Co-designing solutions to our most complex issues

Auckland Council’s social and economic change programme for southern Auckland, The Southern Initiative, has been taking ground-breaking approaches in co-design – with lessons emerging for how Government can deal with some of the most complex issues facing our communities.

In the latest issue of the Public Sector Journal we’ve spoken with The Southern Initiative’s Director Community and Social Innovation Gael Surgenor about the initiative’s philosophy and success, and how government services can get better at working with and in communities.

Gael says there’s room for improvement in how government deals with slow burning social and economic issues.

She says government is good at responding to disasters and emergency, such as in Christchurch, but not so good at dealing with “slower-burning social and economic disasters", which can also have significant impacts but occur over a longer timeframe. 

“We somehow need to develop the same sense of urgency to tackle these problems. But rather than trying harder or even faster with our current ways of working, something more fundamental is needed. We need to ally the strengths governments can bring with the strengths people and communities can bring to grappling with complex problems.”

“Involving whānau and community in an experimental and collaborative approach results in a more holistic and connected framing of issues and, in turn, results in more innovative and systemic responses.”

Gael says genuine co-design and collaboration requires time for building trust, relationships, and alignment. It requires openness, a learning mindset, and being reflective, adaptive, and comfortable with uncertainty.

“Being comfortable testing ideas that might not work is not an easy thing in the public space, but as complexity increases, it’s going to be increasingly important to take calculated risks and learn from it.”

The Southern Initiative is a place-based initiative covering Māngere-Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara-Papatoetoe, Manurewa, and Papakura – home to almost 20 percent of Auckland’s population.

It aims to create, foster, and support innovative social and economic change, by identifying change makers, brokering relationships, encouraging social enterprise, and building community and individual capability.

You can read our full Q&A about The Southern Initiative, how it is applying co-design philosophies, and what we can all learn from it in the latest issue of the Public Sector Journal here: