Theme 1: Converging practices

by Jamie Gamble, Penny Hagen, Kate McKegg and Sue West.

This blog is part of the Innovate for Impact blog series. Converging practices explores how co-design and Developmental Evaluation can be harnessed to support transformative practice and systems change. Learn more about the Innovate for Impact partnership.

Boosting innovation

We came together to explore the similarities and the differences in co-design and Developmental Evaluation (DE). And what we found were two fields of practice that are in service to the innovation efforts of others: a community, an organisation, a network, a syndicate, a tribe, for example.

Both fields share similar values and orientations to learning, innovation, and transformation. We also found that many of our practices overlap and align.

Examples include creating space for collaboration and mutual learning, the importance of being able to challenge assumptions and reframe opportunities, a commitment to seeking validation through participative processes, a focus on iterative development through prototyping, galvanizing support of multiple stakeholders, and engagement in collaborative forms of sense-making.

We acknowledge that whilst both fields are often represented as western constructs, they are both recognised and inherent within indigenous cultures.

Through sharing our experiences, we realised that both co-design and DE can offer a boost to those of us engaging in the journey of innovation amidst complexity. Both fields seem to share a lot of common activity. As Jamie noted in his keynote at the Innovate for Impact symposium, they are “kindred spirits”.

What is co-design?

Co-design is often represented as the design process with the expectation of collaboration inferred through the ‘co’. It draws upon conventional design processes or phases to support moving from exploration to new understanding of issues to testing and prototyping responses in context.

Most importantly, it should also be underpinned by participatory principles and practices. The ’co’ part of co-design, as we practice it, should put emphasis on community and collaboration across different kinds of people, perspectives and expertise, the sharing of power and the generation of mutual learning and new knowledge through trying things out together.

This requires engaging in questions of politics, reciprocity, power and control. Learning about what is needed, as well as building the capacities and capabilities we need to make change possible happens through doing things together.

What is Developmental Evaluation?

Developmental evaluation supports designers and innovators to think and practice evaluatively, bringing evidence and evaluative reasoning to inform adaptive development of innovative initiatives in complex, dynamic settings and contexts, in real time.

DE brings to innovation the processes of evaluative questioning, thinking and practice so that the change process is informed with rigorous and critical reasoning. DE is not a method, nor a technique, it is an approach that is informed by principles of practice that are demanding of practitioners, requiring of them constant reflection and adaptation to meet the changing needs of innovators.

DE is also a collaborative and relational endeavour, it does not stand apart from the innovation. Rather, it is done with and alongside innovators and their communities.

Connecting the approaches

There is increasing interest in the connection between DE and co-design. It has become clear to us that many thinking and analytical tools could be part of both DE and co-design. Questions being asked are:

  • What is distinct and defining about each of these concepts?
  • How do they or could they support one another?
  • How together can they support transformative practice, systems change and better community outcomes?

A co-design is a process in development. So, to us, the distinction lies in what a DE might offer to co-design. How might the processes, thinking and reasoning of DE benefit co-design?

Given there is an ever increasing call to help understand the merits, limitations and principles of co-design, we believe DE can be in service to co-design in a number of ways. For example, in our experience, DE brings a form of intentional rigour to the reasoning and learning processes inside a co-design.

It can help support the development and maintenance of systematic systems of learning throughout a co-design, ensuring that evidence is brought to bear on questions about what is valued and valuable about the design process, as well as the outcomes of the co-design.

Ultimately, the distinctions and commonalities are helpful in the way that they benefit practitioners, and those who support their work, to be more effective.

Like any ideas that gain traction, setting boundaries of what is – and what is not – a DE and a co-design can be helpful.

They are both practices that serve a particular purpose and neither is suitable for one size fits all solutions. Both support the development of perspectives and understandings that can be brought to complex challenges, and both support learning about change practice.

The Innovate for Impact blog series is co-authored by Jamie Gamble (Imprint Consulting), Penny Hagen (Auckland Co-design Lab) and Kate McKegg (The Kinnect Group) in collaboration with Sue West from the Centre for Community Child Health.

Innovate for Impact blog series

This blog post is part of a series identifying shifts the co-authors believe are emerging and important to community service and systems change. Links to the other posts (as they published) are below.

More Innovate for Impact resources

Contact Sue West for Innovate for Impact blog series enquiries.

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