The Supported Living Lab

In 2020, NI established the Supported Living Lab (SL/lab). The Lab works to improve the quality of accommodation supports and services that are provided to Northcott’s customers. It is an Australian-first space where complex challenges within supported accommodation for people with disability can be explored. 

Our approach

SL/lab takes a co-design approach: this means bringing together people living in supported accommodation and those who support them to tackle difficult problems, rather than trying to solve them without the input of those most affected. Those with lived experience can be directly involved in identifying issues that are important to them and developing solutions that work for them.

Man being supported to cut vegetables in a kitchen

Why a lab?

We saw the need for something like SL/lab during our work with supported living customers and staff on the Small Things project. Like every home, supported accommodation homes are an ecosystem. We wanted a way to address the inter-connected issues and problems that can occur in homes, alongside those living in them. This means we can look at a problem from multiple angles and come up with solutions that may not have been discovered if we’d only tackled it from one view. SL/lab addresses these challenges using a multidisciplinary approach underpinned by person-centred practice and a design mindset.

For example: how can we improve the experience of meal times for people with disability living in supported accommodation? How can we offer choice for customers, whilst making sure everyone eats a healthy diet and stays safe? Improving experiences like this takes some unconventional thinking and that’s where SL/lab comes in.  Not only will it bring in those with lived experience, it will bring together people from diverse disciplines to work together. It will team dieticians with designers and speech therapists with storytellers, to bring about uncommon approaches that can hopefully effect real change.

Steering Committee

Part of the SL/lab involves a committee. The committee brings together people from diverse disciplines to oversee the work of SL/lab. This includes people with lived experience, speech and occupational therapists, dieticians and designers.

Internship Program

The SL/labs Internship Program brings together 8-10 frontline staff from Northcott into a learning program which provides the opportunity to explore and develop ideas frontline staff ‘see’ which have potential to positively impact the lives of our customers. As part of the program, Interns:

  • Have access to industry experts, leaders and educators
  • Gain new skills in communication and problem solving
  • Develop knowledge and experience in human-centered design
  • Have the opportunity to turn experiences and ideas into impactful aids and solutions
  • Test ideas alongside your colleagues and customers to assess impact

Our 2023 interns:

At completion of the 2022 program, the (SL/Lab) interns ‘pitched’ their ideas to the NI board. The board were thrilled with the interns’ dedication, insofar, commitment to customers, application of their learnings and professional pitches. Intern ideas are now being explored and developed as Northcott and NI projects.

Talk to us if you are interested in NI delivering a similar internship program within your organisation.


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