Social Innovation should stem from a genuine heart for the people. Thus, to know the heart of the people, they have to share it. We cannot know where the shoe pinches if we are not wearing them, this is what co-designing is about. The child welfare system appears to be racially disproportionate, minority races such as the Blacks and Amerindians make up most of the population of those served by the child welfare system in the United States. This could be as a result of massive unemployment and lack of political will to educate and empower these populations. To fix this, it is important to educate and empower, starting by developing policies that have the input of those who would be affected by it.

Co-designing simply means working hand-in-hand with the stakeholders. It is a horizontal approach not a top-to-bottom approach. Policymakers and development organizations would see more social impact if the people they seek to support are involved in the process of decision-making, this should take place from the conception of ideas. This can be done by a simple and continuous engagement with the community. It is important to co-design policies so that time, energy, and resources are not wasted. People and communities should not be handed what is believed they need but what they really need, and this can only be known if the people and community shared their lived experiences. Social impact organizations will have their goals achieved better and quicker when the real issues in the community are being solved.

Before engaging in co-design, you must find out if the people and community are open to it. This is important to have their maximum support and contribution in the process. There’s a saying, “you can force a horse to the river but can’t force it to drink.” Consultations should take place at the beginning and during the process not just at any time. People and members of the community who participate in the co-design process should be financially compensated for their time and effort, this is because the population is vulnerable and a lack of compensation may be considered to be exploitation. Also, they make the process easier and worthwhile because they help the organizations achieve their goals better in the long run, they should be compensated for their service and the support given to them would go a long way in improving their lives. The mode of compensation should be well-coordinated to avoid corruption. Compensation can be directly to community members or through representatives from the community.

Organizational heads wield a lot of power and thus have the capacity to influence things. For co-designing to be effective, organizational leaders must be willing to share power with the people and/or community, again by allowing them to be a part of the decision-making process, this could be by engaging members of the community directly to know their needs or by working collaboratively with their representatives. Engagement with the people and the community should continue after the intervention so as to deepen relationships which would be beneficial for future initiatives. Not only that, the community must never be made to feel like they were used and dumped, if not, they would be resistant to future initiatives. Organizations can stay engaged with the community by having a strong monitoring mechanism, a strong feedback mechanism, and/or having periodic check-ins to appraise the impact of their initiatives and to see how improvements can be made.

In conclusion, for co-designing to be possible, organizations must first be intentional about harnessing its benefit. This is by having a mind shift as to their approach to implementing initiatives. Perception must be people-focused, the people and the community should be seen as partners in progress and not children to be spoon-fed. This mind shift is to be championed by the organizational leaders who influence matters and set the rules of engagement with the community. The earlier organizations embrace co-designing as an innovative approach, the better for the community and the organization as well. Organizational leaders must spearhead this change of approach in four areas: Process, Culture, Experience, and Power Dynamics. Co-designing is an innovative way of tripling social impact through collaboration with the community and other professionals.

Hero and Thumbnail Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels
Author: Bolu’ Michael-Biyi