Before defining solutions, every co-design project has to go through a research phase in order to discover the nature of the problem. However, before the research phase begins, a number of factors must be considered, not the least of which is answering the question "What is it that we want to find out?"
Prepare the Research approach
The 'Listening to families' research approach
The Research Protocol for this project was developed and signed off by the steering group in the beginning of May (4 of May) before the main field work activities started.
The document was very helpful for guiding the exploration of information and organising field work activities. The set of questions defined in the protocol provided a general framework without losing focus on the overall outcome of this research.
In order to improve the quality of the Research Protocol, we organised early field work activities like interviews while the protocol was still being developed. The observations coming from these first activities helped us to refine the research document - especially the interview questions benefited from those early observations.
Goals of the research engagement
To deliver on our intent, we needed to understand how families currently experience and engage with the service system. We also needed to explore future collaborative approaches for developing and co-producing services that create better outcomes for families in the ACT.
The aim of the research was to give illustrative descriptions of the journey of families in the service system, with a specific focus on their experiences in significant situations and at critical points of interaction. This illuminates the problems and challenges that prevent desired outcomes. It reflects an holistic view on their service journey and the functioning of the service system as well as in-depth perspectives on its implications for families.
The research sought to give a better understanding of:
- The needs, as well as the assets and desires of families with complex needs
- The experiences of families seen from their perspective, as well as their journeys through the service system
- The interconnections in the service system and the potential effectiveness of a more collaborative approach
- How the current service delivery does or does not fit into the citizens' life and their needs
Desired outcomes for research:
- Outcome 1: The research aimed to give (new) insights into how to engage and retain people in meaningful, person-centred service environments.
- Outcome 2: The research aimed to inform the basis of outcomes-focused decision making by showing the potential of working as 'one system', regardless of provider and funding source.
- Outcome 3: The research aimed to reframe current service delivery by introducing a co-design approach in the ACT Government and show the potential of co-designing and co-producing services with communities and citizens.
How did we recruit families?
It is very difficult to define and quantify what characterises families with complex needs. This point is reinforced by the fact that the number of families with complex needs varies according to who you ask. Given the focus on person-centred outcomes provided by 'one system', we needed to look beyond the formal program and policy areas in order to understand the experience and service journey of these families. For this reason the primary approach for engaging the families was through the community organisations and their case workers. The selection and involvement of these families was carried out in close collaboration with service providers and frontline staff. These are people who work with the families in practice, and their in-depth understanding of the situations and experiences of the families was a valuable resource in itself that was utilized.
Family level barriers
'Families with complex needs'' are usually identified through certain family level barriers. These barriers include:
- low or limited incomes / debt;
- sole or young parenthood;
- large family size;
- lack of social stability;
- culturally or linguistically diverse;
- disability; unstable housing or homelessness;
- domestic violence;
- drug or alcohol abuse;
- physical or mental health issues;
- lack of social support;
- lack of private transport;
- low literacy;
- inability to live desired lifestyle;
- day-to-day stress
Service need matrix
The service need matrix is a helpful tool to identify families by the intensity and number of services they require. Given the intention of the project, we were particularly interested in families and citizens that were located primarily in the 'Intensive' service need area (top right) and secondly in the 'Assisted' (top left) and 'Managed' service need area (bottom right).
Preparing the research approach
Why is this phase important?
It's important because we need to make sure that we're asking the right people the right questions. We also need to make sure that we act ethically in our research and that the rights and privacy of the people we are speaking to are protected.
What is involved?
Just as the intent phase sets the direction and tone for the whole project, the prepare phase sets in place the goal and the approach for the research. This is when we seek to understand what it is that we want to find out, who we need to talk to, where and how we'll find them and how we will engage with them.
Output - research protocol
It is useful to have a single document that outlines the research approach. This document may be called a research protocol, brief or framework. The purpose of this document is to ensure there is a clear understanding of the research approach amongst team members and to provide clear guidance about the research method including:
- Why we are doing this research?
- Where we can find the information?
- Which research questions do we want to answer?
- Who are the contact persons who are responsible for each stage in the co-design research?
This document may also include the interview script which outlines the questions that need to be asked.
Documents related to the protocol that are important are:
- Consent form that outlines the rights and obligations of the interviewee
- Information kit that explains the purpose of the research that participants can keep
What is it that we want to find out?
In the same way that the statement of intent document includes a single succinct statement that summarises the intent of the project, a single question that summarises the goal of the research is helpful to guide the line of enquiry. This question should be directly drawn from the intent statement. When there is a clear sense of what needs to be discovered, the research approach can be developed.
Three overarching questions should be answered when developing the research approach:
Who are we interested in?
Deciding on and defining exactly who it is we want to speak to can be challenging becauseit can be very difficult to define and quantify what characterises the users of a service system.However, deciding on some criteria helps to narrow the scope. Some helpful categories may be:
- Life circumstances (such as low income, unemployment and unstable housing)
- Service barriers
- The number or intensity of services accessed
How and where can we find them?
When seeking less vulnerable members of society a market research company can be used to gain access.However, it can be much more challenging when seeking people experiencing difficult life circumstances.In this case we needed to approach the task with sensitivity and we needed to look beyond the more standardaccess points. Contact may be made through established connections such as community organisations. Inthis case there was already an established trust relationship which could assist researchers to build rapport.
How are we going to conduct the research?
Some questions that need to be answered are:
- What form of research will be undertaken? Will it be observation? Focus groups? Exploratory interviews? How will we conduct the activities in detail?
- What are the research teams and what are their responsibilities?
- What are the guiding principles and ethical issues in this research?
- What are the materials needed for these activities?
- How will the research be recorded? Written notes, audio, photographs, video?
- What will we do with the data when we have gathered it?