Eight strategies for co-creation

By Arnim Wiek

Arnim Wiek (biography)

Co-creation aims at genuine and meaningful interaction among researchers, service providers, policy makers, consumers, and other key stakeholders. It is also known as co-production, co-design and co-construction. Co-creation is often a buzzword with fuzzy meanings of who collaborates with whom, when and how (processes) and to what end (outcomes) in addressing sustainability and other complex problems. Yet there is emerging evidence on best practices of co-creation. Although this evidence is mostly based on individual case studies or comparisons of small sets of cases, the following eight strategies provide valuable guidance for researchers and practitioners.

  1. Clarify objectives and processes up-front
    Co-creation processes need to be carefully designed, with clear objectives (expected outcomes) and processes (who collaborates with whom, when and how).
  2. Objectives must include actionable knowledge
    Actionable knowledge comprises normative knowledge (what goal to reach) and instructional knowledge (how to reach the goal). It moves beyond the usual research analysis of a problem or system.
  3. Objectives must also include practical outcomes
    Actionable knowledge is still only knowledge. Co-creation must also include the creation of practical changes. While such changes are informed by knowledge, they are of a very different nature – emotional, behavioral, physical and other changes in the real world. Researchers are often reluctant to co-create practical outcomes.
  4. Identify relevant stakeholders and use a well-balanced engagement throughout
    Stakeholders bring different needs, interests, capacities, and resources to the table and the co-creation process should take this diversity into account. Strive for a good balance among stakeholders from the following groups: those negatively affected, those benefitting, those involved in causing the problem or situation under investigation, and those with legitimate concerns. A well-balanced engagement does not mean that every group needs to be involved to the same extent at all times.
  5. Use professional facilitators
    Neutral facilitators should enable a just and open engagement process. Facilitators must watch out for power asymmetries, hidden agendas and private interests across the spectrum of relevant stakeholders.
  6. Choose an appropriate process
    There is a wide range of co-creation processes, including:

    • Listening sessions that allow stakeholders to air their concerns, perspectives and ideas.
    • Discussion sessions among stakeholder groups (which can be diverse or homogeneous) aimed at exchange and mutual understanding.
    • Collaborative sessions on project deliverables.
    • Elicitation sessions to receive feedback on deliverables.

    Interactions can be via interview, survey, focus group, walking audit workshop or other means. Engagement can be virtual or face-to-face. (For more on walking audits see also Responding to stakeholders – lessons learnt.)

  7. Ensure there are sufficient resources
    A sound process requires reasonable resources for stakeholder engagement processes, facilitators, and experts in co-creation. An under-resourced process may do more harm than good.
  8. Conduct formative evaluation
    Formal evaluation should be used to assess whether the co-creation process had made a difference in the complex problem, for example, yielding sustainable outcomes for people and the planet. Co-creation researchers are often overly focused on the process of co-creation and lose sight of the fact that co-creation is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Biography: Arnim Wiek is an Associate Professor in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. His research group develops, tests, and evaluates transformational solutions to sustainability challenges. To support implementation efforts, the group collaborates with government agencies, non-profit organizations, businesses, and citizens. The group is also involved in educational research and various training efforts. He is a member of the Co-Creative Capacity Pursuit funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

This blog post is one of a series resulting from the first meeting in April 2016 of the Co-Creative Capacity Pursuit. This pursuit is part of the theme Building Resources for Complex Action-Oriented Team Science funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

4 thoughts on “Eight strategies for co-creation”

  1. Thanks, this blog summarises nicely what I consider principles of effective participation. However, the list is missing the effort that needs to go into building trust (although this might be implicit in the choice of the appropriate process and is a task to be overseen by the facilitator).
    I fully agree that evaluation is necessary, but am puzzled by how ‘formative’ and ‘formal’ evaluation are equated in the strategy 8. Obviously a point that another blog could disentangle.

  2. Researchers are often reluctant to co-create practical outcomes.>>>>

    Professor Wiek,

    Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding on effective co-creation process.

    I have been involved with several “community-based” research projects over the past ten years. Each of them very different…each more or less invested in meaningful interactions with a broad group of stakeholders.

    But I think your statement that I highlighted above is one that I truly find challenging. To be clear, I am not saying that PIs are not in some way vested in practical outcomes. It’s the execution that falls short. The deadlines surrounding the research process have a way of eliminating what I consider to be a most important element of the process. As a project manager, I believe I have a very good idea of what this entails..but I long for the day when this aspect is considered with the same recognition, prominence and importance as some of the other aspects of community-based research..

    Thanks again..really appreciated the focus..

    Don Meglio


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