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Community engagement

We undertook research that aimed to improve the design and delivery of government services such as Medicare, Centrelink and the Child Support Agency as part of the Australian Government-funded Community Engagement Co-Design Prototype Project.

The research was the first phase of a co-design model used successfully overseas to engage local government, community organisations and end-use customers with the Australian and Victorian Governments to be part of the solution to improve the delivery of services.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) funded this Australian Government initiative and research was conducted at nine sites across Victoria.

We managed six of these sites, which included holding a series of workshops with DHS, the Victorian Government, councils, community organisations and residents.

At these workshops, issues were discussed around the delivery of services, focusing on Medicare, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency and other services provided by government departments and agencies.

The key questions asked of the community at these workshops included:

  • Where can improvements to services be made?
  • Would co-located services improve delivery?
  • Do services require better design to respond to the needs of service users?

We had a key role to play in linking local government, community organisations and residents within the six locations into the project research, and ultimately its design.

The involvement of all levels of government and the community is expected to result in options for service improvements.

About co-design

Co-design principles have international recognition, following the work of Canadian Dr Don Lenihan, who advised the Australian Government on this project.

In principal, co-design is a systematic approach to understanding customers of government services and working with them to design, shape and deliver these services better.

The co-design project sat within the service delivery reform agenda established by the Australian Government and underpined DHS’ approach of putting people first to improve the quality of interactions between the community and the government.

As well as engaging with customers, co-design draws on all key stakeholders’ combined knowledge, ideas and insights.

Project background

In 2010, a series of community and service staff forums were conducted by the Australian Government to explore customer views and ideas for improving services.

A range of communications was developed to build an understanding with managers and staff of government agencies about design philosophies and principles. International research on other models of co-design and community engagement has also been undertaken.

In July 2011, a methodology that defined a consistent approach to co-design was developed. It includes governance, a resource toolbox, knowledge library, and training and development.

During this process, the need to conduct site workshops to commence community engagement was agreed on.

Community engagement

We engaged councils, community organisations and residents by holding workshops within six allocated site areas.

These workshops aimed to identify how services delivered by Centrelink, Medicare, the Child Support Agency, state and local governments and community organisations could be improved.

Our sites focused on services delivered out of Benalla, Fountain Gate, Rosebud, Maryborough, Epping and Ballarat.

Each of the sites addressed a particular client group which included:

  • older Australians (Rosebud)
  • families looking for work (Fountain Gate)
  • families (Epping)
  • young single parents (Benalla)
  • young people (Ballarat)
  • families (Maryborough).

The process at each site began with a workshop with DHS customers who were residents within the site areas.

These workshops were followed by a series of four facilitated sessions using information about services provided through earlier research undertaken by DHS, which forms a major part of the research.

Once completed, an action plan for improving services, both short and long term, were developed. 

Key outcomes included identifying agreed actions in a number of areas to enable governments and community agencies to respond in a more coordinated way to the specific service needs and expectations of those who use services in these locations.