Co-design: primary producers and mental health

May 4, 2023 nivek.thompson
May 4, 2023 Paul Emiljanowicz
April 28, 2023 Paul Emiljanowicz
April 28, 2023 nivek.thompson
April 26, 2023 nivek.thompson
April 18, 2023 nivek.thompson
April 17, 2023 nivek.thompson

Using online co-design to address mental health challenges amongst primary producers in Australia.

Problems and Purpose

Poor mental health is a key challenge for farmers and other primary producers. This co-design process was undertaken as part of larger project aimed at preventing poor mental health for primary producers. The co-design process was moved from a face-to-face one to totally online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Background History and Context

The Primary Producer Knowledge Network (PPKN) is a project led by the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH), which is a partnership between the Western District Health Service (Victoria) and Deakin University. The NCFH is based in Hamilton, Victoria. The NCFH focuses on the prevention and early identification of risk factors associated with farming communities.

The PPKN project is focused on promoting positive mental health for primary producers (farmers, fishers and forestry workers) who are considered a vulnerable workforce for various reasons.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

This co-design process was undertaken for The Primary Producer Knowledge Network (PPKN) in the state of Victoria, Australia. The PPKN is led by the National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH).

The co-design process was overseen by academics at Deakin University, in particular Alison Kennedy, Catherine Cosgrave, Joanna Macdonald, Kate Gunn, Timo Dietrich and Susan Brumby.

Participant Recruitment and Selection\

Participant selection was undertaken using a purposive sampling strategy, with a call for expressions of interest made via farming networks and asking Advisory Group members to nominate individuals. The final group was selected to ensure a spread of industry type, gender, geographical location and age.

Methods and Tools Used

This work was undertaken using a co-design process. It was based on a seven-step co-design framework developed by Trischler and colleagues.

The online environment was seen as having both pros and cons. The pros were that at the time, Covid-19 restrictions prohibited face-to-face meetings, and so moving online allowed this co-design process to happen, whereas otherwise, it wouldn't have. Secondly, attending face-to-face meetings can be challenging for primary producers who work long hours in rural and regional settings. The main negative aspect is that not all primary producers would feel comfortable in an online environment and in addition, internet access can be patchy and unreliable in some rural areas.

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The organisers use the seven-step process outlined by Trischler et al. as follows:

  1. resourcing
  2. planning
  3. recruiting
  4. sensitizing
  5. facilitation
  6. reflecting
  7. building for change.

Two workshops (one for primary producers and the other with stakeholders) were conducted which each included sensitizing and facilitation steps. The workshops were held on Zoom and included whole group and break-out group sessions.

The organisers' view is that '[o]nline methods facilitated an increasingly detailed and iterative process of co-design.' (Kennedy, et al., 2021 p.9). 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

The outcomes from the co-design process were used by the design team to develop ideas for marketing and engagement with primary producers. These ideas were then tested with the original co-design participants, both primary producers and stakeholders. This final workshop involved an online vote on preferred branding.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The organisers identify a range of learnings from this process. In summary these are:

  • moving co-design online is possible with sufficient preparation, training and resource allocation
  • engaging 'hard to reach' populations is possible with attention to relationship building prior to the workshop phase
  • the resource and cost savings from online engagement can be used to support intervention/service creation etc.

See Also


Kennedy, A., Cosgrave, C., Macdonald, J., Gunn, K., Dietrich, T., & Brumby, S. (2021). Translating Co-Design from Face-to-Face to Online: An Australian Primary Producer Project Conducted during COVID-19. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(8), 4147.

Binder, M. J., Beks, H., Versace, V. L., Macdonald, J., McKay, C., Cunningham, S., Wall, G., Barnes, K., Cornell, S., Cock, M., Kennedy, A., & Namara, K. M. (2022). Participant perspectives of an online co‐design process to develop a prevention‐focused mental health and well‐being platform for primary producers. The Australian Journal of rural health, 30(6), 719-729.

External Links


This case study has been put together from publicly available papers.