Methods: We present results from two retrospective case studies of co-design projects in the juvenile justice system using content analysis and autoethnography to explore key mechanisms of the co-design method. The first case was a project to integrate adolescent developmental science within juvenile probation practices. The model drew from research on 1) adolescent sensitivity to reward; 2) family-based intervention; and 3) positive development principles. The model was co-designed with probation line and supervisory staff and implemented within one, large urban county (15 probation officers, n > 50 families). The second case study examines the co-design of a court-based family support program in four counties drawing from research on 1) peer support; 2) family self-efficacy; and 3) procedural justice (20 family support partners, n > 300 families). The primary research questions of the case study analysis reflects claims of co-design’s likely benefits including system ownership and buy in, sustainment, and end products reflective of research findings. We used multiple methods of data collection to document the co-design process, including meeting notes, focus groups with co-designers and end users (n = 15), and semi-structured interviews with key informants.
Findings: We found that the benefits of co-design were most apparent in engaging deep buy in and ownership from system partners. The buy in from system co-designers could be relied upon to independently move programs forward towards sustainability within embedded systems when multiple stakeholder perspectives were resolved. “Time to implementation” was longer, though possibly not significantly so, than what might be expected from a traditional implementation approach. Co-design may lead to less clear end-products as the co-design process can be vulnerable to a temptation to continuously iterate.
Conclusions: Co-design is a promising method for research translation in novel contexts or when buy in may otherwise be challenging to achieve. To realize the promise of co-design, the end products will need to satisfy an external standard of being sufficiently “research-based” to be considered a positive outcome from a knowledge translation perspective.