Co-creation, co-design, co-production, co-construction: Same or different?

By Allison Metz

Alison Metz
Allison Metz (biography)

A key topic across disciplines is the authentic engagement and participation of key stakeholders in developing and guiding innovations to solve problems.  Complex systems consist of dense webs of relationships where individual stakeholders self-organize through interactions.  Research demonstrates that successful uptake of innovations requires genuine and meaningful interaction among researchers, service providers, policy makers, consumers, and other key stakeholders. Implementation efforts must address the various needs of these stakeholders.  However, these efforts are described differently across disciplines and contexts – co-design, co-production, co-creation, and co-construction.

Developing consensus on terminology and meanings will facilitate future research and application of “co” concepts.  For example, co-design is often used in health to describe processes that put users and communities at the heart of service design. Co-production is often discussed in socio-environmental science to allow users to participate in administration and delivery.  Co-creation is often used in business to describe the involvement of customers in developing products and processes.  Co-construction is sometimes used in social services to describe collaboration and partnership working.  While there are some differences in these terms and definitions, it is clear that “co” processes are recognized as important across fields. The SESYNC pursuit “Co-creative capacity” will synthesize and integrate transdisciplinary knowledge and research to develop tools, methods, and practices for building co-creative capacity in service to the use of evidence in practice to achieve wide scale socio-environmental impacts.

We would love to hear from you: How might we build consensus on these terms so that we are better able to discern and promote “co” processes in complex initiatives?

Biography: Allison Metz, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist, Director of the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), and Senior Scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Allison specializes in the implementation, mainstreaming, and scaling of evidence to achieve social impact for children and families in a range of human service and education areas, with an emphasis on child welfare and early childhood service contexts. Among many projects, Allison is studying how to effectively co-create the conditions to sustain the use of research evidence in public child welfare through a project funded by the William T. Grant Foundation. She is also a Principal Investigator on a project to develop co-creative capacity for addressing socio-environmental problems and beyond through an international collaboration funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

4 thoughts on “Co-creation, co-design, co-production, co-construction: Same or different?”

  1. A resource that may be of interest is the td-net toolbox for co-producing knowledge which currently consists of 11 tools for bringing together different perspectives on a problem. It is available at: I have also provided a brief description in the journal GAIA’s column “Toolkits for Transdisciplinarity” at

    Examples of knowledge co-production can be found in Merritt Polk’s (2015) edited book “Co-producing Knowledge for Sustainable Cities: Joining forces for change” published by Routledge. You can find a good overview of what the book covers at:

    Information about other tools and examples is very welcome.


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