Conditions for co-creation

Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

This is part of a series of occasional “synthesis blog posts” drawing together insights across blog posts on related topics.

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

What is required for effective co-creation, especially between researchers and stakeholders? In particular, what contributes to a productive environment for co-creation? And what considerations are relevant for deciding who to involve?

Twelve blog posts which have addressed these issues are discussed. Bringing those insights together provides a richer picture of how to achieve effective co-creation.

What makes a productive environment for co-creation?

A good starting point is to be working in an environment and organizational culture that support co-creation and to have sufficient financial, personnel and other resources, as pointed out by Kit Macleod and Arnim Wiek.

Dialogue-based processes are often an important part of co-creation and they need to be established as a generative space, focused on synergy, not conflict. These issues are raised by Doug Easterling and Gerald Midgley. From New Zealand, Rawiri Smith describes how co-creative processes between indigenous (Māori) and non-indigenous (Pākehā) participants often use ceremony as a framework for treating conflicting views respectfully and it is instructive to reflect on how stronger rituals might be used more widely in co-creation. There are already many rituals in dialogue such as introductions, setting ground rules and turn-taking and it is useful to think how these could be strengthened and added to, especially in situations where there is conflict. Gerald Midgley points out that systems thinking approaches already embed ritual for exactly this reason.

Dialogue-based processes require facilitation that achieves a sense of common community and purpose, where credit is shared, as described by Bob Dick, as well as Doug Easterling and Kit Macleod and Arnim Wiek.

Who to involve in co-creation?

Co-creative processes can be initiated in a variety of ways. One common way is for researchers to identify and invite stakeholder partners. In such circumstances there are two key overarching considerations.

One is to take into account that most problems are systems problems, with multiple interrelationships, as highlighted by Doug Easterling, as well as Gerald Midgley and Cristina Zurbriggen. The range of stakeholders who have something useful to contribute is therefore often broader than might be initially considered. Different participants will also frame the issue differently. As Gerald Midgley points out: “no participative process can include every possible perspective: comprehensiveness is impossible, and we need to think about how inclusions and exclusions (of both people and the issues they are concerned with) can be justified.”

A second overarching issue is to take into account power relationships. Critical here is the understanding that co-creation does not just involve the different kinds of knowledge that stakeholders bring to the table, but instead that “knowledge is imprinted by power” as highlighted by Andy Stirling, Adrian Ely and Fiona Marshall. The same point is made by Cristina Zurbriggen, who emphasizies that “knowledge and information cannot be seen as separate from political struggles over the definition of ambiguous societal problems, goals, and values.”

Much more discussion is required about ways of managing power relationships. Gerald Midgley argues for identifying “who gets invited, who is excluded, who is marginalized, and how to address that marginalization.” Machiel Keestra identifies the value of long-term relationships between researchers and stakeholders, as do Andy Stirling, Adrian Ely and Fiona Marshall, who argue that these allow for the formation of particular kinds of social relations, where all participants are “afforded equal respect and agency in the knowledge production process.”

As a brief aside, a useful model for managing power relationships between researchers and stakeholders comes from cross-cultural research between indigenous and non-indigenous New Zealanders. Both Jeff Foote and Maria Hepi describe the interchanging of tuākana (senior/leader) & tēina (junior/novice) roles and relationships. This recognizes that one group does not have all the expertise necessary to deal with a problem and that leadership in investigating an issue needs to rotate to the group with the greatest expertise for the particular aspect of the problem. Researchers, then, will be senior when it comes to, for example, knowing the literature about the problem and bringing to bear relevant theory and research methods, while stakeholders affected by the problem will be senior in contributing lived experience of its effects and possibilities for adapting to or mitigating its consequences. This is a method that could be used for all researcher-stakeholder interactions.

A general consideration in selecting participants for co-creative processes is the importance of diversity, as highlighted by Quassim Cassam, along with Bob Dick and Doug Easterling and Gerald Midgley and Arnim Wiek. As Arnim Wiek points out it is helpful to consider including “those negatively affected, those benefitting, those involved in causing the problem or situation under investigation, and those with legitimate concerns.” Quassim Cassam suggests they bring “different perspectives, assumptions, interests, skills and thinking styles.” The challenge is to ensure that diversity leads to innovation, rather than bedlam.

Doug Easterling makes the case for avoiding disruptive people. There are also characteristics to look for. Quassim Cassam calls these “epistemic virtues,” namely humility, openness to diverse perspectives and interests, and willingness to listen. Kit Macleod suggests that relevant values for participants include “respect for different viewpoints and other sources of knowledge, and being flexible and open to different ways of doing things.” It also helps if participants are willing to abide by the following principles: “engage, commit, build trust, advocate, communicate, participate, build capacity, reflect and ask questions, deliver, share outputs, and review and evaluate.”

What do you think of these conditions for co-creation? Do they resonate with your experience? Do you have others to share?

Blog posts cited:

Cassam, Q, 2016, Virtues and vices of real-world co-creation, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 26 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/26/co-creation-virtues-vices/

Dick, B, 2016, Facilitating multidisciplinary decision making, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 17 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/17/facilitation-process/

Easterling, D, 2016, Five steps for managing diversity to create synergy, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 19 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/19/managing-diversity/

Foote, J, 2016, Cross-cultural collaborative research: A reflection from New Zealand, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 15 December https://i2insights.org/2016/12/15/cross-cultural-collaborative-research/

Hepi, M, 2017, Undertaking bi-cultural research: Key reflections from a Pākehā (non-Māori) New Zealander, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 26 September https://i2insights.org/2017/09/26/bi-cultural-research-reflections/

Keestra, M, 2018, Overcoming a paradox? Preparing students for transdisciplinary environments, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 30 January https://i2insights.org/2018/01/30/preparing-transdisciplinary-students/

Macleod, K, 2016, Working together for better outcomes: lessons for funders, researchers, and researcher partners Integration and Implementation Insights blog 15 March https://i2insights.org/2016/03/15/working-together-for-better-outcomes/

Midgley, G, 2016, Co-creation without systems thinking can be dangerous, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 7 July https://i2insights.org/2016/07/07/co-creation-and-systems-thinking/

Smith, R, 2016, Powhiri: An indigenous example of collaboration from New Zealand, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 8 December https://i2insights.org/2016/12/08/indigenous-example-of-collaboration/

Stirling, A, Ely, A, Marshall, M, 2018, How is transformative knowledge ‘co-produced’?, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 3 April https://i2insights.org/2018/04/03/co-producing-transformative-knowledge/

Wiek, A, 2016, Eight strategies for co-creation, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 12 May https://i2insights.org/2016/05/12/eight-strategies-for-co-creation/

Zurbriggen, C, 2016, The interplay between knowledge and power / La interacción entre el conocimiento y el poder, Integration and Implementation Insights blog 14 July https://i2insights.org/2016/07/14/interplay-of-knowledge-and-power/

Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is a professor at The Australian National University in the Research School of Population Health’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. She is developing the new discipline of Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) to improve research strengths for tackling complex real-world problems through synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change. 

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Tilo Weber (biography)

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Charles Lines (biography)

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Community member post by Gabriele Bammer

Gabriele Bammer (biography)

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L. Michelle Bennett (biography)

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