Co-designed methodology to strengthen skills in innovation while exploring new ways to think about the support worker role

Co-designed methodology to strengthen skills in innovation while exploring new ways to think about the support worker role
Organisation: Think Change Grow
Contact: Monika Gisler

This project used a structured co-design methodology to strengthen skills in innovation while exploring new ways to think about the support worker role.

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    Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Northcott, House with No Steps

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The Context

Prior to the NDIS, the way disability service providers operated had been relatively static for a long time. Service providers now find themselves amid a significant and disruptive change to the way they provide services, manage their business and prioritise. This new approach demands more than structural change – it also requires managers, workers, NDIS participants and their families to take on new leadership skills and to apply innovative thinking.   

The Problem

Think Change Grow recognised a gap in the innovative and leadership capabilities of the disability services sector needed to respond to challenges of the NDIS. This included skills to co-design their solutions with the people they support. They also saw a need to rethink the role of disability support workers to better meet the needs, wants and aspirations of the Scheme's participants.

The Solution

Disability service providers in NSW were invited to participate in a program named 'The Greater Collective'. The program aimed to strengthen the leadership capability of participants while using a structured design approach to focus on the sector specific problem of the relevance of the traditional disability support worker role under the NDIS.

Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Northcott and House with No Steps partnered with Think Change Grow to implement the program. Staff from these organisations, people with disability and carers were invited to participate in the program to develop responses to the question:

"How might we redesign the role of the Disability Support Practitioner in order to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs, wants and aspirations of the NDIS recipient?"

This mutual challenge and collaboration informed the design leadership workshops during which solutions were proposed and pitched to the CEOs of the partner organisations. 

Expected Impact

The program comprised three full-day workshops that were attended by a diverse group of 17 people including disability support workers, NDIS participants, carers and “wild cards” (people with little to no previous experience of disability).  While the immediate aim of the program was to design projects to solve the stated problem, the longer-term anticipated outcomes were associated with the development of leadership skills by the program participants. Participants who responded to the post-program evaluation all identified strengthened leadership skills across a range of indicators. These included confidence in solving complex problems, navigating change, giving and receiving feedback, and inspiring others with a vision and strategy.

From the workshops, four projects were developed and pitched by the participants to the CEOs of the partner disability service providers. From these, two ideas were selected for piloting and further development:

  • The Next Chapter project looked at separating out the tasks people with NDIS plans want workers to do. The aim was that people can have a range of workers with a range of expertise to provide a range of services, rather than one generalist worker who might not have specific knowledge needed.
  • The Handover Snapshot project focused on testing an audio case-note app that would positively impact the experience of clients and bring more efficiency to the role of the disability support worker. 

Stage and Spread

During the IWF project, House with No Steps began implementation of their trial of The Next Chapter. Their trial encouraged specific support workers in their teams to reduce their focus on some identified aspects of their role, and instead increase their focus on active support. The evaluation found that workers noticed a positive impact on both the people they support and a more relaxed working environment. House with No Steps is considering expanding the project to more houses, and actively involving customers in future trials.

All three partner service providers agreed to work together to further develop and trial The Handover Snapshot project. To begin, a visual prototype of the app was created, which received good feedback. Feasibility of further development was then explored. It was ascertained that the investment required to develop an app that would interface with the three organisation's IT infrastructure was not feasible at this stage. This was attributed to competing priorities demanding immediate attention and arising from the NDIS rollout. All partners indicated an interest in pursuing the project together in the future. 

Lessons and Insights

  • Spending more time up front with providers so they better understand the concept, and helping with recruitment of program participants could expand opportunity for people using their services to participate.
  • Participants who will have a chance to use their newly developed skills in the workplace would benefit most from the program.
  • Participants needed to be encouraged by their employer to be involved in post-program activity including implementation and evaluation.
  • Having “wild cards” in the process was enormously valuable to bringing new ways of thinking to the group.
  • Design thinking was new to the majority of people in the Greater Collective, and more time might be needed for future programs in the disability sector to cover this topic.
  • The disability sector is hungry to be innovative, and are seeking the tools to do this.
  • All participants interviewed indicated that the process increased their confidence and/or they have used new skills developed as a result of the project.

Roadblocks and Risks

  • Conducting the program at the same time as the NDIS roll out was challenging to the staff in the organisations due to many competing priorities.
  • Participating organisations need to provide the time and resources to identify suitable participants and support their ongoing involvement in the program.
  • The projects identified need to be scalable and/or staged. Testing needs to be done on a small scale, or moving forward may become prohibitively expensive and/or time consuming.