Embracing Co-Design: A Collaborative Approach to Disability Services at Barkuma

6th September, 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of service provision, co-design has emerged as a transformative approach, particularly in the realm of disability services.

At the heart of co-design lies the principle of inclusivity, where service users actively participate in decision-making processes to shape the services and products that directly impact them. Barkuma has embraced co-design as a way to revolutionise their offerings and enhance their clients’ experiences.

In an exclusive interview with Simon Rowberry, CEO of Barkuma, we delve deeper into the nuances of co-design and its profound impact on reshaping disability support services.

Understanding Co-Design

Co-design centres on placing individuals and service users as co-creators of their own support systems. Simon Rowberry explains:

“Co-design puts service users at the centre of decision making and gives those individuals an opportunity to co-create services and products that will be useful to them. It’s broader than that – it also involves other stakeholders, including peers. They come together and clearly define what issues they want resolved, and then they work collaboratively around developing potential solutions. It’s a very collaborative approach that hopefully results in programs, services and products that individuals actually want.”

Unlike traditional models, co-design ensures that the offerings are aligned with the authentic needs and preferences of those they serve, transforming the service-user relationship from passive recipients to active contributors. Importantly, co-design transcends mere consultation and extends to the engagement of diverse stakeholders united in a common objective.


The Multifaceted Benefits of Co-Design

Simon delves into one of the numerous advantages of co-design:

“In the longer term, it can be a more cost effective way of delivering services because you’re actually getting individual input in what the program might look like, rather than a service going, “this is what we’ve got, you need to fit into it, said Simon.

Greater inclusivity, empowerment and user-centric solutions can ultimately result in improved accessibility, reduced stigmatisation and innovative solutions; it also contributes to broader social and cultural change by promoting inclusivity and celebrating diversity.


Navigating Challenges and Extracting Lessons

Despite its promise, Simon acknowledges that co-design entails patience.

“The only real challenge is that it takes a long time. Whilst the outcomes will be fantastic, the process to get true co-design can be lengthy. Changing the attitudes of stakeholders is vital to avoid a power imbalance.”

“The shift from traditional hierarchical decision-making to inclusive collaboration demands a recalibration of attitudes and practices. This transition requires staff members to engage with service users as equals, eliminating power imbalances and ensuring a truly participatory approach.”


Barkuma’s Co-Design Endeavours

Barkuma’s dedication to co-design is exemplified by its recent projects. One noteworthy example is the development of a client-focused magazine, The Buzz, which emerged from a co-design process. Service users form majority of the Editorial Committee, and actively participate in decisions related to content, layout and design.

This collaborative effort has resulted in a product moulded by those who will ultimately consume it. This initiative reflects Barkuma’s commitment to placing clients at the centre of their own experiences, effectively turning them into co-creators of the solutions they utilise.

Cameron Bradshaw, a Barkuma client and Editor-in-Chief of the inaugural edition, explains “The Barkuma Buzz will be produced every three months by myself, other clients and Barkuma staff … the Barkuma community is filled with amazing people with big success stories!” 


Evaluating Success and Envisioning the Future

While Barkuma is still in the process of defining metrics to gauge co-design success, the organisation primarily aims to measure it through customer satisfaction. The expectation is that co-designed programs will lead to heightened engagement and more efficient outcomes. Looking ahead, Barkuma envisions a future where co-design becomes a cornerstone of their approach.

By continually engaging service users in decision-making processes, the organisation aims to craft services that are both sustainable and client-centric, ultimately reshaping the landscape of intellectual disability support.

Barkuma’s commitment to co-design signifies a pivotal shift in the disability services sector. Through this approach, the organisation is not only transforming its service offerings but also fundamentally altering the way support is provided.

By placing individuals at the forefront of decision-making, Barkuma is creating a new paradigm where services are tailor-made to meet the genuine needs and aspirations of service users. Co-design is not merely a strategy for Barkuma; it’s a philosophy that embodies empowerment, collaboration, and inclusivity, with the potential to revolutionise the lives of individuals with disabilities for the better.