We called it the Learn/Share Lab: a laboratory experience for learning and sharing together on the topic of co-creation. We gathered 14 case studies in co-creation on projects from around the globe. We all shared, and I learned a lot. I want to share one aspect of what I learned with you about being co-creative over time as well as a distinction between being co-creative in how we do what we do and being co-creative in what we do.
Nadia, Edgeryders and Tom, StartSomeGood
By the end of the event, I was most interested in how being co-creative plays out over time. Let’s look at Edgerydersfirst. The project is very open in the sense that anyone can join the network and participate. Also, the events are open to anyone. However, the governance and structure is not co-created – in the sense that the ground rules were stated up front on how it was going to work. So the initial phase of creating the structure of it wasn’t co-creative. Let’s call that phase 1. It became co-creative once the structure was in place, which we can call phase 2. What they developed together – the LOTE events (Living on the Edge) and from the the Unmonestary, were both emergent outcomes of co-creation in phase 2. So the process design – how you behave and interact – was not co-created, however, the outcomes were. The outcomes were only possible through the conversation of many people interacting and building on each other.
Similarly, my book, the Thrivability Sketch, had a clear process that I dictated, yet each piece came from the contributor or in the space created between the contributor and I. So you could say phase 1: process design, was not co-creative. Phase 2: content creation was co-creative. For example, the page on creativity became an email from the contributor to me discussing the challenges he was having writing the piece and my counsel to him that playful was better than intellectual. The production of the book, post-editing, was a very closed process with just 3 collaborators helping me polish and design it. So phase 3: production wasn’t broadly co-creative. Once the book was released, the marketing of it was very co-creative again. So phase 4: promotion was again co-creative.
Phases of Co-Creativity
It is my sense in both of these cases and others where the process design is pre-determined, that the projects move quickly forward with only those participants who self-select to be part of the process. Speed of action is gained, but it risks alienating people who either want to create process together or don’t like the process that was dictated.
Other projects begin with a challenge and an open question, unclear about process. The process is emergent. For example, Let’s Recycle in India suffered a massive fire that wiped them out, so they gathered with their suppliers (waste pickers) and discussed what to do. The solution came from that open dialogue from a vulnerable place: both the process and the solution that emerged were co-creative. So their early phases, of this iteration of the work, were highly co-creative of both process and deliverables, but the way they might be running now may be less co-creative now that they have a co-created process that everyone is working with.
The urgency of the fire moved the conversation on process and outcome forward swiftly. There was a great deal of risk taken by leadership to let it unfold, but the crisis made that risk-taking a necessary one. With proven positive results for co-creative process, Let’s Recycle is more likely to continue using co-creative process and co-created outcomes in the future. If we were to map co-creative activities over time with Let’s Recycle, we would see a sharp spike following the fire followed by a slope toward standard process and outcomes thereafter, probably never returning to a place without co-creative elements again. Plus the threshold required for initiating another co-creative phase has been lowered.
Co-Creativity over time for Let’s Recycle.
So co-creation seems not to be some element that is always present in all different aspects of a project. For some projects it may be a recurring piece of the process. For others it might be co-creative on outcome but not in process design. This seems to make the patterns for co-creation a little tricky to surface, as patterns for process may be quite different than patterns for outcomes. Being co-creative at different stages of co-creation may take different skill sets or require different structures. I think this is really getting us to a much clearer place of understanding how the case studies share certain elements while also understanding how different they are. And, I believe that makes us closer to knowing how and when to instigate co-creative practices.
We believe we have developed a list of qualities that can be present in co-creative endeavors that differentiate at least the co-creative portion of that effort from other approaches. To flesh that out, we will be co-creative in making a book about who, why, how, what and when of co-creative efforts for social innovation and impact. Look for that outcome later this spring.