Jane Vita // May 10 2017

Empowering and Engaging through Co-creation

Co-creation is a powerful way of creating an environment in which consumers can have active dialogue, but is also a very effective way of putting people to work together, as a team. Once everyone understands each other and their consumers, the team immediately starts working towards the same goals. “Things” become easier. You might not believe me right now, but let me tell you a bit more about co-creation and why this became the best ingredient in my daily work. I am sure it will make more sense to you.


How does co-creation work and how can it help you to succeed in your business and also, us, designers, to do a better job?

Co-creation can help you to understand what is expected to achieve.

This shared understanding helps the team to engage in the work all along its way.

You may achieve the customer’s understanding by doing all the design research needed, but you might not get the work well done if the ones who are involved with the business are not engaged, not committed, working towards the same customer-centric goals. Therefore the first co-creation sessions should focus on minimizing and clarifying the subjects below:

Expectations –  If you have multiple stakeholders in a project, they may perceive things differently and have different expectations for the outcomes of a project. This may cause to you and your team many troubles and slow down the speed of the work. Understand what people expect and be transparent on how you can achieve their expectations is as important as the outcomes of the project. However, to get the common understanding, you have to put everyone to talk in the same room. It will warranty that you and the entire working group are going to the same and the right direction.

Assumptions – Everyone has an idea on how to solve an individual problem, or he or she even may have tried to solve the same problem by themselves before. Understand the assumptions and state them, so they are demystified and acknowledged as soon as possible, help you and your team clarify what are the playing cards in the projects. Let the team discuss assumptions and assist them in turning the reasonable ones to hypotheses.

Believes – Everyone has opinions, based on his or her beliefs, and sometimes these are hard to break. Make sure that your team has quality time to share their views and that they feel heard. When opinions are conflicting, and you can not integrate them, remember the role of the decision maker and ask she/he to choose the best way to proceed. Don’t forget to keep the transparency within the team.

What went wrong before? – What are past experiences with similar work? Are there any frustrations that your team may have faced with past vendors or projects? Is your business already starting with this extensive background and the trust you are trying to build is already put in question from the day one? Alternatively, is the market harmed by a not so successful version? Probably I do not even need to explain how important it is to have this kind of things known from the beginning. Remember to be open and consider lessons learned.

The project’s magnitude – Scoping is a big and important part of a creative project. How to scope an undiscovered solution? Alternatively, how to measure the amount of time you will spend on coming up with the right problem to solve, to understand customers needs, to talk with your stakeholders? Co-creation helps to identify the best next steps to take in a reasonable and agile time-frame. You may have estimations, but once everyone is onboard, it is clear that things are in progress and that the team is working in the best way possible to achieve the goals.


The background information and expertises

Through co-creation, everyone can bring input and insights to solve or identify the problem. What is ready there? What are the things that the whole team can benefit from?

Once the expectations are set, and assumptions are clear, turned to hypotheses, scoped, and people’s opinions are not a problem anymore, it is time to check what is the background information you already have and then start with it. The best way to get this is again to involve makers to understand:

The context – The context that your design will stand in is as important as the “design” you are placing it in. The context is like an oven where you are cooking it. The context could include space (devices and locations), culture, time, season, knowledge of use, frequency, mood, among other factors that influence the services and how the business can perform.

Challenges – They can come from various sides, and they can make the design process slow. Being aware of them and managing the turbulence is essential for building the trust between team members. Challenges are good motivators, and they usually make your team work together.

Opportunities – The opportunities are not always clear, and your work might be to find or define them. Opportunities are the new or hidden territories to be explored and once more essential for makers understand the ground of the work they are doing.

The audience – Who are the customers? Who are the non-customers? Who is the audience that yours client’s services are targeting? Co-creation sessions can help your team to realize and empathize with customers. This once more can be limited to put everyone in the same room to showcase customer and experience customer journeys or even diving into the customer’s world, by shortly experimenting their daily routines.

Uncovered ingredients – What we do not know? What does no one know? The serendipity of co-creation is massive, and in every session, you will be surprised about open issues and the other amount that integrate into the suitable piece of your big puzzle.

Instead of just talking you need to do something concrete together.


Co-creation is not a get together

There is no co-creation if there is no systematized integrative thinking. To embrace co-creation follow the steps bellow:

The right people in the room

FacilitatorsThe ones that will make sure everything is in place for the sessions and that everyone will feel comfortable and confident to contribute.

Doers People in the team responsible for the service or product development.

Makers Everyone is a maker in some extension. However, the makers here are people eager to bring the service or product to life. They are the problem solvers. In between them are also people responsible for the service or product development.

Experts They are specialized professionals that will bring their expertise straight to the sessions. They own the area and have better knowledge than Google search.

Decision makerHe/She is responsible for the hard decisions when members of the team are missing understanding of business goals. The decision maker usually is the product or service owner, the one that cares most about the outcomes of the general project. They can make decisions that will help to speed up the process and diminish bureaucracy.

The set up

The environment – Having a safe and well-prepared space for creative sessions will inspire and help your team members to perform better.

Methods and tools – Make the conversation tangible. If things are not recorded, they may disappear after all. Choose the right tools and canvasses to capture the essence of the discussions.

Frequency – How many sessions? It depends on the project and its magnitude and team engagement. However, at least one or two weeks in the beginning of the project for alignment and co-creation, and every two weeks for feedback and improvements.

Rules – Co-creation requires full presence and an open mind. Participants need to be committed to the success of the project and immersed in sessions. Great to avoid electronics and other things that possibly distract people. Never forget about customers, co-creation is all about creating a constant dialogue between business and customers. It is about having customer-centric attitudes.

Fun – It is important to keep the great mood during the sessions, everyone should enjoy the teamwork and feel good about it. Fun is a powerful asset for the co-creation sessions. As a facilitator, you have to make sure that the group will have a great time together.

Roles – Who are the people in the room, what are their responsibilities, expertise, and knowledge they are bringing to the project and for the co-creation process? For what can they be counted later on?


Tangibility is the King

Coming up with tangible outcomes every one-two weeks helps the working group engagement and empowerment. Things will happen faster than you may think and results along with that. When your clients feels being part of the project, they will help you to get things when needed, speeding up the entire process. Co-creation helps the process to become lean and agile.


The Smart Experiences Sandbox tool enables more tangible conversation


The emerging pieces

How do you know your co-creation process is working? A successful co-creation process has at least the following apparent outcomes:

1. All people are feeling good to debate and looking for the best of the project. It is easy to see team member engagement and collaboration.

2. No one feels afraid about the agile and lean process, and the team starts delivering concrete outcomes every week, and the plan just flows. All changes are in benefit of the project.

3. Members of the team start feeling heard and counted for the teamwork. Co-creation helps with the productivity.

4. The entire project looks engaging and inspiring, and there is no longer one single owner, but the team shares ownership and responsibilities.

5. Everything is going to the right directions, and you finally have piece of mind.


By co-creating I learned…

I learned to use my expertise to define better the problem considering sources that were not only coming from my past work life or the assigned team. I learned to transform assumptions to a hypothesis. The “great design” comes with the understanding of the client capability and experts insights, customers wants and needs and the design trend magic. All this together is a powerful tool for the business.


Below few reading recommendations for who wants to know more about the topic.

Prahalad and Ramaswamy (2004), The Future of Competition: Co-creating Unique Value with Customers, Harvard Business School Press.

Ramaswamy and Gouillart (2010), Building the Co-Creative Enterprise, Harvard Business Review Press.
Kegan, R., Lahey, L. L., Miller, M. L., Fleming, A., & Helsing, D. (2016). An everyone culture: Becoming a deliberately developmental organization, Harvard Business Review Press.

Grönroos C., Voima P. (2013) ‘Critical Service Logic: Making Sense of Value Creation and Co-creation’, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science

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