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Key Working papers August 2010 no.1

Co-Creation by design? Paul Hartley With every new and perhaps fashionable term or label comes a degree of scepticism. This reaction is understandable and perhaps even required. With every new term comes a set of tools, practices or methods which may even look familiar. My own initial reaction to co-creation went along these lines; is this not another name for a strand of community development, collaborative working or simply another term for participatory ways of working? After some reflection and discussion I came to the conclusion that co-creation had the potential to become much more than collaborative or participatory simply because it was often used in conjunction with efforts to design new products or services. It was this link between co-creation and design, which I explore further in this working paper, which offers the basis for a useful, even powerful way of developing products and services within co-creation communities. Capturing Co-creation In this first section I draw on a wide range of sources with the aim of assembling a broad definition of co-creation.

knowledge-base’. Collis goes on to suggest a broader set of antecedents for participation by contribution through the following quotation.

Amongst some recent attempts to define cocreation is a report by the London Research & Consulting Group at the London School of Economics and Political Science1. For this group co-creation is creative, eclectic in its methods and theory base, facilitated, strong on the quality of relationships and a learning process and collaborative.

Internationalisation, the world becoming a global community, the fact that individuals can expect to work in different settings and as members of multifaceted teams, and the need for social skills and communication skills: all are commonly described as characteristics of living and working in a Knowledge Economy that are rapidly gaining in importance (The World Bank Group, 2003).”

Nevertheless it is understood by the LSE group as involving the customer and as ‘outsourcing innovation. They conclude that ‘…co-creation offers a highly promising a more holistic, approach to value creation. Despite the fact that some of the theoretical and empirical foundations of co-creation still have to be developed, co-creation cannot be safely ignored by companies who want to succeed in today’s marketplace.

Collis adds that knowledge sharing communities are key tools in learning from the tacit knowledge of others across the organisation and I might add beyond it. Finally, I draw from a paper from RED a research group at the UK Design Council. This study places co-creation in a cluster of concepts, or characteristics in their terms; including distributed knowledge, collaborative working and radical organisation development. They go on to define co-creation in terms of interaction, participation and joint problem solving including between users, workers and professionals. They argue that co-created services would differ in terms of their design, content, systems, and their structure of delivery.

An examination of co-creation in the construction of learning resources via Web 2 throws a different light 2 on the term. Collis notes that co-creation can be seen as an extension of Sfards two metaphors of learning, learning by acquisition and learning by participation with ‘…participation by contributing to a shared 1

From this selection of papers we can move towards a provisional definition;

Co-creation: New pathways to value An overview – Roser etal LSE Enterprise Group 2009 2 Collis Betty et al


The LSE paper directs our attention towards a range of resources all drawn together to capture consumer experience and knowledge. This is what they call the cocreation space, a space occupied in different ways and towards different ends; consumer involvement, the early stages of product development and (in the example of the internet community) consumer empowerment and democratisation.

knowledges and powerful even radical resources for change and development. The whole seems to me to be more than the sum of its parts and to contain something which, when combined with people in an effort to ‘make things happen’ offers real potential for communication, engagement and dialogue. I want to argue that there is a fundamental or core concept at the heart of co-creation; design. Design at the centre of co-creation is valid on two fronts; firstly, design is centrally about construction and context. Construction of both intellectual and physical resources and context in that decisions made on the selection of these resources happens when people make both a personal and collective commitment to find, recognise, offer and apply their experience, knowledge and insight. This decision and active commitment might be considered an effort to design or re-design some aspects of our lives.

Collis highlights a number of aspects of the co-creation process, but of particular relevance here is the attention to a shared knowledge-base and knowledge-sharing communities. The RED Report focusing on co-creating health services brings organisational and by implication institutional aspects into sharp focus. They explicitly recognise the need for radical organisation development, implicitly pointing toward the fundamental shifts required in our institutional landscape and, as a consequence, our mental maps which connect with them.

This link between design and the system in which it can flourish is both valid and useful if we consider design as ‘…the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order’3

We can begin to draw together a definition of co-creation; it is a concept and a set of resources which can be understood as a specialised system. It can be set up, developed and applied in a variety of different ways with different ends in mind. The co-creation system does have some common components; participation – although this will vary in terms of the overall objective, a draw on a wide wider knowledge base - this may extend from involving other departments to users and a wide range of ‘stakeholders’ and communities, and finally, a focus on an end product, service, process or structure which has gained in value in relation to consumers/users.

If co-creation is about creativity, wide participation and tapping into a wide knowledge base then design as both concept and practice fits well within this system. Cocreation is therefore a form of design system in which people can participate as co-designers or as sources of knowledge and insight for designers. But if design fits well within the co-creation system then we can go further to support the idea that design is complementary or even part of our efforts to organise and build organisation. Organisation is the grand design process and perhaps more in the throws of continuously being designed than those who manage them would wish to acknowledge or accept. Whilst an alignment between co-creation and organisation is

This provisional definition seems quite practical and it is perhaps this aspect that first strikes home and attracts; it’s a system for doing something, achieving a result or change. However, this specialised system and the set of resources that make it are also made up of some important ingredients; participation, shared


From: Papenek Victor (1985) Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change Thames & Hudson p4


more speculative than that between cocreation and design I put it forward here as worthy of consideration and further investigation, especially by groups or people I all walks of life want to make positive changes in their communities. I want to move next towards exploring further this link between co-creation and design.

Stappers, co-design is a specific instance of co-creation which for them is a much broader term encompassing ‘…the physical to the metaphysical and from the material to the spiritual…’ This appreciation of cocreation fits well with my own view that cocreation draws from common aspects of human endeavor such as creativity, collective action and the construction and application of various types of knowledge.

Co-creation and the ‘Fuzzy’ front end of design Over the past six decades, designers have been moving increasingly closer to the future users of what they design.4

These authors go on to highlight the importance of the front-end of the co-design process (figure 1), the so-called pre-design end where open-ended questions can be explored.

One of the central motivators for the shift that Sanders and Stappers note has been the continuing need for competitive edge and differentiation. This need has in turn led to the recognition that a move toward the incorporation of need, as defined by the user of the product or service, can be useful in getting the edge on the competition in a number of different ways.

In highlighting the ‘fuzzy front end’ they draw our attention to the exploratory, open ended and shared aspects in the early stages of the design process. It is perhaps then clear why I and others would argue that cocreation has design at its heart since we have defined co-creation as a; specialized system for creativity placing a high value on participation, equality, facilitation, the sharing of widely distributed knowledge and a focus on adding value for users and or communities.

It is across the area of ‘participatory design’ that the terms co-design and co-creation have been emerging, centered on the value arising from harnessing collective insight and creativity. For Sanders and

It is precisely at this front end of design that

Fig. 1 (From Sanders & Stappers (2008)

we at Development Keys see the potential in co-creation, exploring, for example, potential and new social arrangements as features of creative action which we believe characterises much of what co-creation has to offer. It is this creative common ground that leads me to argue that design (in this


Co-creation and the new landscapes of design Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders & Pieter Jan Stappers 2008


‘front-end’ sense) is at the heart of cocreation.

for many different reasons, it is difficult to capture any of this on a routine basis; targets, plans, systems, agreements and specifications may often seem designed to prevent this. But if co-creation systems offer a way of tapping into creativity, knowledge and insight then it is possible to weave such systems into communities within the organisation, into the whole organisation and its stakeholders and on into various types of community more broadly.

Once we take design away from a specialised expert function out into the world of collective action, participation and shared endeavour we are on common ground within a system of co-creation. Cocreation offers the platform and design offers a central organising principle How then can we successfully utilise cocreation, with design at its heart, in organisational, inter-organisational and community settings?

There are already numerous commercial and non-commercial examples of how cocreation systems have been applied. Fronteer Strategy mentions a number of organisations and initiatives driven by cocreation in various forms; the Linux operating system developed by and for users, Threadless, on-line t-shirt platform using crowd-sourcing and eBay using various co-creation projects.

Establishing co-creation communities It appears that co-creation has been largely identified and used by the commercial sector as a means of making products and services which meet the needs of customers more closely. Firms are then more able to provide a strong knowledge basis for competitive advantage and product differentiation. The value lies not simply in the insight but also in the relationship development between producer and consumer.

In the public sector the NHS has applied the principles and practice of co-creation with diabetic patients to develop new services. Such methods are also coming to the fore as they develop more self care initiatives across the service. The new economics foundation has played a part in supporting the development of Time Banks, an exchange system of time and knowledge within local communities.

It is instructive to tap into some of the thinking around co-creation in the commercial environment. For example, Fronteer Strategy, an Amsterdam-based strategy consulting firm with expertise in innovation and co-creation notes, amongst its five guiding principles, that it is important to inspire participation under what they call the principle of mutuality, where all stand to gain from a common goal.5 In other principles they emphasise establishing common ground, sharing information and ideas and value and finally long term engagement.

The challenge is to explore opportunities to set up and develop co-creation systems and to establish co-creation communities. I have begun to set out in this paper some provisional thoughts and a starting point for our own work in co-creation. We are ready to contribute to co-creation by design and help establish co-creation communities. The words of John Thackara quoted in the RED Report are in close alignment with our path.

For anyone working in organisational environments this is not a million miles away from the warp and weft of everyday organisational life and any form of collective action. It is true that for many organisations,

‘In an economic world dealing in knowledge, the secret of success is the recombination of different types of expertise in a productive manner. This new kind of design sets out to increase the flow of information within and between people, organisations and communities. A new way to think about


Co-creations Five Guiding Principles: or what is successful co-creation made of? White Paper – Fronteer Strategy April 2009


design is as a process… that stimulates continuous innovation among groups of people within continuously changing contexts’.6 Given the scale of imminent change following the aftermath of collapsing financial systems and the credit crunch it seems essential that we make use of every resource to meet the challenges but also take advantage of the opportunities. It is a time to join with people and communities in creating new ways of meeting need and of organising communities to enable them to function for optimum health, well-being and development

Paul Hartley Manchester August 2010


Taken from the Introduction of John Thackara’s new book In the Bubble: Designing for a Complex World, MIT, forthcoming quoted in the RED Report 01 op. cit.


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