Creativity in co-creation

Annette Boaz (biography)

By Annette Boaz

Twenty years ago, at one of the first research workshops I held for stakeholders, a participant from the local community put up his hand and asked when we were going to start making something. I obviously looked confused so he picked up the workshop flyer and pointed to the word ‘workshop.’ “You make things in workshops don’t you?” he asked.

At the time, I took this as a lesson in choosing your terminology with care when working with diverse groups of stakeholders. However, on looking back I wonder if I missed something else. Was I so pre-occupied with my own standard practices of meetings that I failed to see that his comment might have been as much about my ways of working as my choice of words?

Fast forward to our first meeting of the SESYNC Co-creative Capacity pursuit in April 2016 in beautiful Annapolis, Maryland, USA. We are talking about co-creating knowledge for service improvement, but are we about to fall in to the trap of developing ‘business as usual’ approaches drawn from our own professional practices? However, the conversation takes a turn and we are talking about drama, art, dance and (in my case) building with LEGO.

Thanks to Joe Langley, a design engineer from Sheffield Hallum University in the UK, I have my own creative example to share. Joe introduced a group of us with an interest in knowledge mobilisation to the power of LEGO Serious Play[1] as a mechanism for thinking more creatively as individuals and groups. We began by building individual models (and explaining our thinking processes to the group). We then worked together to build a model to demonstrate our shared understanding of knowledge mobilisation. I used bits of my brain at that meeting that hadn’t been exercised in years!

The LEGO Serious Play website claims that their innovative ‘hands-on, minds-on’ approach to learning stimulates deep reflection and facilitates meaningful dialogue between participants. The website quotes Plato: “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation.”

This was certainly our experience as a group (regardless of our prior ‘training’ with LEGO bricks as children or as parents!). So much so that the members of the group have committed to train as Serious Play facilitators so that they can use the technique in their future work as knowledge mobilisers.

There are particular fields of academic practice that have already made great use of art, design, drama and music. For example, there is a lot we can learn from the methods scientists use to engage the public in science. Scientists have used theatre and exhibitions to communicate scientific findings to public audiences. They have also commissioned art, such as the DNA cycle path, starting out from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in the UK. The cycle path is made up of 10,257 stripes representing the four nucleotides of the BRCA2 gene (which produces a protein that helps repair DNA; variants can produce breast cancer). In Manchester in the UK a theatre production ‘Side Affect’ explored the impact of anti-psychotics on patient experience.

Have you got examples of being more creative in your pursuit of better services for your communities? If so, we would love hear about them.

Further information

To find out more about LEGO Serious Play go to:

For more information about the DNA cycle path: [Moderator note: in October 2021 the following link was found to be broken and was deleted: (sustrans[dot]org[dot]uk… ncn… map… themed-routes… addenbrookes-great-shelford). Remaining options are to search on this site for the DNA cycle path:, or try]

See Side Affect on YouTube: [Moderator note: this resource no longer appears available, as of October 2021, and the link has been deleted: (clahrc-gm[dot]nihr[dot]ac[dot]uk… 2015/08… groundbreaking-mental-health-theatre-production-now-available-to-view-online), but a short note can be found at:


  • LEGO and Serious Play are registered trademarks of the Lego Group.

Biography: Annette Boaz is a professor in the Centre for Health and Social Care Research at Kingston and St George’s Universities, London. She is a social scientist with research interests in research engagement, research impact and evaluation. She supports a number of initiatives aimed at increasing capacity for research use including the UK National Institute for Health Research Knowledge Mobilization Fellowship scheme and the UK Implementation Network. She is the Joint Managing Editor of the journal Evidence & Policy. She 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 “Creativity in co-creation”

  1. I grew up playing with a box of hand-me-down Legos. For the past 20 years I’ve been buying Legos for my kids. However it wasn’t until just this past June when we were at, of all places, Legoland, Oceanside, California that I finally bought my very own Lego set – Trevi Fountain from the Lego Architecture series. I had a blast building it with all it’s minute pieces. There is something magical about actually building something and using, as my mother-in-law pre-school teacher calls them, “manipulatives” – rather than always pounding away on a computer. Thanks for pointing to the Lego Serious Learning site. I’m motivated to learn more!

  2. We have developed an online facilitated game-like experience combining a unique psychometric with a dynamic co-creative process called Prelude. Virtual teammates draw together, literally and metaphorically, to produce a powerful digital artifact which is a symbolic big picture. This compact transformative experience provides a simple practical lesson in big picture thinking. Would love to explore innovative collaboration with your initiative.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: