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Co-Design: What exactly happened?

In August of 2015, most people we talked with said we were quite likely crazy. Well, not all said it exactly that way: ‘those timelines are ambitious’, ‘schools move very slowly’, and ‘did you say first even in September?!!’ were other versions of what we heard. Internally, our team wondered the same: was it completely unrealistic to aim for some kind of ‘ideation’ sessions early in the fall?

And yet last fall, in 6 school districts across British Columbia, six amazing WellAhead Community Liaisons, with the support of their planning teams, moved ahead with visioning, planning, and implementing a process that did amazing work in record time. In each district, we’re preparing to ‘prototype’ new ideas.

The process of last fall had three major parts:

1.  Building the Foundation (August–September 2015)

Objective: To build a shared understanding of the context for integration of wellbeing into school communities, and engage people meaningfully into the WellAhead process.

2.  Brainstorming Ideas (October 2015)

Objective: To engage a variety of stakeholders to surface and shape ideas on how to integrate wellbeing into school communities, with a focus on “everyday practices” that could be prototyped in the school setting.

3.   Selection of Ideas (November)

Objective: To decide on what idea(s) your district will prototype in Year 1 (January–June 2016).  

Building the Foundation was primarily internal, involving within each district the collection and collation of data and insights related to the integration of social and emotional wellbeing into the daily life of schools. Insights were shared in ‘Design Briefs’: 2–4 page documents that give a background on the district and context. These documents were in draft form, the beginning of something that would continue to be shaped by districts based on feedback and input over time. A few examples of those briefs are here and here

Brainstorming Ideas involved an external audience, and specifically mandated the involvement of five key stakeholders groups: parents, educators, students, administration, and community partners. We’ll share more about that even in a separate post – for now, here’s a brief overview of what a typical session looked like. Out of the ideation session came a list of 10–20 ideas; a second day, idea refinement, helped narrow from that broader set to 3–5 ideas that connect with key priorities in the community.

Selection of Ideas involved several sources of data. The most important was user input: in each district, liaisons when to speak with educators and students about the ideas proposed. We researched existing programs and resources; checked in on community buy-in; made connections to district and provincial policy; and checked with existing academic research. In a two-week period, thanks in large part to networks through the BC School-Centred Mental Health Coalition, the word was shared broadly. The site we had developed to gather input was visited almost 10,000 times in the first three weeks (unique page views) and collected over 140 comments and 600+ likes. This input, aggregated by perspective and geographical location, gave insight into the types of ideas that have resonance broadly, with a public audience.

We’ve learned a lot from our process so far, and continue to wonder: to what extent was the Fall far too hasty a process, far too much to ask in such a short time? In what ways does the speed of a process actually allow for increased creativity, increased potential for change?

We’ll soon share some of our thinking; in the meantime, look forward to hearing yours.