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Learning in complex settings

The Southern Initiative, Auckland Co-design Lab
The Southern Initiative, Auckland Co-design Lab | Auckland Council
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Learning in complex settings

This innovation brief profiles the Healthy Homes Initiative – Auckland Co-design: testing ideas to make homes warmer and drier. A collaboration between The Southern Initiative, the Ministry of Health and other partners between 2015-2018.

Trish is a single mother of two small children. She recently had to leave her job and move to Auckland due to a violent history with her partner. She is currently on a benefit and has little family in Auckland. Trish values her independence and is happy to be in her own house, however there are serious problems with the house itself. The rent is very high but there are very few options available in the private rental market. She has applied for social housing and is on a waiting list. Trish has paid to carpet the house and the landlord has not paid her back yet. Trish and her children live in the one bedroom that faces the sun as the rest of the house is cold and damp.

Research that shares the lived experience of families, such as Trish’s, consistently shows that some families are not served well enough by our current policy and service system. For Trish, and many others in similar situations, engagement with services can instead make things more stressful. The Productivity Commission's 2015 report into More Effective Social Services made clear that creating a service system that works better for families will take significant changes in how we work together and how we deliver services. The report emphasised the need for different and client centred service models, for experimentation, for fostering learning, and for government to be an enabling environment. Similarly a 2018 paper addressing child poverty argued that past efforts to solve complex policy problems have been too fragmented and not built on an understanding of the complex social systems which policies and services must work in. A ‘complexity-informed’ approach is needed, one which includes building greater trust between government and other agents of change and that draws on distributed community knowledge, resources and local solutions.

This case study reviews a co-design project led by The Southern Initiative (TSI) for the Ministry of Health (the Ministry) between 2015-2018⁴. The case study represents an example of ‘fostering learning’ and ‘experimentation’ in action in complex and sensitive settings. It is part of a series of case studies to share what we at TSI and Auckland Co-design Lab are learning about working together differently for outcomes that matter to families. Descriptions of what such an approach takes in terms of mindsets, capabilities and shifts in the system are important for helping us establish a case for change in how we work in the public sector. They help us to understand what is possible when we work differently, as well as some of the barriers that hold the status quo practice in place. This case study offers particular insight into what is involved in taking an innovation process from initial learning with whānau to live prototyping through into implementation. The case study also calls attention to the potential role of local government (when working in partnership) in shifting to more responsive, experimental and collaborative approaches. 

May 2019

See also

The Auckland Co-design Lab

The Southern Initiative