10 Reasons Why: Online Co-design Rivals Face-to-Face

Emily Rayner

Emily Rayner on Jan 19, 2022

Posted in:

At Claremont we work directly and collaboratively with audiences to understand barriers to behaviour change and to design solutions that can help to reduce or remove those barriers.

We’ve called our co-design approach Co-lab. The pandemic forced us to deliver our co-design sessions virtually which we thought would be problematic but in fact it’s been a pretty positive experience. Here are the ways in which I’ve found remote research beneficial:

1. We can convene from afar:

With people able to contribute from their sofa, we can easily bring together a group of participants from all corners of the UK or even further afield. When partners are looking for a geographical spread of contributors, convening online really helps.

2. We can make engagement easier:

Not everyone finds it convenient to leave their home or workplace and get themselves to a local community centre and not everyone wants to sit in an unfamiliar room with a group of strangers for a few hours. Getting together online is less of an ask for most people and although we’d prefer to see faces, it even gives individuals the option to stay off camera if they choose to. Those afraid to speak up can raise a virtual hand to ensure their voice is heard.

3. We can help build bonds:

When we bring a co-design group together, we put a lot of energy into helping them to get to know one another and build enough trust to share their thoughts and experiences openly without fear of judgement. Working virtually allows us to keep the conversation going beyond the official meetings such as through a Whatsapp group. This can lead to lovely exchanges between participants who can get to know one another more organically over time.

4. We can get together quickly:

Finding a venue, booking train tickets and organising refreshments all takes time which can lead to delays in getting research done. When we meet online, the logistics are little more than a diary invite which really helps to speed things up.

5. We can make savings:

We think that meeting people face to face is money well spent but when we meet online there are savings to be made and that can mean more resources available to meet more often or for other aspects of the project.

6. We can work around life:

When I was planning a trip to Belfast, I was searching for flights, trains and taxis that would work for me and my family – could I find an option that meant I didn’t miss breakfast and bath time? The answer was no. Having to deliver the co-design session online in the end was disappointing but it also meant I could fulfil my other role that day.

7. We can experiment with tools:

Engaging a group online can feel less dynamic and interactive than it would do in a room where everyone can move around, write things down and work in pairs and groups. Working online has encouraged us to find new ways to encourage participation, using tools such as Mentimeter and Miro. It’s also a handy way to speed up note taking when everyone contributes.

8. We can capture every word:

Often when I facilitate face to face, I’m doing my best to listen intently whilst simultaneously trying to scribble down everything that’s being said. Engaging through Zoom or Teams means a quick click of the record button and I’ve got a crisp recording of who said what to watch in my own time and share with colleagues. Video clips of key quotes is also a really powerful way to play back key findings to clients.

9. We can look at our notes!

Of course it’s important to prepare for a session and have a good sense of what questions you want to cover but it isn’t always possible to commit it all to memory. Carrying out research remotely means you can discreetly surround yourself with all the post-it notes you need and even an extra screen if needs be!

10. We can invite clients to participate:

Often when commissioning co-design, clients are very keen to be in the room to see and hear what their audiences have to say. However, I often find that someone sitting in a corner taking notes but not participating with the group can feel a bit odd and off-putting for everyone else. When they’re one of a number of smiley faces on screen, they feel like they’re part of the process rather a slightly awkward observer (I always ask them to keep their cameras on and to ask a few questions).