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Monday, August 9, 2021

The Case for Youth Co-design in Schools


Jae Brieffies

Student Engagement Officer

If we want our students to start becoming active leaders and citizens, we need to start treating them as such. That’s where co-design comes in - an innovative tool of co-creation, which has the potential to enrich not only schools and the educational and extra-curricular services they provide, but students’ own personal and educational development. 

What is co-design?

Co-design is a process within key decision-making and planning projects, which involved incorporating the views and input of stakeholders who have firsthand experience of the impacts of decision-making, in order to enrich understandings of problems, opportunities, complications, and effectiveness of service delivery. Co-design is creating solutions for communities, with communities - the principle of ‘nothing about me, without me’. 

In a school environment, this looks like working with students in a collaborative setting, with shared decision-making processes, in fusing professional expertise with lived experience in order to create effective, well-targeted, well-received programs. 

What co-design isn’t 

Co-design isn’t just tokenistic consultation. It requires students to have real decision-making power alongside other stakeholders. It’s an ongoing process involving diverse representatives of a wider community, and a mindset of inclusion, not just a one-off event. It’s not a hierarchical decision-making chain - it’s an equally collaborative, equally rewarding exercise. 

What are the benefits co-design can bring you, your students, and your school community?

  • Meaningful involvement in design processes which affect them can combat the  scepticism with which students commonly view student representation systems and educational institutions
  • Students take on an increased stake in the success, achievements, and reputation of the school 
  • Collaborative efforts encourage a culture of inclusion, trust, and achievement between students and staff
  • Co-design engages many of meta-learning principles mentioned several times in curriculums across the country, such as introspection, goal-setting, empathy and an understanding of diverse learning experiences
  • Staff and decision-makers are able to co-create stronger, more innovative designs with the input and creativity of students
  • Staff and decision-makers take on hands-on, transferable skills in co-design, diversity, and inclusion
  • Students receive key learnings for their futures, and the future of the human-centred workforce. One Australian school garden project found that children became proficient in design skills and knowledge when they were included in the designing and planning of the environments where they lived. This transformed the teaching and learning in the school due to the ownership children felt and the creativity and imagination required during the design process.

Tips for initiating co-design

There’s no single way to co-design successfully - principles and processes will depend on your own objectives and projects. Core features of a successful co-design process will include sharing of decision-making power, a human-centred design and planning process, and equal value given to expertise by lived experience and expertise by profession or education. 

Importantly, it is crucial to facilitate co-design from students themselves, by including capacity-training processes to upskill students in contributing meaningfully to the discussion. This also includes making the discussion more accessible for the students themselves, minimising the use of jargon, communicating clear expectations of those who are participating, creating an open, collaborative environment, giving and receiving constructive feedback, and ensuring that the students feel comfortable and validated in sharing their experiences without judgement in the discussion, can aid in supporting strong student participation in the co-design process. Ask meaningful questions, and your students will provide more meaningful responses. 

Diversity of experience is also crucial in creating an effective co-design process: otherwise minority groups are at risk of slipping through the cracks of the design. Make sure your group of co-designers is representative of the experiences of the population you seek to cater to.

For some examples of strong, tested co-design activities, make sure to check out Examples of exercises can include:

  • Storyboarding - collecting qualitative data through visual imagery, recalling past or anticipating future experiences
  • Roleplaying - encouraging students to act out situations, feelings, or people, in order to gauge perceptions and expectations
  • Flash-thinking - sprint feedback, enabling assessment of first-hand, first-impression experience and immediate responses

Alternatively, reach out to us for in-depth consultation on how you can implement co-design principles to improve your school’s projects, operations, and student inclusion. We’re committed to bringing young people to the table in shaping their own futures - and we want to work with you to strengthen your schools and communities, designing systems that enable every staff member and student to thrive to their full potential. 


Additional Note: This article was written by,

Jae Brieffies

. This author is a member of YLAA's Youth Advisory Board. As our organisation continues to evolve, we want to make sure that we continue to represent and empower the voices of youth in their own affairs, that’s why we have created our first Youth Advisory Board - not only to ensure that our students’ interests are at the core of every aspect of our organisation, but also to give the young people we serve the opportunity to develop themselves personally, whilst contributing to our mission of ensuring a sustainable future for all youth.

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