Putting communities at the heart of programme design

Putting communities at the heart of programme design

At Shift we’ve been working with Impact on Urban Health , developing a long term strategy for the Good Food Fund, which helps new healthier food brands make a success of their businesses. Impact on Urban Health set us a challenge: Could we develop a community engagement model for the fund that was deeply rooted with target consumers, building a genuinely equitable relationship between them and these new food brands?

Rethinking our approach

Over the last two years we’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with some of our tried and tested methods to co-design products and programmes with users. We’ve reflected that often our approach ends up being too extractive, without a fair value exchange with those generous enough to take part. 

We’ve noticed that our own views and biases are more prominent in the solutions than they should be. In short, the co-designed solutions were more ‘ours’ than they should be, serving our needs as designers more than the needs of the people they’re for.

Communities at the heart

Inspired by asset based community development projects, like Participatory City, we decided to take a different approach to meet Impact on Urban Health’s challenge, based on two central hypotheses:

  1. There are already a number of community based activities making good headway improving the health and wellbeing of Lambeth and Southwark residents;
  2. Community engagement is better led by existing embedded network organisations not a new outside party who has to start from scratch.

With these hypotheses in mind we recruited 6 embedded community organisations as partners and facilitated eight mini workshops, over a four week period. We supported them to develop guiding principles for Impact on Urban Health’s new programme and a set of initiatives that should sit at its heart.

5 things we learnt

1. It takes time to find the right partners

We’d originally said we’d recruit partners in three weeks; it ended up taking two months! Despite taking much longer, we stuck by our method to seek introductions to partners via trusted network organisations, which meant we found connections we knew were trustworthy, credible, properly embedded, and who were aligned with our mission.

2. Establishing a safe space pays back in spades

We’d normally try to co-design in one big all-day workshop, but we noticed that, when we do this, it’s difficult to build deep trust among participants. Breaking out over eight sessions gave us the space to get to know each other, and to build rapport and empathy. By the end, it meant that partners felt a lot of love for each other, which set the stage to co-design in safety.

3. Short, sharp sessions were hyper productive

All our sessions were a maximum of 90 minutes with a clear singular objective for each. This helped everyone focus their minds on the specific task in hand and meant we made tangible progress each time, which gave the group confidence we were cracking the nut.

4. We can’t assume everyone has the same comfort with technology

We were operating under pandemic conditions, so all our sessions happened on Zoom using a Miro whiteboard – tools that have become second nature for us at Shift. It turns out not so for everyone, which meant a very real risk of alienating some participants. We worked hard to support people but it’s another reminder that you can’t assume everyone has the same experience, skills and access to technology.

5. It’s all about what we do next

We felt real momentum develop over the four weeks and by the end had a set of partners who were on the same page and raring to get involved in turning their plans into reality. We’re very conscious that the momentum will inevitably dissipate, and we run the risk of promising action and then not delivering if the next steps don’t materialise. The clock is ticking.

So, what’s next?

We’re excited about what came out of our work together – some credible concepts for initiatives that put communities at the heart of the next chapter of the Good Food Fund. But more importantly, we’re proud of the relationships that developed between a diverse set of organisations who were unlikely to ever work together, and are looking forward to seeing the next steps they take together.

Blog by Duncan Brown, Shift

Blog by Duncan Brown, Shift

We’re proud of the relationships that developed between a diverse set of organisations who were unlikely to ever work together, and are looking forward to seeing the next steps they take together.
Duncan Brown