lands you run and also how you describe yourself. Say, when you go out for a drink with people that don't know who you are and what you do.

S2: Thanks, Gerry. It's lovely to be here with you. So I am currently in Brunswick or Quebec. It's the traditional lands of the we're under people of the cooler nation. But I hail from Northland and New Zealand after Ottawa, where I was very fortunate to grow up and get educated and work for a little bit. So I really struggle to describe what I do today. I think recently have just been saying either something like I facilitate groups or I train or if I want to get like specific and just test whether people have any idea what I'm talking about. I'll say I train people in a methodology called co-design and then just try and read how blank their faces or not. I find it's a really tricky thing to describe, especially because I keep transitioning my practice. Whereas, you know, I, I think I'd started to get used to describing what I did when I was the facilitator, but now I'm kind of training and coaching and mentoring people in that practice, and it's one further step removed, making it even harder for me to talk about what on earth it is that I do.

S1: Okay, so go all the way back because I know you're a doctor. Dr. Emma Blomkamp, what's the doctrine?

S2: Cultural policy. So not something that's super useful on a plane. But I did nerd out for a few years about arts and cultural programming at the local government level and how and whether you can actually evaluate nebulous goals like promoting cultural vitality and community wellbeing.

S1: MM So you think it's helpful on a plane, but you know, it could be good. You could be a good person to sit beside. Yeah, I'm sure you got lots to discuss in that topic, but where did you study your your PhD?

S2: So I actually did a joint PhD, which was kind of unusual and especially unusual for my Liege University, Auckland, which hadn't done that before. I was fully enrolled at the same time at the University of Auckland and the University of Melbourne, and it was really great to be able to get the benefits of two different universities.

S1: It's amazing.

S2: Yeah. And especially I was interested in doing research that covered both countries, so it was great having a base in both places, but a little bit complicated, trying to, you know, get to institutions working together. So the joke is that actually as a result, I have to do this because the universities didn't communicate. I got two different certificates at different times, so you can really see what's doctor. Dr. Like.

S1: Yeah, it sounds like a same. Dr. Yeah, absolutely. So Doctor, Doctor, you're like, that's, that's even cooler. So you've been, you finished your PhD was in the mid 2000 tens?

S2: Yeah, probably about 2014. I think those certificates came out okay.

S1: Right. So a couple of years ago now and since then you've been involved and lots of look at areas that I was involved in back in Australia back in the day. Maybe talk to us a little bit more around 2014 onwards. I know he works primarily in in government and public services and social innovation and places like that. How did you find it when you came out of with your PhD? How did you know? Well, you know what? I want to. I'm interested in the journey, basically from your Ph.D. and how all of a sudden now you're working in co-design. How did that start and what was the background?

S2: There wasn't a clear and linear path. I can tell you that I, like many PhD students, had, you know, a total crisis the week after I submitted, wondering what on earth I was going to do with the rest of my life after achieving that huge goal. I assumed I was going to. I was living in Auckland, New Zealand at the time with my partner who was doing his PhD, and I assumed we would both go off and do postdocs overseas. But in the meantime, he was based in New Zealand. We'd already done a long distance relationship while I was back and forth to Melbourne and I thought, I just need to stay in Auckland right now. And this certainly wasn't any cultural policy academic jobs in Auckland at that time. That discipline doesn't even really exist in New Zealand. So I knew I was going to have to go overseas to follow that career. But in the meantime I had to find a job. So I, I had a friend who actually sent me an advertisement for a job in a social innovation agency. So I googled social innovation, applied for the job, Googled it again just before the interview to talk about it and got the job. And I was the first full time employee at Innovate Change, which has since merged with the Innovation Unit and suddenly learnt all about human centred design, co-design, social innovation. And really fell in love with this kind of work. So I was super fortunate to be working with Simon Hannaford, who was my boss at the time, Penny Hagan, who worked with us at times. Later, Kelly-Anne Kirchherr joined us. Kat a troublemaker as well. So I had some really incredible colleagues, mentors, co-conspirators there, as well as our sister agency Curative. So it was a really exciting place to be and I learnt on the job basically.

S1: It sounds like you to crack in time there as well. Like it was you going to learn through doing definitely by working alongside Kay and Penny Hagan and I know recognise some of the other names there as well, but they're the ones that jumped out. So what did it look like, you know, on the journey? Because I'm trying to think way back to 2014 what the the industry look like in Australia at that time in 2014 it was predominantly because a lot of you actually kind of talk and user experience type conferences and even design research conferences had probably been just been started to be talked about a little bit more. Service design was there, but it wasn't really prevalent in governments, hadn't really kind of surfaced in conversations as much as it should have been. 2016 As far as hopping a bit more, how did you how did you get over that kind of leap of exclusivity that sometimes can be surrounded by those industries like UX? And, you know, you had done research before, I think you've mentioned before. So how did you deliver value into the team at that stage or what did that look like and how did you get on?

S2: Well, I was completely new to the design world. Right. I, I had a had a mix of skills from my academic research, but previous work as well, especially developing education programs for film festivals and working as a language teacher. So I had done some stuff around program design without really realising what it was and had some facilitation skills. So even though I actually first joined the team as a project coordinator, quickly started taking on more and more work and leading projects. We were a really small team, especially when I joined, so it was great to be able to just, you know, watch what others were doing, pick things up, learn by doing. I think we were really lucky in New Zealand at the time, thanks to to Penny Hagan and others who were convening things like the Design for Social Innovation Symposium. So there was this little small field that I kind of connected with. I wasn't as connected with the rest of the design world for sure. And it probably wasn't until I came over to Melbourne initially to work for the University of Melbourne at the Policy Lab, which was a new voice unit there at the time. Where I started doing research on co-design at that point and then through that work and later joining paper giant and Strategic Design Consultancy, I connected a lot more with the service design here and was just blown away actually by kind of the size and strength of that community in Melbourne.

S1: Absolutely. There's, there's a good nucleus in Melbourne in service design in particular. There's a lot of a lot of great people down there. What I'm interested in is how you discovered co-design as a thing and how it entered your life. And was there a specific project where you kind of went? Actually co-design here would have given us something that we would have had without us. And so what can you tell us what that looked like?

S2: Yeah, I think it was it would have been some of the community level social marketing projects actually that we've done at Innovate Change. And there were basically behaviour change campaigns but done in such a different way to what I would have expected and have since realised and to what has done elsewhere, but where we worked really closely. So I guess a project example was probably useful here and one is a project that is called Behind the Wheel and we, we did it in partnership with our sister agency that was a is a creative agency. And so it was really great because we were able to innovate, change, lead led the design phase and then they led the delivery. But we did both in partnership. So we were actually co-designing the whole way through. And, you know, the, the first step of it was us getting a brief from a couple of government organisations saying this is a problem, you know, we want you to go and work with this community to solve it and we want you to produce a campaign that's going to stop young people driving without a licence because we're seeing it as a big road safety issue in a particular community. And they had all kinds of facts and figures and assumptions about what was going on there. But we started by saying, well, let's actually check these assumptions and find out what's really going on in this community. Is it even happening to the extent they think? Why is it happening? You know, what? What are the barriers to young people driving without a licence? What would enable them motivate them to change their behaviour? So one of the first things we did was actually recruit community researchers to go out and research young people and their families. And sure enough, that research turned some assumptions on their head. For instance, you know, we'd been told this was about young risk takers. Mm hmm. But we found that the young people in that community who were actually driving to a huge degree without a licence or without a full licence, were generally good kids who went to school, went to church, didn't do that typical teenage risk taking behaviours, but just had so many barriers to getting a licence and it had become such a norm to drive without one that that's just what they did. So that reframing of the problem really early on with the community was really helpful for us to then, you know, move on with the community to design things that worked with them, community events and those kinds of things that actually got people excited about getting a licence. Yeah.

S1: When in regards that project there was the co-design kind of mindset used all the way through to delivery or is it just really around the framing of the project?

S2: Yeah. The interesting thing about that project was it was used all through delivery. So we had this model at Innovate Change and a mixture talks about it and their book B on sticky notes of the kind of three different kinds of people that you want in a co-design group. There are some community members, you have some professionals, and you have some creative provocateurs. And so we had one of those co-design groups set up in the first phase, the kind of design and research phase of the project. But then when we moved into delivery, we actually just formed a group of key community leaders, right members to be our co-design group throughout. So we were constantly testing and iterating and developing ideas with them rather than just assuming that, you know, would figure it all out in advance. And we had enough community input and we needed to stop. And I think that was a huge strength of that project.

S1: It's it sounds like it sounds like there was a moment there in your career that you were just kind of like you'd found something. And especially when you said that the service design community as well. Was that part of the Innovate Change piece in it? Was that an Auckland? I think it was. Isn't this the end of a change? I am was service design around at that time as well?

S2: It was a bit, but I didn't know much about it. And even so, even now I don't know how much was happening in Auckland that I wasn't aware of because I was so new to that community or how little kind of, you know, I wasn't aware of service design meetups. I think, you know, definitely human centred design was something people were starting to talk about and design thinking was definitely something, absolutely, you know, it was starting to talk about. And even, you know, the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Group were really big at kind of getting design coaches into organisations to try and promote like better, you know, get better export income for New Zealand. So there was a big movement around design thinking and I think even that model of design coaching has been quite influential on my practice, you know, seeing that as a, as a legitimate role for the designer with a multi-disciplinary team.

S1: Absolutely. Well, we're going to come to your your practice now in a minute. We're going to talk a little bit more around that. But I'm kind of interested to get your thoughts on why co-design right now at this stage, it seems there's a lot of a lot of the main people that I see as part of the co-design kind of movement. And they've they've hit kind of momentum at the moment where it's seems to make sense. And a lot of designers who've kind of lived a life and have worked through many projects, of course they're going to come back and they're going to go, This is perfect. We've been talking about this all along and suddenly it's a thing. What I'm nervous about with co-design is that it can be seen almost as if a repackaging of design thinking in some people's eyes, as in another another movement. I know it's not okay, right? It's not like I'm saying that. But if there are people out there that are saying like, oh, co-design, it's just another repackaging of us. What do you say to them?

S2: I agree that is a real risk and it happens to a certain extent. I hear people throw this word around, you know, they seem to do the.

S1: Co-Design keep the co-design thing.

S2: Yeah, yeah. Two people got in a room and used some sticky notes. Oh, yeah, we co-designed it. Yeah, we.

S1: Brought them into the room. Another, they're, they, they wrote some of those sticky notes. So this is, this is this must be code is are we doing it, everyone? Yeah, I think we're doing it. We're finally doing the co-design thing. We're, we're doing co-design folks. I think that's something that. Yeah.

S2: And it's hard, it's not, you know, there are different understandings of what it means. It's not a clearly defined practice with agreed industry standards, but there are some things that I think are clearly not co-design and some things that are. But the difference is whether people are really sharing power or not. If we're comparing it with other design practices, yeah, if we're comparing it with other kind of community engagement practices, because a lot of people are saying are calling any kind of consultation co-design, then it usually lacks any design only practice if it's just consultation. So you know, design only practice and power sharing, I'd say if you've got those, sure, we might be able to call it co-design, but yeah, there probably are some other things to consider. But if those two things are lacking, yeah, people aren't really doing co-design. So despite the way the term gets thrown around, one of the things I've noticed and I've been in this really kind of privileged position to be able to guide people on the. He's having some academic and professional experience now is that. Lots of people come to me saying they want to do genuine co-design. They really want to think critically about how they engage people in meaningful and sensitive ways. They want to think about power sharing. They want to think about generative practices and creating things together. And there are, I think, a lot of people trying hard to do that. To do that and to to strengthen this kind of practice and way of working.

S1: So when you look at the industries like you actually, we mentioned there are 2014, you know, a little dot on the calendar there. Emma finishes PhD and rise into the UX world. UX if you look at the trajectory of what's happened in UX over the last eight years, it's kind of had a rebrand and a repositioning and it seems to be struggling with product design and digital design and so forth. It's kind of lost its mojo in some ways. It's kind of lost its direction to see think is that all down to the the lack of intent around, you know, power structures and to helping work with those? And is that what's co-design does is that's really where it's super strength is it's the identification of the power structures and really working to understand them and to dissolve them, I guess in some ways or disempower them is probably a better way.

S2: Yeah. And I mean, I don't think they're necessarily directly comparable because there'll be times where you've got people working on some kind of, you know, user experience, digital journey that is something quite straightforward on a website that doesn't need a massive co-design process around it. But I think as you know, there's lots of really great work and other people doing work like Alba Villanelle and Humanity Centred, talking about the need to bring in the questions around ethics and impact and you know, into this and I think a lot of the people yeah who do come to me with an interest in co-design some of them are UX practitioners, digital designers who aren't necessarily going to be facilitating an entire co-design process in every part of their work, but are curious about how they can work with people in more creative, sensitive, participatory ways.

S1: I think that's a really it's an interesting observation because you're right. Any of the people that I've spoken to who are who are interested in doing things better and I see a lot of those coming through this say to me and through this are doing as well. They're aware of co-design, but they're really they're probably in a position or a role that lacks the the opportunities for them to really spread their wings and to to evoke the change. So what advice do you give to people who are in those positions and who want to learn more about co-design and help them move the dial for us?

S2: Yeah, I mean, I think it is worth acknowledging that it can be frustrating for people who can see the benefit in co-design and trying to design a role where they could facilitate a design process with a diverse range of people that don't necessarily have the resources or other kinds of conditions that would enable them to do that. So I don't think everyone's in a position where they have the conditions and capabilities for co-design. And I do just want to acknowledge that, you know, is those are constraints for some people, but I think there's still possibilities to work in more co-design ways. And that's where I think, you know, taking the mindsets or principles of co-design as a starting point if you're learning about it, is really useful. And I find this is different to, you know, back in 2014 when I was learning about human centred design, it was very process driven and tools oriented. And I think that I'm not sure that may work in some contexts. When it comes to co-design, there's definitely not a one size fits all way to do things. You know, you have to adapt the context to the people you're working with, to the problems you have, you're working with, and so on. So if you're in a position where you're not able to necessarily lead a full comprehensive co-design process, I think you can still adopt the mindsets like seeing people as the experts in their own lives and making sure that we are treating if we're doing design research, we're treating participants in the most respectful way where it is, you know, designing our. Research processes in the most inclusive and accessible ways. Something, for instance, Josh two point score and I worked on a design research project. Yeah. In, in one of the many waves of the pandemic in the blurry times, I think a couple of years ago. And you know, it was it, it was a design research project. It wasn't a co-design project. We weren't actually co-creating a particular product program or service with the group of people we were working with. We were producing a report. But in that instance, we thought about how do we do this in a more participatory way? And a simple thing we did was invite the research participants to a debrief while we were in the kind of synthesis we'd done the the first kind of level of analysis, we were in the synthesis mode. We're starting to develop insights and we wanted to test them. We wanted to check that we were interpreting people's stories and ideas in ways that they agreed with them and that resonated with them. And so we, you know, held an optional online debrief for participants to come along to and give feedback before we finalized what it was we were saying. And that was so helpful. We actually reframed the kind of how we talked about that group as a result of that session.

S1: It's it's something so simple force bringing people back and having a playback within research. Of course, it's going to deliver value. When you think about us, it's it seems so obvious when we talk about it now. But what happens when you do that synthesis analysis? We're using our bias and we're using our own assumptions and we're kind of like make trying to make sense out of things that are kind of making sense. Tell us what it looked like when you brought them back. Was it just you hit a homerun or was it a case of, you know, you got some things wrong? Tell us what that experience was like.

S2: Both. I mean, I think, you know, I would have loved to have had a lot more time for that. And, you know, that's something interesting because I it's not the kind of thing you design into your research plan at the beginning to really iterate a lot with your research participants at that point. So I think we had like just an hour lunchtime session, something that was easy for people to drop into online. And we had testing my memory, but maybe we had like 6 to 8 of the 15 participants showed up with a couple of the clients as well.

S1: In a group format or.

S2: In a group in a group format, yeah. So we did a very, very brief mini presentation and that was really hard, especially at that point in the research where you're so deep and you've got so many things to say. But we pulled out a few things. One that kind of represented the really high level things we were we were noticing to show what we were hearing and would be focusing on in the report, but also some things we were a bit unsure about. And there was some things that we those kinds of things we think we might be able to explain this in this way. But that, you know, is that our biases, that our assumption are we just interpreting this? So getting some feedback from people on those. And the other thing, yeah, the key thing that we also wanted to test was the the research had been framed by the funder as is common in the legal sector around this concept of the missing middle, the people who are, you know, too, too poor to afford a lawyer, but too rich to get public legal assistance. And the idea of this made it sound like there's a large group either side of that group. But what we worked through with our group, we're like, well, how should we describe you? And, you know, we kind of threw a few ideas around and they pointed out that most people are in this group. So, you know, we renamed it the missing majority to really highlight what a significant group the legal sector is not serving in the way that it's producing resources that aren't currently, you know, accessible and understandable enough to people to be able to solve legal problems on their own, which was the focus of that research.

S1: I want to ask a little bit more around the direction of co-design and where you see it going at the moment, because how I see service design and co-design coexisting together is and co-design is so much more better placed to inform the direction of many industries within the design ecosystems. But I'm keen to hear your thoughts on what does the future look like for co-design in general?

S2: Well, I think we're at a time where we're so aware of the complex problems we're facing and we're aware of the climate crisis. And racial injustice and so on and so on. I won't spend the whole 5 minutes talking and just listing everything. But we're also aware that they're connected. And if we're doing some work that is about health service design, then we need to actually be taking into account some of, you know, the complex complexity of the system that we're working with in the health system and the complexity of people's lives and the complexity of these social and environmental issues and injustices that are interconnected. So that's a lot to take on. And I think having a co-design approach helps us to actually have a bit of a manageable process and practice for addressing some of these really wicked problems. Yeah, in constructive ways. Hmm. So I think co-design is really useful. I notice that, you know, it is popular at the moment. We in Victoria, in Australia where I live, recently had a royal commission into mental health and about half of the recommendations mentioned co-design and or co-production as what needs to happen.

S1: But that's amazing.

S2: A lot of the people who are working in these sectors haven't been trained in co-design in a suddenly expected to be co-designing things. So I think there's huge demand right now for on the job training and coaching in co-design are where I see lots of potential to is not in getting consultants to do the co-design work. I've been there and done that. You know, it can be done. But we're increasingly seeing people actually wanting to build their own skills and knowledge and this and to be a capability, you know, that, that lots of different kinds of roles have in lots of different kinds of organisations. So I'm seeing in particular I'm shifting more, more and more towards doing co-design, coaching and mentoring. Yeah. And, and just currently in the process of launching a community of practice because I also see the need for support that people, you know, people might be just trying to do this as part of their job and they might not even have time or money to, to engage in training. But they want to connect with other people who are also trying to do co-design and they want access to resources and sometimes even just a bit of moral support doing this, really, it's huge.

S1: I mean, we were talking earlier about this, the short sort of bursts of training. And, you know, they can teach people a little bit more on the skills and they can take that back. It's like a little snack sized piece of knowledge that they can digest and so forth. But in order to enable the mindset which is critical for boat service design or co-design or whatever you want to call it, really we call it co-design. In this instance, it takes breadth and it takes time and energy and not always to have those kind of areas of sort of a what's the word that I'm trying to talk about, like nurturing where where people can actually feel nourished and they don't exist within many organisations and it's always better to look in the externals. What I find where you can find other people with similar stories to reflect back. So tell us what this looks like because you know, from this society's perspective, we obviously have a community, but this is something that folks, I'm I'm a firm believer. What Amrs do and am is a wonderful person and we've connected for for quite a while on this. But the co-design code community is I think the you're you're playing on the where the co-design community of practice how do people get involved? Where do they find us? What does it look like and what do they get. Do your sales pitch that's I she's just going to go get a white board.

S2: I'm getting ready to say but wait there's more.

S1: Are you to join Bunnings Warehouse now? Initially, as I.

S2: Said so we've just done a very, very soft launch this week with the people who participated in my main training program last year, where we're just testing it out before we go live. So at the moment you can get a little bit of information on my website, ima Blomkamp dot com slash co design co, but we will be launching the co-design co space in the next few weeks. Okay. But you can still find it via my website and we've got two levels of membership. So one of the things that's a bit interesting and different that we're doing is we are being a little bit exclusive with one of the levels. So there are two tiers of membership. One is accessible to anybody who wants to join and and that's named after the Australian Bird Gala gives you access to. A huge range of resources and newsletter updates and invitations to community events. But for those who are actually already practicing co-design, we've got a by invitation only membership that is a little bit more involved. So for people who actually really do want to be part of bi monthly events where we will actually do some sharing and learning and testing and playing together or get involved in Slack discussions as well as getting access to all those resources and newsletters and things as well. That's the key level of membership. Named after the New Zealand Alpine Parrot and what you can see with the names is we are also quite clearly focused on Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. Since that is when I'm connected to communities, but we're going to be online, so we are going to be open to others in the world who also are interested in kind of using co-design for promoting equity, regeneration and wellbeing.

S1: All of this is online, presumably those. I'll put a link to the co-design code in the show notes, but all of the events that you spoke about and the meetups, they're online, they're not in person.

S2: At this stage. Everything is entirely online.

S1: Okay, that's cool. Look, Emma, you know, you're always welcome back on this as I try and bring in design costs whenever you want to come back. You know, there's just so much work that we could have covered off today, but we'll probably end up having to do about three or four episodes just to cover off some of the background in your work. Thanks for giving your time and energy today and I'll throw a link to all of these into the show notes folks. And if you want to follow us on Twitter, Emma's a fantastic person to follow on Twitter like they're sharing lots of important work out there and shining a light on people who, you know, really need the light to be shown on them. So, look, thanks so much for your time.

S2: Thanks so much, Gerry. And thanks for everything you do with this is city and this is doing.

S1: Not at all. It's all worthwhile when I get to speak to people like you and Kay and Joe and Evan down in Australia. So thanks so much.

S2: My pleasure.

S1: So there you have it. That's all for this episode of Bringing Design Closer. If you like this episode, feel free to visit this excited e-com where you can access our back catalogue of over 100 episodes with episodes related to service design, product management, design, research, and much, much more. If you're interested in design and innovation training, feel free to check out our business. This is doing dotcom where you can join online classrooms and learn from the world's best design and innovation leaders. Join that. This is eight city newsletter where you receive updates from the network and also, if you're interested, apply to join the Slack community. And this is Haiti dot com. Stay safe and until next time take care.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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