Lessons in co-design from The Lived Experience Network

In 2019, the South Australian Government’s Department of Human Services (DHS) engaged consultants Dana Shen (DS Consultancy) and Melanie Lambert (Think Human) to co-design a new Child and Family Support System with the community services sector and community members.

A core foundation of their approach was to engage effectively and authentically with families with lived experience. These families acted as ‘system advisors’, providing advice and support to guide the development of the system, to improve it for others.

The collaboration was so successful that a Lived Experience Network (LEN) was formally established the following year.

In the following video (5 minutes, 40 seconds), Dana, Mel and LEN coordinator, Yasmin Sinclair share their perspectives of undertaking the co-design process and the establishment of the Lived Experience Network. To turn on subtitles/closed captions for this video, select the ‘CC’ icon in the lower right of the video screen and under ‘CC/Subtitles’, select ‘English’.

Reflection activity

What key learnings did you take away from this video? Take a moment to note them down.

There’s much to be learned through developing respectful, authentic and collaborative relationships with children and families. However, these relationships need careful planning and organisational support. For more information on preparing and planning for successful lived experience engagement, visit our Child and Family Partnerships Toolkit.

The Lived Experience Network continues to work closely with the DHS Early Intervention Research Directorate (EIRD). The Network is comprised of 15 system advisors, each with a two-year term. These lived experience experts have co-designed their Terms of Reference, role description and are actively involved in the recruitment and orientation of new advisors.

Some of the significant initiatives undertaken by LEN include:

  • the Adults Supporting Kids (ASK) website. Advisors contributed to the vision and planning for ASK, as well as the content, photo selection and layout of the website. They’re also involved in actively promoting ASK, including at events like the Executive Leaders Communities of Practice forum
  • the Connected Self Trauma Responsive System Capacity Building Framework. Advisors helped inform the language and content of the framework, including advice on how organisations can seek to strengthen the voice of children and families in their practice. LEN produced a series of videos for practitioners on how to be trauma responsive. They also helped to present the draft Framework, providing insights about service responses to trauma as part of an online State-wide Practice Forum
  • the development of practice guides for the Child and Family Support System. Advisors helped inform language and content for practice guides on assertive engagement, safe home visiting and risk and safety planning; and
  • culturally responsive and trauma responsive training. Aboriginal members of the Lived Experience Network helped inform the design and content of the training package Yaitya Mingkamingka Purrutiapinthi. These advisors were featured in videos about the strengths of culture and trauma-responsive practice, which are now being used in training.

In the next audio clip (7 minutes, 14 seconds), members of the Lived Experience Network discuss its development and some of the work they’ve done to improve outcomes for children and families. They also share how they’re making space for new lived experience voices.

The family members above speak overwhelmingly positively about their experience in the Lived Experience Network. This is due in no small part to their own tenacity and commitment to the work they’re undertaking. It’s also thanks to the commitment shown by DHS through providing staff, resources and an authorising environment for the network to succeed in. In addition, the staff facilitating the network also contribute hugely to its success, with considered planning and support strategies. You can visit the DHS website for more information about the Lived Experience Network.

For more information on planning for successful lived experience engagement, visit the ‘Planning contact’ section of our Child and Family Partnership Toolkit.

Families with lived experience know what it’s like to seek support from a system that doesn’t meet their needs. In the following audio clip (2 minutes, 44 seconds), members talk about why they got involved with the Lived Experience Network.

Reflection activity

Take a moment to consider the following question:

  • What factors do you think are needed to facilitate a successful lived experience group? Think about this regarding:
    • organisational factors
    • staff qualities; and
    • lived experience voices.

Finally, it’s important to continually reflect and review on any lived experience work. The Co-designing the child and family support system report reflects the process that led to the establishment of the Lived Experience Network.

In addition, our Child and Family Partnership Toolkit has a ‘reviewing’ section, which may provide some useful tips for working with lived experience partners.

Reflection activity

Considering the following questions may help you to construct a useful lived experience evaluation framework. What else might you add?

  • Inclusive – were the participants representative?
  • Respectful – were there indicators of equal partnerships?
  • Participative – was the process open, empathic and responsive?
  • Iterative – did the process allow participants to continually test and generate new ideas to shape and refine the outcome?
  • Outcomes focused – did the process achieve the desired outcome? Was everyone involved satisfied with the outcome? Were all parties invested in the outcome?

The following fact sheets explore the key elements of co-design in more detail, using the Lived Experience Network case study. They contain video interviews and reflection activities to help further your knowledge and confidence in the area of co-design.


Emerging Minds would like to acknowledge the following Lived Experience Network Alumni, consultants and coordinator who have so generously shared their insights and wisdom for this project:

Shelly, Mirja, Jasmine, Wei, Jamie, Lemy, Chloe, Dana, Mel and Yasmin.

We thank them for investing their time and energy into creating this case study for others to learn from. You can learn more about what the alumni are up to now.

For more examples of ways to incorporate lived experience wisdom into your practice, please check out our other child and family partnership case studies.

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