Change needs co-creation

Phil Nutley, Head of Experience Design, shares his experience of how design thinking and co-creation allows teams to collaboratively tackle challenges and unlock creativity to deliver innovative and insightful solutions, and why this is critical in the current environment.


Big changes are often credited by starting with an insight or some small ripple effect that happens across a given culture, community or a commercial entity. Clearly when life challenges us to rethink in a far bigger way, a place where we find ourselves right at this present moment, trying to find the energy and reserve to create a new perspective is often hard to envisage.

To tackle some of these challenges facing us, many of our teams and clients are finding they have to go beyond the knowledge bank of participation and collaborative tools they are familiar with. Instead we have started to help them rethink the co-creative methods, tools and ways of working internally around new problem spaces and the challenges we all face now, today and tomorrow.

Co-creation is a way of being; it’s inherent in some, and unnatural to others. Design Learning, as I’d previously written about here, needs co-creative tools and techniques to help empower and unlock the creativity within all of us.

How we bring together individuals, teams and organisations, now more than ever, to help open up new ways of sharing content will help collectively align our passions, fears, anxieties, ideas and insights.

The channels by which we co-create these new solutions for now are mainly virtual: miro, mural, teams, zoom, take your pick. These are platforms and ways of connecting a broader range of stakeholders, partners and end users.

The challenge is to step back and re-frame current perspectives, to challenge the-way-we-have-always-done-it syndrome, to open up more, to share and co-create value in its many forms: for individuals, for purpose, helping to reduce or remove fear and bias through design, and create new meaning together.

The team at CCD have been thinking about three challenges that begin to help teams use co-creation in a positive way. They have almost become three ‘states of mind’ that begin to unpick what and where, how and when we will co-create together daily, weekly and whatever the not-so-distant future holds for us all.

Challenge 1:

Do we really understand the problem we are trying to solve here together, right now? 

Clients come to us with a problem, seeking a rapid solution. We know from our experience that often the problem under focus isn’t the real problem and we need a process of discovery to unlock and co-create the new challenge. Barriers to entry include ‘been there, done that’, lack of buy-in across the team and organisation, data blindness and thinking the numbers will tell us all we need to know, and finally not listening to those at the frontline of services,

Co-creative processes, design thinking and service & experience design activities, conducted with a group from the client team, are about being curious and fleshing these insights out.

While our current WFH state has stopped physical workshops from happening, the more intimate virtual spaces we have created for co-creative sessions has unlocked some hidden gems: meaningful chats, more openness to the problem space, and spending some quality time looking and understanding. This co-creative journey often leads our clients to rethink previous assumptions and helps them pivot and change direction.

While we can but speculate what the future of working will look like, the agility we are seeing in adaptation and change is heartening.

Co-creation harnesses the power of acting now and is an agile mindset that drives positive adaptions and change.

The power we see in adapting to virtual tools is the importance of right now overcoming barriers to bringing people together that may have stood in the way before.

Challenge 2:

How will this help us internally across our teams, breaking down the silos and making us more aware of each other’s needs?

The often softer value that co-creation brings is about seeing and feeling a new challenge or problem area through the eyes of each other, your colleagues, your partners and end users. Burns et al. (2006) found the organisational and stakeholder slice to be critical to co-creation success, removing assumptions one had about another by allowing communication and cooperation across disciplines and between stakeholders.

In a recent CCD project with a UK ambulance service, it was this ‘slice through the organisation’ and coming together that got collective buy-in to the shortlist of co-created service-led projects selected for prototyping.

Whilst recently listening to an episode of the ‘How to Fail’ podcast the interviewee Mo Gawdat, former Chief Business Officer for Google X and claimed creator of the algorithm for happiness, referenced an old adage: “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you”. It’s human nature to want to protect ourselves first and foremost in times of trouble.

This is as pertinent to current times as it is to co-creation’s ability to break down silos and bring people together.

By using co-creation to openly discuss issues and face up to problems collectively, co-creation does have a positive and enabling effect for us all.

Our instincts are to be individualistic, but actually how we overcome challenges most effectively is together.

Challenge 3: 

Can we co-create across sectors and relearn together?

As designers and creative thinkers, we are often asked to bring our expertise and parallel knowledge from across sectors.

Now more than ever we are seeing this manifest itself in some truly great ways; car manufacturers helping engineer much needed medical equipment, beverage companies helping deliver vital hand sanitiser and the hospitality sector providing beds for NHS frontline staff.

All great examples of co-creation, cross-sector collaboration and an openness to challenge and change the collective process within our communities.

Similarly, we often find that individuals from within organisations have a wealth of cross-sector knowledge and understanding around collaboration, from personal interactions on a daily basis with brands, products and services to multi-platform ways of learning and interacting with our world.

Allowing co-creation to give people the time to see what good looks like and to think forward, is very much part of the collective challenge we now face in this current state of flux. At times like these there is a challenge to not only consider the ‘now’ but to think about the future

In summary, our skill as creatives and designers is in knowing which tools and methods to apply when and where; and how to conduct or facilitate those moments of magic and logic based on the world that is shaping us at that moment in time.

A critical point of difference in co-creation is that creative thinkers and designers are the conduit that enable and empower individuals to develop and define teams, that then leads them to become game changers to help us design the future we so badly need right now.

For those of you that use co-creation and co-creative process, I’d love to hear your ideas on how you and your teams are overcoming these challenges, particularly in the new virtual space.

The image suggests how we can move to connect goals X and Y from insights and ideas, powered by passion to the value* of co-creation (*value seen as numerical and empathetic in equal parts).


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