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  • Writer's pictureMartha Cox

Untangling Definitions

It can be very confusing to understand the differences between the terms user experience, people’s experience, lived experience, user engagement, co-design, co-production, community development, asset-based community development and consultation. Sometimes they are used fairly interchangeably. And how are you to know which is best for your organisation or project? I thought it might be useful to have a little explanation of all of them with examples. There are so many definitions of some of these terms so it can be hard to wade through for a definitive one - but I think these sum up in a straightforward way.


User experience (UX) is a person's emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service and how a user interacts with and experiences it. Additionally, it can include a person's perceptions of things such as usefulness, ease of use and efficiency. User experience is usually subjective in nature because it is about individual perception and thought for a product or system. User experience varies dynamically, constantly modifying over time due to changing usage.


Example: when designing a website or an app


People’s experience is what the process of receiving a service feels like for people, their family and carers. There are four critical themes for understanding someone’s experience – personal interactions, an organisation’s culture, someone’s (and their families) perceptions and the continuum of care. People’s experience is a key element of quality alongside providing clinical excellence and safer care.


Lived experience means having personal knowledge about the world gained through direct first hand involvement in events. ‘Lived’ is used to differentiate from others who may have experience of working in, for example, the field of mental health, but who have not personally lived through those challenges.


Example: having first hand experience of a particular health condition or substance use challenges


User engagement is defined as the desire and capability to actively choose to participate, in cooperation with a service provider or institution, for the purposes of maximizing outcomes or improving user experiences. It’s a process of developing relationships that enable stakeholders and/or communities to work together to address common issues.

Example: patients choosing to actively participate in their care in cooperation with their healthcare provider over the development of services.


Co-design (sometimes called participatory design) is an approach attempting to actively involve all stakeholders (e.g. employees, partners, customers, citizens, end users) in the design process to help ensure the result meets their needs and is usable. Co-design is an approach which is focused on processes and procedures and is not a design style in itself. The term is used in a variety of fields e.g. software design, urban design, architecture, landscape architecture, product design, sustainability, graphic design, planning, and healthcare as a way of creating environments that are more responsive and appropriate to their inhabitants' and users' cultural, emotional, spiritual and practical needs.

Example: in healthcare co-design involves the equal partnership of individuals who work within the system (healthcare staff), individuals who have lived experience of using the system (patients and their families/carers) and the ‘designers’ of the new system (whether that be IT personnel in terms of electronic platforms to improve efficiency or researchers in terms of designing interventions to improve health systems). In healthcare literature there are various terms used for different types of co-design activity including experience based co-design which focuses on the use of stories and storytelling by patients to gain a deep appreciative understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a present service.


Co-production involves producing a product or service together and comes after the co-design phase. Co-production involves all stakeholders in equal partnership but has a focus on those with lived experience. “The term co-production refers to a way of working, whereby everybody works together on an equal basis to create a service or come to a decision which works for them all.” (Think Local Act Personal). Co-creation which usually refers to both co-design and co-production taken together.


Community Development is a process where people come together to take action on what’s important to them. It is rooted in the belief that all people should have access to health, wellbeing, wealth, justice and opportunity. It supports communities of place and identity to use their own assets to improve the quality of community life. It helps communities and public agencies to work together to improve services and the way in which decisions are made. Community development is based on the values of human rights, social justice, equality and respect for diversity.


Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is about recognising and making use of the assets or facilities that are already in the community and looking at what the community shares. This could be things like schools and places of worship but also green spaces. ABCD is about looking at how a community could make best use of what they have already got, unlike historic community development work which tended to look at what was missing and what wasn’t working. ABCD also recognises that the people who live and work in that community are the experts about that community.

Consultation is the process of discussing something with someone in order to get their advice or opinion about it.

Example: surveys asking people’s opinions of a service they have just received. User interviews asking about interviewees journey through a range of healthcare settings. Information gathered may be used to drive service change and improvement or maybe used to monitor the quality and consistency of services delivered.

Choosing which is the best method for you and your organisation will depend upon a number of factors such as timescale, staff capacity and skills, budget and the type of development or project you will be working on.

If you are still unsure about which is the best approach for your project or development then contact me on 07913257971 or engagement@martha-cox.com and I can help you discuss your options.


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