Can you bake in co‑creation, not bolt it on?

Co-design Tool | Plan


This week I’ve been listening to the Collaboratory podcast Laying the foundations for co-creation (32:52). It had wonderful guests like Emma Blomkamp, Michelle Halse, Rebecca McNaught and Antti Pirinen. Credits: Hosts: Maya Haviland, Nicole Deen, Audio Engineer: Nick McCorriston

In many ways it reflects many of the thoughts that swish around in my mind as a facilitator and co-creator. It may be just me, but I feel the burden of setting up projects that are close to becoming performative faux-design: a.k.a extractive, token gestures to that help organizations meet funding targets, or outcome measures. Every opportunity I am given, I try my hardest to create conditions that are collaborative and valuable to those who join me, we mostly get there… its after lots of experience and an authentic and unwavering truth of what we can achieve with “what we really have at our disposal”.

Getting to co-creation requires honesty in planning and flexibility of what can be achieved. One of my most cited and shared articles is The Barriers and Enablers of Co-design for Services by Antti Pirinen from 2016. It provides visibility to the “back of house” element that could make co-creation seamless or remarkably challenging. Many of the things I mention below are reflective of the lenses shared in Antti’s article.

reference to baked in and bolded on: two prints overlayed, one hands mixing ingredients in the bowl, over the top there is a formula 1 tyre

Let’s put the theory into action

Before committing to co-design here a few questions to ask yourself, your team and allies:

Are we the right people to lead a co-design project on this subject?

  • In some cases, it may be better to support others in doing co-design work than running it yourself?
  • Who is closest to the topic? Who’s been working on this already?
  • Where should the knowledge and power create live once this project ends?

What diverse people with differing backgrounds and skills do you need to be involved — do you know them?

  • If you don’t have strong relationships or partnerships you might need to start by building those connections before you launch into ‘work’.
  • Who could you partner with or learn from before you start?

Is your co-design group open and ready to collaborate?

  • If that’s a no, what can you do to change that? Ask them what they might need
  • How can you strengthen relationships as you go? Why not?
  • Do people need priming (preparation/information before they being), training, counseling or support? Something else?

Are you prepared to provide support for people so they can participate fully?

  • How can you make sure knowledge is shared?
  • How can you make activities and language clear?
  • How can you make activities accessible to all?

Will people with lived experience play a central role in the design and decision-making process?

  • How will you make sure people with lived experience are treated as experts in your project?
  • How will you create spaces that treat lived experience with care and respect?

Does your project have the support and investment needed to be successful?

  • Will your organisation dedicate the time, resources and energy to collaborate deeply in your co-design project?
  • How will the team lead or host be supported throughout the project? Do they have the resources, skills and time they need?

Can you share back the knowledge you gain with everyone involved?

  • Will the people who participate get access to what they have made?
  • Is there a way to share ownership or give credit to their contribution?
  • Do you need to create multiple designs so they are accessible to all?

Can you build in reciprocity and regeneration into your project work?

  • What could you do to make sure everyone get something from participating?
  • Could you share skills? Reimbursement, co-ownership of the output or receive recognition?

How will you know you got to co-design? or collaboration?

  • How will you measure and gather feedback on your approach?
  • Who will review you? How will that feedback shape future practice?
  • Will your evaluation be shared generously?

Do you see the potential for co-producing with this group or community afterwards?

  • Can this project feed into something bigger, so the trust you build isn’t lost?
  • What could you do to create a regenerative culture which is healthy, resilient and adaptable?

More from the podcast

gif of graphic key inside a hand and crustal overlay, stuck in the layers