The first day of ADC was a hectic one for me. After the busy and generally well-received DIYAPS session, I had a break for lunch and then headed back to the same room as earlier in the day to co-chair a session on co-design.

I quite loved that the idea of this session was included in the program. And even more in love with watching the room fill up as Congress attendees filed in and took their seats. The session was the brainchild of Dr Kirstie Bell, who among other things, is a huge advocate for involving PWD in the program at ADC. She absolutely slayed it with this one!

The planning for the session involved a number of people, including PWD, HCPs and researchers and the aim was to highlight examples of co-design in diabetes and healthcare to help attendees understand that this wasn’t something to be afraid of. I think that sometimes there is an idea that it is just too hard to include everyone because it will mean a lot of coordination and fingers in the pie. But we wanted to show that could be managed effectively.

Another objective was to try to explain the principles of co-design. In this case, it was to underline (and probably italicise and bold) that co-design does not mean showing a finished product to someone and asking for ‘feedback’, with a further point being made that asking for feedback shouldn’t be the aim as that is done when things are already completed. Instead ask for ‘feed in’ the whole way along the process.

If the idea of co-design had a slogan, surely it would be #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs, meaning that the ‘us’ in that phrase need to be the ones driving initiatives – and definitely not being left out. Unfortunately it does seem that in diabetes, often the ‘us’ (i.e. people actually affected by diabetes) are not included in design, instead having others make decisions about what they thinkwe need and want.

And that’s why I made a really important point – something that I frequently speak about. And that’s the reminder that when it comes to the idea of co-design, if there is no opportunity for all stakeholders engaged to influence – ESPECIALLY in the case of diabetes, PWD – then it is not true co-design.

Too often, we see examples of services, activities and programs that don’t provide PWD that opportunity to influence. When that is the case, what we have is pure tokenism. And in my mind, tokenism is even worse than not consulting at all, because it gives the illusion of co-design without the reality of it. Too frequently I hear of organisations and services saying ‘Oh – we have these policies in place’ when truthfully, they are worth little more than the paper on which they are written because PWD do not actually have real power to effect any influence.

In my experience working in diabetes organisations, one of the things that I have come to understand as being critical is support from leadership. The role I started in 17 years ago at Diabetes Victoria could have been considered tokenism (one person ‘doing type 1 diabetes’) three days per week, without any budget only grew because then-CEO, Greg Johnson, had an attitude of ‘if we’re talking about diabetes programs services and activities there better be people with diabetes in the room talking about it with us.’ For a while, the director I reported to, Dr Ralph Audhem, a GP from Melbourne, was committed to establishing a national type 1 diabetes program that was fully staffed by people affected by people affected by diabetes.

Both were willing to grow the program through resourcing (both staff and funding), but most importantly, by listening to people with diabetes – and not just those from within the organisation – and including them in every single step of the way.

Perhaps, my most favourite example of co-design recently is the Mytonomy diabetes language matters video. Deb Greenwood in overseeing the development of the video consulted with all stakeholders, firstly to help write the script that would be used. It was honed and finetuned by repeatedly asking people to feed into what others were saying. Instead of using actors to deliver the message, Deb engaged PWD, healthcare professionals and researchers. The result is something that not only hits the mark when it comes to its messaging, but it feels wonderfully authentic and real. No wonder people have been sharing it far and wide.

I was thrilled to be able to show it as part of the introduction to the co-design symposium at ADC, and then Jane Speight shared it again the following day during her ADEA Plenary talk. (I would really encourage ANYONE involved in putting together a diabetes conference or event to find a way to fit this three minute video into the agenda! It resonates with all involved in diabetes.)

The other speakers in the symposium all shared their own examples of where the principles of co-design had been applied with great success. Melinda Seed spoke about the Type 1 Network and how that grew from a gap of providing support and information for young adults with diabetes; Frank Sita shared his experiences of being on the Perth Diabetes Care Young Adults with Diabetes Committee and Melinda Morrison provided an overview of stakeholder involvement and engagement in the NDSS Diabetes and Pregnancy priority area.

These real-life examples provided attendees with an understanding of how they too could incorporate the idea and principles of co-design in their own work – which is exactly what we hoped to achieve when designing (co-designing!!!) the session. And it seems that just maybe, we got through to some people. I’ll finish this post with this tweet from credentialled diabetes educator and midwife, Belinda Moore:

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