Eight Strategies for Co-creation

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May 12, 2016
Arnim Wiek

Article published in Integration and Implementation Insights. 


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).

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