What is Co-Creation?

What is Co-Creation?

Co-creation and place making have a long history and the cultural and creative industries in the UK have been shaped by decades of creative cross-sector working and co-creative practices. As a result, co-creation has many definitions depending upon the context of its use. Through an academic lens, co-creation has been defined as ‘the collaborative generation of knowledge by academics working alongside stakeholders from other sectors’,1 and can variously be represented as the ‘intentional collaboration in the creation of something meaningful to the collaborators’.2 This subtle difference reflects a wider shift in values in the twenty-first century from a focus on academic knowledge as an output, to a broader conception of R&D as a process and product of meaning-making that considers, captures and co-aligns to the needs of all stakeholders.

Throughout our deep-dive report, co-creation is used as a phrase that captures the holistic collaborative ecosystem of R&D between partners and communities. The central goal of co-creation is often transformation, and it centres values such as equality and diversity, accessibility, mutual benefit and reciprocity between collaborators, as well as innovation. While a community of people may come together to co-create something specific, the process of partnership can also help strengthen existing or create new communities by enhancing social capital. As Oliver argues, co-creation ‘can do more than just create skills or knowledge: it can be the very glue that creates community’.3 In practice, the relationship between co-creation and community can be seen as a cyclical one.

Three key elements of co-creation are: community; collaboration; and context.

Community is at the heart of the growing critical interest in co-creation. Rather than research and development being done to a community, co-creation seeks to research and develop with a community. Yet the term ‘community’ can be complex and can have many meanings. A community can be a group of people defined by their shared geographical, cultural, social, or political attributes: key aspects of our identity. However, identities are multifaceted and dynamic. As such, no one belongs to a single community, and the communities we do belong to may change over time. Communities are not homogenous, or indeed always harmonious.

Community can also be understood as a process, an ‘intermingling which evokes creative power’.4 As a catalyst for creative power, community can be viewed as a process through which the vital infrastructure of social capital is built. Whatever their composition, all communities have unique concerns and priorities that must be taken into account when considering co-creation.5 Issues such as forming relationships, building trust, and acknowledging the power held by individuals within a group must be handled with transparency and respect for the nuances of a group. This demands care and flexibility from all collaborators.

Collaborators are required from across diverse groups to engage in co-creation that effectively exchanges knowledge and collectively makes – or remakes – something of value and meaning to all participants.6 This may include community members, organisational staff, policymakers, facilitators, researchers, and academics. Inevitably there are power dynamics and imbalances within these collaborative groups that require consistency from those involved. To co-create, there must be recognition of the equal value of each collaborator.

Co-creation can harness a wealth of knowledge by offering as many people as possible a ‘seat at the table’ when it comes to exploration, development, and decision making. The ethos of co-creation is to break down division between collaborators, generating ‘knowledge about ‘us’ as a collective, rather than ‘them’ as a community’.7 Through establishing equity for all participants, co-creation can challenge the belief that knowledge and expertise only comes from professionals, academics, or those within positions of power. Co-creation can only authentically occur when we create the conditions in which ‘power is equally shared, knowledge is equally valued, and you start from a blank sheet’.8 

Context in co-creation projects is essential for informing the driving principles, the goals, and the key collaborators involved in the process.9 During the COVID-19 pandemic, exceptional examples of collaboration and co-creation in the fields of medicine and technology,10 craft11 and cultural exchange12 demonstrated what is possible when partners come together around a shared problem or goal to overcome barriers and engage in acts of creativity. In the wake of the pandemic, new social, political and economic challenges have emerged and yet we are relying on old approaches to problem solving that are no longer fit for purpose.

The value of this tripartite relationship between community, collaboration and context is why it is so important to establish a better understanding of collaboration, partnership working and the crucial creation of capacity if we want to preserve and create new inclusive models of R&D going forwards.

[1] Greenhalgh, T., Jackson, C., Shaw, S., & Janamian, T. (2016). ‘Achieving Research Impact Through Co‐creation in Community‐based Health Services: Literature Review and Case Study’, p. 392. The Milbank Quarterly, 94(2)

[2] Kaszynska, P., Anzel, A. and Rolls, C. (2021) ‘Reasons to Co-Create. Warwick UK Cities of Culture Project’, p. 5. https://warwick.ac.uk/about/cityofculture/our-research/ahrc-uk-cities-of-culture-project/futuretrendsseries/reasons_to_co-create/paper_3-_reasons_to_co-create_web.pdf>

[3] Oliver, J., Armstrong, J., Curtis, E., Curtis, N., & Vergunst, J. (2021). ‘Exploring Co-production in Community Heritage Research: Reflections from the Bennachie Landscapes Project’, p. 197. Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 9(3), 196-215.

[4] Follett, M. (1919) ‘Community is a Process’, p.7. Philosophical Review, Vol. 28, No. 6 (Nov. 1919), pp. 576-588. Duke University Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2178307

[5] Baztan, J., Vanderlinden, J.P., Jaffrès, L., Jorgensen, B. and Zhu, Z. (2020). ‘Facing Climate Injustices: Community Trust-building for Climate Services Through Arts and Sciences Narrative Co-production’. Climate risk management, 30, p.100253.

[6] Kazynska et al. (2022) ‘Reasons to Co-Create. Warwick UK Cities of Culture Project’.

[7] Gilchrist, P., Holmes, C., Lee, A., Moore, N., & Ravenscroft, N. (2015). ‘Co-designing Non-Hierarchical Community Arts Research: the Collaborative Stories Spiral’, p.460. Qualitative Research Journal.

[8] Quote from Zanib Rasool in Brown, M., Pahl, K., Rasool, Z., and Ward, P. (2020) ‘Co-Producing Research with Communities: Emotions in Community Research’, p. 94. Global Discourse, 10(1), p. 93-114.

[9] Greenhalgh et al. (2016) ‘Achieving Research Impact through Co‐creation in Community‐based Cealth Services: Literature Review and Case Study’.

[10] de Silva, M., Lavelle, O., Schmidt N. and Paunov, C (2022) ‘Co-creation During COVID-19: 30 Comparative International Case Studies’. OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, No. 135, OECD Publishing, Paris. https://doi.org/10.1787/08f79edd-en.

[11] Crafts Council (2020) ‘What Does Co-creation Look Like in the age of COVID-19?’. https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/learning/participation/what-does-co-creation-look-like-in-the-age-of-covid-19

[12] Davies, R. (2022) ‘Co-creation and Collaboration in the Time of COVID. BOP Consulting. https://www.bop.co.uk/projects/evaluation-of-subsaharan-africa-arts


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