Co-design is when an organisation and its stakeholders work together to design or rethink a service. As an approach it sits midway between consultation and fully user-led projects.

We [New Philantropy Capital] are pleased to offer this toolkit, in which we explore what co-design is and why it matters. Our five-stage process offers a roadmap for planning and implementing your co-design, with tips and tools for each of the five stages. We also explore how you can assess the outcomes of your co-design and the quality of your processes, and how to review and learn from the data.

We have written this with service delivery organisations in mind, but you can apply these principles to any organisation looking to start or improve its co-design.

Michelle Man, Thomas Abrams, Rosie McLeod
July 2019

[Excerpts] What is co-design?
Co-design is when an organisation and its stakeholders are involved in designing or rethinking a service. The central feature of any co-design process is how it recognises the agency of users, who are experts of their own experience. Organisations can provide ways for users to engage with each other as well as with staff, to communicate, be creative, share insights, and test out new ideas.

Co-design sits on a spectrum of ways in which users can be involved in service design and development, as shown in Figure 1.

Co-design is about more than just consultation and feedback. In co-design, your users will
actively identify the issues and potential solutions with you, rather than merely responding to what you have already set out for them.

What are the potential benefits of co-design?
There are many potential benefits to co-designing products and services, which reflect wider benefits to involving users in decisions. For example:
• For the participants involved: Co-design can create intrinsic positive benefits, as explored below.
• For organisations and their users: Co-design can be instrumental in creating better services, and better outcomes for users and organisations. There is widespread recognition that services co-designed with users are more likely to: be responsive to their needs and able to create the right conditions for engagement; facilitate openness and trust; and, ultimately, be effective.
• Morally, there is the argument that users should have a say in the decisions affecting them.
Other benefits will depend on the intended purpose of your co-design, and your reasons for choosing co-design as a way to involve your users.


When planning and developing your co-design process, it is important to be clear about the purpose. For example, your objective may be to re-think an existing service to better reflect user needs, by their own report. Or a key priority could be achieving positive outcomes for participants, such as encouraging and empowering users to engage with specific activities. You may be seeking to strengthen relationships between staff and volunteers.
Ultimately, you need to know what you are trying to achieve to be able to monitor and understand if you are going in the right direction.

Figure 6 outlines a five-stage roadmap to co-design. In this section, we discuss how to approach and monitor each stage, along with links to useful tools. The five stages build on each other and the advice outlined in each stage applies to each successive stage as well. Remember that each stage relates to the co-design process, not the actual design and delivery of a service.

Stage 1: Set-up
The aim of this stage is to get your co-design off to a solid start:
• Engage participants. They should reflect your intended user groups and broader community.
• Be clear and collaborative in agreeing the intended aims and outcomes of the process, different levels of involvement, the scope of influence for participants, and how decisions will be made.
• Think about where participants may be able to take on new roles to develop skills or contribute beyond their “day job”.

Tips and things to monitor:
• Define your scope and approach: What do you want your co-design to achieve? Are there limitations? Discuss potential disagreements, seek common ground, and try to agree both with your participants.
• Set clear aims for the co-design process: Agree what your priorities are and how you’re going to assess progress. Choose simple metrics to review your performance against.
• Involve participants early in the co-design process: Don’t wait until you have a set of polished options. Involve participants in the development of ideas and approaches.
• Involve participants in decisions about what and how to evaluate. You could involve participants in deciding what it is you most need to learn, and what the intended outcomes should be. You could offer training to enable them to contribute to peer-to-peer research, such as facilitating group discussions. You could consider holding a session with users and participants to reflect on what the findings are saying.
• Consider how to support participation, particularly for those with special needs. Co-design is about encouraging and supporting people to engage and enabling them to participate in a way that suits them. Consider whether target participants have the information, skills, and confidence to participate, and whether there is anything you can do to improve this. It may be helpful to define clear boundaries and set realistic parameters, so all participants understand what is or isn’t possible within the context of the partnership.
• Ensure diversity and inclusivity: Seek a mix of participants with different kinds of knowledge (lived
experience, professional and specialist expertise). Try to recruit participants who reflect your target audience, not just those you currently support. Consider how to accommodate people’s availability and needs, for example by holding workshops on a weekend, and ensure venues are accessible to all. Monitor inclusivity and representativeness by tracking outputs such as: number of users and staff involved; range of participants (age/ethnicity/disability/gender); whether users are invited or volunteer to participate; and the percentage of users with access to training to develop their skills.
• Don’t focus too much on the long term at this stage. It’s challenging and resource-intensive to evaluate long-term impact. Instead, focus on the relationships and quality of setting you create for participants.

To access the toolkit, click on:  Implementing and evaluating co-design DOWNLOAD