About Co-design

Co-design supports continuous improvement.
Co-design focuses on understanding and improving people’s experiences of services as well as the services themselves.
This is the web version of the Co-Design Guide. Please use the below buttons to download the Guide in PDF and Text-only versions.


What this guide provides

This Co-design Guide will provide you with directions on how to successfully engage, connect and co-design with people with disability.
Should you have a specific enquiry or require specific training, please contact us at [email protected].


Table of Contents

Understanding This Guide

Co-design Elements & Principles

Using the tools


Understanding This Guide

What is Co-design?

Co-design is a process that involves key stakeholders in defining, developing, implementing and reviewing a necessary change (to improve access, inclusion and participation).

Why use this guide?

Co-design provides you with the methods and tools to assess/test how you are doing and to improve your services in ways that really meet the needs of people with disability, because they have contributed to the design.


  1. To help you work with people with disability to understand their experience.
  2. To help make improvements to services, processes or products for people with disability.
  3. To provide a range of flexible tools for working effectively with people with disability in service improvement work.


All organisations have a responsibility to commit to:

  1. The Human Rights principles set out in a number of treaties including The Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  2. The National Disability Strategy, which promotes active participation in decision making to safeguard and advance the human rights, wellbeing and interests of people with disability.
  3. Observe the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act and Equal Opportunity Act.
  4. National Disability Service Standards also apply to disability service providers. This framework promotes person centred approaches and is based on principles related to Human Rights and Quality Management.
Please refer to the Quick Links for more information.

Who this guide is for

This guide will be useful for organisations to co-design with people with disability in establishing, improving and changing services. You can use the tools in this guide if you are:

  1. Starting a new service improvement project
  2. Exploring a specific service issue and deciding what to do about it
  3. Undertaking exploratory work where you may not exactly know the nature of the problem or how you are going to tackle it
  4. Developing a new process, product or service
  5. Wanting to understand the experiences of people with disability recieving services
  6. Implementing changes

Co-design Elements & Principles

Elements Overview

The different elements that are involved when co-designing are:

  1. Engage - Establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships with people with disability to understand and improve services. This critical element underpins all improvement work and is continuous throughout.
  2. Plan - Working with people with disability and organisational management to establish the goals of your improvement work and how you might go about achieving them.
  3. Explore - Learning about and understanding people with disability's experiences of services and identifying improvement ideas.
  4. Develop - Working with people with disability to turn ideas into improvements that will lead to better lived experiences.
  5. Decide - Choosing what improvements to make and how to make them. Success depends on understanding the requirements of people with disability and their insights about service improvements.
  6. Change - Turning your improvement ideas into action. Remember that you do not need to make all the changes by yourself, make as many improvements in partnership with other stakeholders as you can.

Co-design Principles

These principles are developed by the Co-design Steering Group 2017:

  1. Engage people with disability and involve them in the process from the very beginning and throughout the whole journey
  2. Ensure everyone understands the common goal
  3. Make sure the process includes mutual exchange and is more than consultation
  4. Use a listening approach and be empathetic, flexible and supportive
  5. Be prepared to compromise
  6. Commit to working together in collaboration as a team
  7. Be professional, and respectful
  8. Look for solutions that are functional, useable and sustainable

Using the tools

How to use the tools?

There is no one way to do Co-design.
When deciding which tools to use you need to take into account what you are trying to do and how much time you have to do it.
In making your decisions, it is important to stay true to the essence of co-design: working with people with disability and focusing on their lived experiences.

Tools that help Engage

  1. Relationship building activities - Activities to build personal rapport among the participants (including people with disability, project team and organisation representatives), usually through some sharing of personal experience or an ‘ice-breaker’ activity.
  2. Research – Use a variety of resources to better understand the needs, mindset, skill sets and/or challenges in the disability sector. This will help you be prepared to co-design with confidence.

Tools that help Plan

  1. Meetings - Plan opportunities for all stakeholders to come together regularly over a set period. Set an Agenda with a meeting organiser appointed.
  2. Workshops – Upskill and provide training on co-design. Appoint a co-design trainer/facilitator and book dates for further education for all stakeholders.
  3. Route maps – A route map is a diagram showing the steps in co-design from start to finish. You can plan to use a variety of possible approaches using a variety of tools depending on your purpose and timeframe. Use a visual route map to plan and include people with disability from start to finish. A route map can simply be a list of ideas and or pictures.

Tools that help Explore

  1. Shadowing - Follow the service experience and document feelings, observations and impressions with a person with disability. Identify existing experiences and behaviours. Shadowing can be used to check the impact improvements have made. Getting to know the person with the disability prior to shadowing is essential and consulting afterwards is a necessary part of this process.
  2. Journey Mapping – A journey map is a diagram summarising the service experiences people with disability have over time. It identifies maps and plans the experience and feelings of the person with disability. It can identify key touchpoints and pain points.
  3. Surveys – To explore the experience of a certain area of the organisation and to allow people with disability to come up with specific suggestions for improving their experiences.
  4. Lived experience stories – An opportunity for people with disability to talk about a variety of experiences, either individually or in a group setting. The purpose of lived experience stories is to explore and understand experiences over time. Lived experience stories can help other people make sense of experiences and help services understand how these might be improved. Lived experience stories are used as case studies to guide improvements.
  5. Mystery Shopper – A person experiencing a service incognito in order to assess the quality of the goods or services.
  6. Letter writing – To record thoughts and words in a written letter to the organisation based on a person with disability's own experiences of the service.
  7. Video diaries – To record personal stories digitally to share service experiences with the organisation.
  8. Photos – A picture record of a personal story taken whilst a person with disability is experiencing the services of the organisation.
  9. Assumption busting tool – Questioning what we know, and what we think we know, highlighting areas we need to interrogate further.

Tools that help Develop

  1. Ideas groups - Will help you to brainstorm issues and related ideas for improvements. It is an easy, fast, fun way of scoping potential improvements and innovations. Write down ideas using a whiteboard, sheets of paper and/or sticky notes.
  2. Stakeholder needs table – Sketches out different stakeholder needs including improvements. Use it to compare and identify common stakeholder needs.
  3. Role plays – A realistic description of how a service works. Participate in a role playing game where by participants act out designated roles relevant to real-life situations.
  4. Service touchpoints and painpoints – This tool helps identify the service areas that work for people with disabilities. A touchpoint is any point of contact people have with a service i.e. a service desk. A painpoint is a point of contact that does not work well. Improvement ideas often involve identifying hotspots and making changes to an existing touchpoint i.e. implementing a lower service desk. Understanding the touchpoints people with disability value most, helps decide which areas to prioritise for improvement, and how best to do so. The best time to use this tool is after you have developed an understanding of people’s experiences and a selection of improvement ideas.

Tools that help Decide

  1. Platforms – Social media platforms can be used to get ideas and to help make decisions. Compare and consider which social media platforms are applicable to your service. Some social media platforms provide analytics (data) to help compare and decide i.e. Facebook. Consider how accessible these are for people with disability? Social media sites can be used to ask people with disability to participate and help make decisions.

Tools that help Change

  1. Prototype - A proptotype is a mock-version of a solution used to test whether it will work and refine the idea further. Prototyping can be used to test new processes, products or services to see if they will work. Prototypes (such as drafts, role plays or physical mock-ups) are critical for making sure improvements are working as they are intended.
  2. Biggest difference – This tool helps identify which improvements have made the biggest difference in service experience for people with disability. It provides evidence of the difference an improvement has made to a person’s experience. It is used to evaluate and monitor the experience of an improvement after implementation. You can use this tool to evaluate a prototype or pilot version of an improvement, or to monitor the performance of an improvement after implementation.
  3. Service Blueprint - Is a document that summarises the key learnings and decisions from a co-design process. A good service blueprint is important because it communicates on behalf of people with disability to other stakeholders within and beyond the organisation. It demonstrates a rationale for change, showing how to deliver great experiences and how to then continue evolving. It may be as simple as compiling your finalised diagrams and summarising the project using these to illustrate tools used, learnings gained and resulting improvements.


  1. Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  2. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  3. National Disability Strategy 2010-2020
  4. National Standards for Disability Services
  5. UN Declaration on rights of Indigenous Peoples
  6. Disability (Access to premises – building) Standards 2010
  7. Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984
  8. Equal Opportunity Act 1984


PWdWA Inc. would like to acknowledge the following people and organisations:

PWdWA Inc. would like to acknowledge that this co-design guide was adapted from:


This Co-design Guide is made available by PWdWA for information purposes as well as to give you a general understanding of Co-design with people with disability, not to provide specific advice on disability. By using this Co-design Guide you understand that there is no relationship between you and PWdWA. This guide does not bind PWdWA and does not create any rights or benefits that are enforceable by any party.
PWdWA does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information is strictly at your own risk, PWdWA will not be liable for any losses and damages in connection with the use of our model.
This Co-design information and guide is not for sale, to be sold, reproduced and/or modified, unless prior permission is received in writing from PWdWA.