Last week the Leapfrog team travelled to the Elgin Youth Café in the Highlands of Scotland for the third workshop of the short project, Stories of Impact. This final workshop brought a small selection of the participants back together to work on the final development of the two tools co-​designed in this project. During a two-​hour session and a working lunch, the group tried, tested, and developed their two tools, Unwrap Potential and Bunch of Impact, and made some really positive improvements that enhanced the potential of the tools and moved them along to near completion. As the workshop drew to a close, we took the opportunity to gather together for an informal round-​table discussion to talk about their participation in the project, and about tools and engagement in general. The aim was to gather some initial feedback for Leapfrog on the participants’ experiences of the project, our co-​design approach, and to have a conversation about what tools mean for the partners now in their current practice.

Immediately on posing the question about tools the conversation turned to the question of what a tool actually is. This question is something we as a team have constantly come back to and has remained somewhat unresolved in the project as the meaning of the word ‘tool’ often changes from partner to partner. First of all, the partners discussed what ‘tool’ means for them now, and how they use them currently in their work. There was talk of posters and leaflets being tools for promotion; questionnaires and surveys as tools for gathering information; tools for data storage; and also, for one participant, window displays were a tool to engage potential users of their service. This was an interesting starting point as we often enter into projects with a definition of tools in our minds but what often quickly transpires is that our partners have a very different view. This is an important insight for us as a team to remember when we embark on future projects. The terms and definitions we use should be co-​defined at the start of a co-​design journey so we are always clear from the beginning as to the orientation of projects so we don’t hit issues of misunderstanding further down the line.

As the conversation moved on, the group stopped talking so much about the definition of a tool and what a physical tool might be, and started to speak about the driving force behind tools and their use. In this discussion, the group talked more about ethos, approaches, principles and values. Some of the participants talked about a set of values as being a tool that they often use when it comes to making decisions about engagement activity they are designing. This might lead to the design of some physical tools that support the engagement, but it is the approach they take and the value they attribute to what they do that shapes the way they engage and, for them, is the most important tool. 

As the group reflected on this they spoke about tools for engagement that are rooted in a way of thinking about engagement. It’s about context and making things appropriate. Knowing who you want to engage and understanding their situations. The co-​design group aspired for their tools to have values, an ethos that drives decisions, but they also recognise context and the need to understand the environment and the users of the tools. As part of the discussion the group talked about the virtues of digital tools over analogue tools, but only if digital tools are right for the audience. Or the value in face-​to-​face engagement versus something remote but only if that is a viable possibility for the people being engaged and for the people doing the engagement. This seemed to shift the thinking about tools –from something that is only concerned with the engaged, to something that must work for both sides. It was at this point that one participant suggested that tools need to be mutual. There are two sides to engagement, and whatever methods of engagement are used, they must be of benefit to both sides in order for them to work successfully.

What the Leapfrog team took away from this discussion was that tools to engage – whether they be a physical resource to download and use, or an event, or some advice and guidance – are driven by a set of values that are personally held or that are inherited (for example, tools that are aligned with an organisation’s ethos). Also, tools are driven by context, the people who use the tools, and the situations the tools will operate in. Values and context become an imperative part of the co-​design process. They set the boundaries within which to be creative, whether those boundaries are respected or not, and help to guide design decisions. Getting to know the value and the context is the challenge when approaching a new design. For the partners we worked with, the values and context they operate with are generally well known. They are instinctive, and it is important part of the co-​design process to bring these out in a creative forum so the outcomes can make sense for more than just the individuals in the room.