Co-Designing Services with Vulnerable Populations
One of the strategic research directions in McMaster’s 2018-2023 plan for a “Brighter World” is to advance “equitable, prosperous and sustainable societies”. Addressing the complex inequities faced by vulnerable populations, however, can be challenging and requires innovative research methodologies to mobilize change. There is a movement towards co-producing change in collaboration with service users and a ‘design thinking’ approach as a new imperative for system transformation in Canada as well as in other countries around the world.
In 2019, the McMaster Strategic Alignment Fund established a co-design hub for vulnerable populations. This three-year co-design initiative brings together inter-disciplinary researchers, students, service providers and service users to create a virtual and physical “Co-Design-VP Hub”. The hub will facilitate partnership formation, advance methods of co-design, and enable knowledge-sharing through three overlapping foci: 1) engage; 2) educate; and 3) innovate. The plan is to build on local partnerships and move to global leadership in health and social service research with vulnerable populations (eg. families of children with disabilities, individuals with mental illness, older adults with a disability, indigenous communities).
Reflecting on Vulnerability
The Co-Design Hub identifies vulnerability as a product of the system that we find ourselves in. The Hub works to contest vulnerability through co-design in research and service design. Co-design is a method that empowers people, both researchers and participants and community members.
The practice of co-design research acts on and responds to systems, policies, individuals and groups, and all of the institutions that affect peoples and communities and determine their vulnerability.
Co-design researchers recognize that vulnerability can reflect the position of both the researcher and service designer as well. This vulnerability is a condition of being human and a condition of entering into relationship with people. When conducting research, there is always a possibility of vulnerability in the complexities of negotiating relationships with partners, participants and the self.