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.
Co-creation, and related terms like co-design, co-production, co-construction and co-innovation, are becoming increasingly popular. Upon closer scrutiny they share many characteristics with participatory processes. Is there a difference between the two – co-creation and participation – and if yes, what is it?
Let us first look at participation. Not all participatory processes are the same. They differ with regard to who is involved, who initiated the process and for what reason, the anticipated outcomes, the duration, the context in which it takes place, and who has control over the process and outcomes.
La mayoría de los recientes enfoques para abordar problemas complejos no incluyen la dimensión política. Por otra parte, la ciencia política, así como los estudios de política pública y de gobierno contemporáneo han realizado escasas contribuciones al tratamiento de los procesos de toma de decisiones desde dinámicas complejas.
¿Cómo podemos desarrollar marcos innovadores que incorporen la dimensión política?
Why does the theory and practice of co-creation need to be informed by systems thinking? Co-creation without a thorough understanding of systems thinking can be deeply problematic. Essentially, we need a theory and practice of systemic co-creation.
Three key things happen in any co-creation:
It is necessary for a diversity of perspectives to engage.
There is the synergistic innovation that results from this engagement.
I approach this topic as an analytic philosopher rather than a specialist in co-creation. It’s clear that co-creation is thought to offer a promising response to real world problems and it connects in interesting ways with my own work on epistemic virtues and vices.
What is ‘co-creation’ and what are its benefits, real or imagined? To ‘create’ something is to bring it into existence. Co-creation, as I understand it, is the creation of a product by two or more people or agencies with particular characteristics working together in a particular way.
The key questions are: (a) what is the ‘product’ of co-creation? (b) What are the particular characteristics of those involved in co-creation? (c) What is the particular ‘way’ of working together that distinguishes co-creation from other collaborative activities?
How can we address social, environmental, political and health problems that are too big and too complex for any single person, organization or institution to solve, or even to budge? How can we pool our wisdom and work collaboratively toward purposes that are larger than ourselves?
In theory at least, co-creation generates innovative solutions that transcend what would otherwise be produced by the participants acting on their own. In other words, co-creation can foster synergy.
To maximize synergy, a co-creative group should include participants who understand the problem from all the relevant perspectives. The more complex the problem, the greater the number and diversity of stakeholders who should be included in the process. A broader range of perspectives and ways of thinking allows for a richer and more comprehensive analysis of the problem, as well as more innovative solutions that address more of the underlying factors.
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.
The language of ‘co-processes’ is much in vogue in policy, practice and academic communities worldwide. In commerce, product design and politics, the power of the crowd has long been recognised, but can co-processes be harnessed for the public good? The answer, right now, appears to be ‘maybe’.
What are co-processes and what are they for?
The briefest survey of the literature on co-processes confirms there is substantial variation in how they are defined and what methods or techniques they include. A confusing multiplicity of related terms exists—co-construction, co-production, co-design, co-innovation, co-creation—all are in regular use, sometimes interchangeably, and often defined at an unhelpful level of abstraction (for more on this topic see the blog post by Allison Metz on Co-creation, co-design, co-production, co-construction: same or different?). Nevertheless, however we define co-processes, participatory methods, boundary-spanning and inclusivity to varying degrees are foundational principles that can be detected in most accounts. Beyond that, the stated purposes and proposed outcomes vary considerably.
Interdisciplinarity has the potential to broaden and deepen our understanding and application of methods and tools to address complex challenges. When we embrace interdisciplinarity we broaden what we know about the potential methods for assessing and tackling problems, and we deepen our understanding of specific methods by applying these methods across different contexts. In my pursuit to understand co-creative processes by interconnected stakeholders – i.e., the deep and authentic engagement of stakeholders across governance, science, and community boundaries to identify and optimize the use of evidence for positive outcomes – I have been influenced by methods used outside of my discipline of implementation science and current context of child welfare services. For example, I recently read an article that studied the co-production of knowledge in soils governance (Prager & McKee, 2015) in the United Kingdom and was struck by the usefulness of these ideas for child welfare services in the United States.
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.