Valuing users of Needle Syringe Exchange programs: Design approaches within the healthcare sector

Samantha Pekaar (ECU) and Hanadi Haddad
2017 Conference

Injecting drug users are among the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in society. This is a wicked problem exacerbated by multifaceted assumptions, misconceptions, and stereotypes surrounding injecting drug users. Stigmatisation results in injecting drug users being frequently denied basic human rights and subjected to severe social isolation (AIVL, 2003). Human-centered research approaches are particularly pertinent when conducting research in healthcare. The application of design approaches to define and address the perceived issues can result in more empathic and relevant designed outcomes (see Clarkson et al., 2010; Lamb, Zimring, Chuzi, & Dutcher, 2010; Loscin & Nagji, 2009; Razzouk & Shutre, 2012; Santos et al., 2014; Shraiky, 2010).


This paper discusses a design project that seeks to explore the value of empathic co-creation methods to reframe complex perceptions surrounding the use of Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs) and Needle and Syringe Exchange Programs (NSEPs). Co-funded by the Public Health Division within the WA Department of Health, this project is a collaborative initiative, guided by a steering committee representing three NSP/NSEP service provider organisations. It seeks to investigate the impact stigmatisation and other access barriers have on the utilisation of Needle and Syringe related services, and how these barriers are perceived and defined by the experiences of injecting drug users that are clients to these services.


The paper reports on data collection methods that were developed to respect and value participants’ input, empowering them through the acknowledgment of their voices. Bottom-up methods that could be used synchronously and asynchronously maximised the opportunities for injecting drug users to express their point of view. This paper proposes that the value of empathic design methods in complex healthcare challenges is to preserve the interest of the intended end-user. The process of co-creating with the end-user is as important as the design outcome itself.

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About the author

Samantha Pekaar was the successful applicant of Edith Cowan University’s first Industry linkage scholarship in the former School of Communications and Arts. Her PhD research focuses on the application of design processes and methods to address complex problems that exist within public healthcare services. This collaboration project has been guided by a steering committee comprised of several key health organisations.

Dr Hanadi Haddad works extensively with external clients for undergraduate and supervises postgraduate design projects, including a current Industry Collaboration PhD project with the Executive Director of the Public Health Division of the WA Health Department. This involves the application of ethically designed co-creation methods with several health based organizations and their clients, classified as vulnerable.