By Georgina Jerums

Working “shoulder to shoulder” with First Nations People helped Fitzroy company Today produce an award-winning service design.

Creating an easy-to-use, culturally relevant ‘working with children check’ application process for Indigenous people was the New South Wales Office of the Children's Guardian (OCG) brief for Today.

The end result?

It was so effective – ensuring successful applicants could finally access employment and local government services – that it nabbed a Victorian Premier's Design Award Best in Category for Service Design last year.

View the entry: Working with Children Check for Indigenous applicants

But the path to getting the design just right was incredibly complex, as Today Senior Service Designer Alex Moshovelis recounts.

What was the problem your design needed to solve?

A tiny proportion of First Nations Peoples were accessing the Working with Children Check (WWCC), required for any adult to engage with children in a professional capacity.

These checks are a cornerstone of a well-functioning child protection system – designed to stop perpetrators of harm from having access to children – and are a necessary, valuable part of our society. However, for First Nations Australians, the check is particularly difficult to navigate, to the point that it was subverting their needs, rights and culture.

This contributes to a situation that nobody wants: the ongoing cultural and geographic displacement of Australian First Nations children.

How did you go about getting the best possible outcome?

We didn’t take a linear journey approach; we embraced a complex service system. By collaborating across services and thinking about how applicants transitioned from one service to another, we could make gaps in the safety net visible and build a strong hypothesis around why people fall through the cracks; that this is fundamentally about service connections between providers, as opposed to individual services.

How was user experience and Indigenous perspectives factored into the design solution?The project strengthened community connections that support First Nations People to engage with and obtain a WWCC. This is making a significant contribution to narrowing the gap in First Nations inequality that perpetuates ongoing cultural, social, economic and geographic displacement of First Nations Australian adults and children. The solution is scalable across other communities, vulnerable cohorts and complex service systems.

There’s been a shift in First Nations community engagement techniques and communications, with case-by-case face-to-face channels established and collaboration between other key services to ensure flow-through and limit barriers such as ID checks and the way in which risk assessments are done.

Pilot applicants had been approved by the time we finished our part of the project and one has already become a champion in his community to support other First Nations people to get through the process; highlighting a successfully handed off and locally-owned service design solution.

Successful First Nations WWCC applicants are able to have better access to government support and employment opportunities. Over time, this has the potential to increase livelihoods and community outcomes for each person and their family.

The outcome of our work was a process that supports First Nations People and their experience with clear and appropriate mechanisms to increase WWCC’s and deliver better outcomes for First Nations Australians across New South Wales. It’s designed to maintain the WWCC regulatory framework – essential for ensuring the safety of Australian children – while creating a service for First Nations People, by First Nations People.

The most challenging aspect of the project?

WWCCs are required to gain work looking after family in foster and formalised kinship care arrangements, to be eligible for government-funded training, and to access social support ‘safety nets’ like Job Seeker programs. In remote communities, this matters a lot. Where a community isn’t able to access and gain a WWCC, local trades, schools, NGOs and government services cannot hire locally. In an environment where the First Nations unemployment rate is over 50%, this represents a significant barrier to achieving First Nations equity and fuels dislocation from Country.

This has intergenerational consequences and perpetuates systemic difficulties that First Nations Australians have faced since colonisation. This represents a challenge and responsibility for all Australians in terms of how we truly reconcile the past and weave together a shared future.

The most rewarding part of the project was seeing how that one document (WWCC) can make a monumental and immediate change to someone's life. Seeing someone for the first time receive a WWCC and realising that they could finally get a job at the local school, support and care for their cousins and become an active member of the community demonstrated just how much these systems and services needed to change.

How closely do you work with your client and stakeholders, and how important is the relationship with the client and end-users to the outcome?

We always work very closely with both our clients and stakeholders.

Throughout this project, we followed cultural protocols to ensure respectful relationships, such as asking for elder approval to come on-country and to proceed with the project. We worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the First Nations liaison in our project team.

It was essential to develop cultural guidelines for our methods of engagement and to meet people in their place. In complex systems such as these, it is crucial to move with deep empathy and collaboration to ensure primarily that no harm is done and secondly, that long-lasting positive impact is achieved.

How does this project set a benchmark for innovative design?

The client demonstrated great bravery and commitment to being accountable to First Nations communities and taking on a complex stakeholder landscape with myriad government partners. But it has paid off. This is a landmark service design initiative that will help to achieve First Nations equity in a meaningful way. It sets a precedent for the benefits of engaging meaningfully with our traditional custodians to provide culturally appropriate services.

How important is the VPDA to your business?

Very. It provides a platform to share our vision and to inspire others to take a step towards design that’s considerate of the world in which we find ourselves. Being impact-focused isn’t a catch phrase; that’s hopefully something we’ve been able to demonstrate.

Your view on the state of service/digital design in Victoria?

Victoria’s a leader in Australia for service design and co-design. The impetus with recent reforms (mental health, aged care) is beginning to put lived experience at the centre of service design. This is a significant step in shifting decades of complex and broken systems. We still have a long way to go and are far from ingraining design practice in our culture.

We only need to look towards Scandinavia and other countries to see how they’ve embedded a culture and mindset where citizens and lived experience are central to service design. For us to take significant strides forward we need to increase diversity in our design teams, continue to build capability across government and industry around human-centred design and co-design, and be less risk-averse, innovating new services, ways of working and systems rather than adding more complexity and plugging holes.