Jax Wechsler

Using Co-design within the FACS ChildStory program

ChildStory-logo-200The article below was published on the Safe Home for Life ChildStory blog. I worked on this program as a service designer on contract from November 2014 – May 2015. The program was aimed at designing online services to improve the experiences of children, families, NGOs and workers involved in the NSW child protection system.

As part of this project I delivered the Child Journey site which aimed to communicate the different services we designed as part of this program and explain the benefits of these services. The site formed part of the tender documentation given to IT suppliers who were tendering to develop these services.


In the Safe Home for Life program we have been using co-design to help us understand current processes and design improved services that positively impact the experience of children and families.

Co-design is a human-centred approach that recognises that people are experts of their own domain.
It has a different approach to traditional approaches where services are designed for, as opposed to designed with people. It is also a collaborative approach to problem solving where solutions are designed with the people who both deliver and receive the service.

Co-design allows organisations to put people at the centre of the design process when creating new and improved services and products. It includes qualitative design research approaches allowing project teams to learn from their service stakeholders.

Within the Child Story we conducted a series of design research activities such as diary studies, cultural probes, work shadows/ethnography, co-design workshops with stakeholders, and interviews with FACS staff, NGOs,carers, kids and families. These activities are detailed below:

Cultural probe / mood boards: At the beginning of the project we sent out an instruction packs and some craft materials to lots of different CSCs. We asked them to create a collage or mood board to depict a part of the child journey, such as adoption or leaving care as they saw it.These mood boards enabled us to see where the people on the ground felt the challenges lay. They were used during the first co-design workshops as conversation facilitators. Co-design relies on the making of ‘things’ (objects and visualisations) which we can use to think and talk with.

Co-design workshops: At co-design events a learning environment is created in which the experiences, ideas and meanings are created and shared amongst participants. We conducted a series of co-design events with stakeholders at different stages of our requirements process. Some workshops were focused on mapping out current processes and understanding frustrations and process bottle necks. Other workshops focused on idea generation where we together came up with new IT services and interfaces that could better support FACS workers and families. Other workshops focused on fleshing out specific ideas, together designing how the tools may work and be used in the field.

Work shadows: Several members of our team went out to different CSCs to shadow FACS workers. We went out on car trips to visit kids and watched different staff interact with the current IT tools and systems back at the office. We observed where the process bottle knocks were as well as what day to day life might look like for front-line staff. We learned that case-working should be predominantly about social interactions and relationships not time-consuming paper-work or IT processes. By observing FACS workers and the daily occurrences at different CSCs we got a good understanding of the context that the tools we were designing would sit within.
Diary Study: We sent out some tasks to FACS workers with some different activities on them. Staff could choose to do a few of these activities over a 2 week period. Some of the activities included them telling us about their day, what went well and what didn’t, a letter to the queen of FACS telling her how she should do things differently and thinking about their day how would they like the future to look. These self-reporting activities were done independently and they gave us a good understanding about what some of the needs of these staff were. This data informed and validated many of our requirements for the new systems.

Interviews: Many members of our team spent considerable time out meeting different stakeholders in the FACS eco-system. Some of us focused on talking to carers to understand what challenges they faced when caring for kids and how IT tools and access to information could better support them and the kids in their care. We talked to some young people who have left care to understand the challenges they faced during care and when leaving care at 18. This can be a very anxious time for all young people, especially for young people under the care of the Minister. We visited some external/NGO services too like Family by Family and Whalan public school to understand the challenges that young people and families in the child protection system may face. From head office to Bathurst to Ballina to Queanbeyan we visited many different FACS workers in order to understand their needs, the current processes, tools used and how they could be improved in relation to both regional and metropolitan contexts. The data from these interviews supported us to construct the requirements that are going out to different IT vendors, specifying the different capabilities the new IT services need to support.

Recognising that people are experts of their own domain, all these methods helped us to learn different things from very diverse stakeholders. These are some ways that the Child Story program has been able to put people at the centre of our work so that we can design improved IT systems with our users, empowering us to put children and families at the centre of our work.

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