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Circles of Support


Civic is a not-for-profit organisation that provides a range of support for people with disability, in many NSW locations. 

To give their clients every opportunity to lead the lives they want, Civic has adopted the industry standard circles of support. These involve a group of people (paid or unpaid) coming together to help formulate, promote and support the goals of a person with disability. 

Practice Leaders and Support Workers are the main paid participants in a client's circle of support and engage with clients and their families on a daily basis.

In collaboration with Connor Forsyth, the Service Designer at Civic, I conducted research into the client's circles of support to deliver a research report with insights, findings and recommendations.

UX Researcher

User research, synthesis and reporting.

March 2022 -  May 2022


Due to the wide range of clients' intellectual disabilities and time limitations it was not effective to interview clients regarding their experience with circles of support.

A shortlist of interviewees was  provided by the Design and Impact Team. It is not possible to guarantee that the shortlist was random or representative of PLs and other paid supports at Civic

Research Plan

I participated in stake holder interviews to produce problem statements that served as a starting point for the research plan.

Click here to see the research plan.

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Research Methods

To empathise with the participants of clients' circles of support, I employed a range of research methods with 5 distinct user groups: support workers, practice leaders, operations managers, marketing and communications managers and clinical staff members.

The data collected from these interviews was synthesised to produce a research report and presentation detailing insights, findings and recommendations.

Stakeholder Interview

Interviews with the Design and Impact Team and members of upper management at Civic, provided insight into prior research and the business's objectives.

Focus Groups

Two focus groups, comprised of practice leaders, support workers and other staff within client’s circles of support, with the aim of discussing CoSs and how to improve communication and interaction between participants.

Desk Research

Desk research was conducted prior to the research plan, in order to gain background on Civic and the industry. Further desk research informed recommendations to insights. This research report contains various links to resources.

Semi-structured Users Interviews

To build empathy with a client's circle of support, I conducted 4 semi-structured interviews with 3 practice leaders and an operations managers.

Contextual Inquiry

Despite the limitations of interviewing Civic's clients, contextual observation of two group homes provided insight of how support workers and practice leaders collaborate to provide supported independent living services to Civic’s clients.

Expert Review

Interview with a Civic staff member, currently an operations manager, who has held all the majority of paid roles in client's circles of support.


Though combination of collaborative and solo affinity mapping sessions I was able to establish themes and identify insights from the large sets of qualitative data collected. 

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click image to see zoomable version


This project concluded in a report that brought to light insights and findings, with corresponding recommendations. The following are summaries of the three main findings. The full report can be accessed by clicking on the image below.

People that trust stay and give more

When people trust their context, they are comfortable to voice opinions, disappointments, frustrations, or general ideas that could inform the better design of services. On the contrary, these could progress as forms of gossip or resentment that can cascade to further issues.

Be first to trust

Taking the first step and showing people that they are trusted - they’re more likely to trust back. Transparency removes uncertainty, making communication clearer. Autonomy gives people the key to self-determination

Culture of compassion

Compassion can grow trust between individuals, creates psychological safety

and a willingness to discuss and learn from errors and failures.

Coach more, manage less

Encouraging and guiding people to develop critical thinking skills through learning, as opposed to instructing will help build a capable and supportive team capable of reducing workload in the long run.

Staff Circle of Support (SCoS)

Practice Leaders do not have their own clearly defined circles of support (CoS) within the organisation, despite identifying situations or issues that would benefit from a CoS.

Employee Resource Groups

SCoS and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) share many common traits and benefits. They should be encouraged to form organically and provided with guidance, a budget and time to meet on a regular basis.

Work apart, grow apart

The diverse backgrounds of Practice Leaders represent a wealth of different experiences and perspectives and presents opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas to arrive at new and creative solutions. Whether it is the most experienced to those newly appointed Practice Leader, through sharing, adapting and combining approaches can arm themselves with the tools they feel will help them best manage their daily tasks or issues.

Learn together, grow bonds

Fit collaboration into work flows, with participants deciding the when, who and how, within a framework. Civic’s role should be that of facilitator and reward groups that bring new knowledge that benefits other parts of the organisation.

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