SL/lab Internship Program

Published in November 2022

Some of the interns and guest speakers from day 1 of the internship. 

NI established the Supported Living Lab (SL/lab) to improve the quality of accommodation supports and services provided to Northcott’s customers. It is an innovative space where we explore complex challenges within supported accommodation for people with disability.

Earlier this year, NI launched the SL/lab Internship program, which brought together ten frontline staff from Northcott’s accommodation services into a learning program to explore and develop ideas which have potential to positively impact the lives of our customers. As part of the program, Interns developed knowledge and experience in human-centered design, gained new skills in communication and problem solving, had access to industry experts, leaders and educators, and tested ideas alongside one another to assess value. 

The interns will each ‘pitch’ their ideas to the NI board in December. Last week, we spoke to some of the interns about how the program has been benefitted them and if it has changed how they think about or deliver their supports. 

Rachel explained how learning about Design Thinking at UTS completely transformed her way of thinking: 

“Going into the sessions with UTS, I had what I thought was a definitive problem, complete with a solution. However, UTS then guided me through the design thinking process and asked me questions like ‘Why is that the issue?’ and really helped me break it down further. I then realized that the problem I thought I had wasn’t the problem at all. It was not even close. It was an amazing process.”

Another intern, Colleen, told us how the internship has taken her out of her comfort zone, and what was most significant to her was not only a new approach to thinking, but “knowing and being encouraged that you can make a difference, and you can make these changes.”

Frank spoke about how being in a different environment and meeting people in the industry with similar experiences was validating and led to problem solving. “You realise you’re not alone in some of the challenges you experience. It has really improved my understanding and perception of individuals I work with. It’s also helped me understand how to approach things I want to change and make those changes a reality.”

Kayla discussed how it has changed her approach to work as well as the benefit of meeting fellow support workers. “I look at things a bit more open-minded now. I’m not so set in my ways. I now look and go, ‘Hang on. How can we work around this?’ Or another intern may have been having that same problem and they share strategies they’ve used.”

Here are some images from the final UTS session, where the interns had the opportunity to receive some feedback about their final pitch:

We also chatted with Lindsay (Senior Lecturer at the School of Design, UTS) and Leanne (Senior Strategic Designer at the School of Design, UTS) about their involvement in the internship program. They both spoke about the high level of commitment and passion from every intern, not only as they approached the learning process but also about their commitment to the people that they support. 

“They are so integrated into the home of the people they support, and the intricate detail that they understand about each of the residents is staggering. For us, it was enlightening to hear that passion and help them to channel it into some way of making a difference or change. Using their deep knowledge of the supported living environment to make a better living space for the people they support was incredible to be a part of”. 

Lindsay summarized one of the activities completed with the interns. 

“The first workshop was about frame creation, which is a design methodology we use to really deeply understand complex problems. It’s a nine step methodology. Often people think design is about blue sky thinking, but this methodology is about teaching people to be uncomfortable in the problem and, in fact, make their problems bigger. That’s what frame creation does. It goes really deep into the problem. We discover what’s the problem underneath the problem, underneath the problem, underneath the problem. So whilst they may have been looking at this surface level, they realize that actually what they needed to do was go much deeper and be comfortable with the mess of that.” 

Leanne expanded on this summary.

“So we asked the interns about what sits behind their automatic assumptions and biases and the way that we jump into solution mode. This is something we all do. So we explored how to stop ourselves from doing that and actually go a little bit deeper to explore the problem from those different perspectives. 

The intern’s openness to learning and creativity, their depth of knowledge and development of skills has been incredible to watch over the past year. The pitches reflect 18 weeks of hard work and dedication to Northcott and the customers they support. We can’t wait to see what the Board think about the pitches and how the different ideas might inform future SL/lab projects.

 Learn more about the SL/Lab here. 


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