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ThinkPlace enabling good lives design session

Enabling people with disability to lead better lives

For people living with disability, it can often be society that is disabling, not their impairment.

For decades, many disabled people and their families across New Zealand had been deeply dissatisfied with the government’s approach to providing them with support services.

In 2011, a review of services conducted by agroup of people from the disability sector concluded that a fundamental shift was needed to give disabled people greater choice and control over their supports and their lives. 

Their report was entitled ‘Enabling Good Lives’. It set out a number of principles that describe what entails a good life. Among them are self-determination, ordinary life outcomes and participation, and mana (honour) enhancing.



In response, the government wanted to initiate a co-design process to bring to life a new model in which disabled children and adults and their families would have greater choice and control over their supports and lives, and make more use of natural and universally available supports. In effect, enabling people with disability to lead good lives.

ThinkPlace, with its reputation for inclusive approaches, understanding humans and system complexities was asked to lead a co-design process to outline the new disability support system, called Enabling Good Lives, in a Cabinet Paper within a three-month period.  


ThinkPlace design session for enabling good lives


Our approach was framed by ThinkPlace’s Four Voices of Design™– a model that represents the people who need to be heard in order to design lasting change with impact. 

These voices are the voice of intent, lived experience and expertise, all brokered by the voice of design. To design a transformed disability support system we needed the people representing the Four Voices, and to ensure these voices were heard and able to participate in the co-design process in a way that suited them. 


Our multi-disciplinary system transformation team included people living with disability, family and whānau of people living with disability, NGOs and service providers, and government officials from Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development, as well as ThinkPlace. 

Collectively we possessed the skills and perspectives to effectively and authentically co-create a disability support system allowing disabled people and their families to have greater choice and control.


ThinkPlace enabling good lives output



  • We were open to adapting our processes, tools and pace at any and all stages. This meant checking in, listening and responding so that we could collectively move towards our goals – even when it meant throwing our well-planned plan aside
  • We created spaces for people to feel empowered in their own strengths, contributions and lived expertise – especially when imbalances of power were represented in the room. When working with people who have experienced deep and ongoing inequity trust needs to be earned
  • We used storytelling to as a way connect and innovate – so much so that we developed deep empathy for our personas. The service frameworks we used became backgrounds for the imagined ideal futures of these characters. These futures became the basis for design components of the Enabling Good Lives system
  • We used ‘diversity factors’ of disablity as a design tool to help us grapple with the complex task at hand
  • We got very clear on the scope of the project and created strong intent within the core design team. The team learned to self-regulate became laser-focused on the input we were seeking
  • We closed off the process to capture what we had learned, and what the team would be taking through to the next prototype phase, to their organisations, communities and whānau.


ThinkPlace design session for enabling good lives



The transformational new disability support and funding system that our team co-designed was quickly ratified at a June 2017 Cabinet Meeting. 

The next phase was granted over $20 million for live prototyping in MidCentral, where disabled people, their whānau and Ministry of Health continue to co-design the elements of Enabling Good Lives. 

When done well, inclusive co-design marks the beginning of your transformation process. 

The act of co-designing creates new understanding between ‘the voices’, new awareness and new possibilities. For ThinkPlace this co-design process reminded us what designing for inclusivity means. For people living with disability, the positive impact of this work is growing day by day and can be followed via the Enabling Good Lives website. The end result can be viewed at the Mana Whaikaha website  



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