What is co-creation?

Welcome to this page.

We often get the question:

  • What is co-creation? How might it be of benefit to me?

  • How is it different from collaboration?

  • What does co-creation deliver?

  • Who is involved in co-creation?

With this page we intend to bring some clarity to the discussion. It is based on:

  • 700 Projects in 15 years in 35 countries

  • 2.500 Co-creation sessions

  • 15.000 Experts involved in this

What is co-creation?

We define co-creation as:

        The collaborative process of creating new value together with external experts and stakeholders.

Take a look at Nike Air, putting an airbag within the shoes was inspired by a NASA engineer who experimented with innovation within astronaut helmets for space exploration.

External experts and stakeholders could be defined as customers, neighbours, teachers, scientists, even competitors or soccer moms. The external experts and stakeholders are different for every challenge and are one of the key ingredients to bring the new in your value.

Every person who is remotely involved within the value chain and the supply chain can bring the power of unleashing new perspectives. These new perspectives outside of your own organisation are potential eye-openers for creating unexpected (new) input.

The thought-processes that external experts and stakeholders bring, could spark new value in the form of a concept, product, service, business model or a strategy, the spark could even light up a campaign idea, or be the start of an entire movement.

        The central premise to co-creation was coined by Silicon Valley guru and Sun founder Bill Joy: “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people always work somewhere else.”

4 types of co-creation

There are four types of co-creation, based on two axes: openness (who can join) and ownership (who is the owner of the outcome).

    • Crowdsourcing: Where an initiator invites “everyone” to contribute ideas towards the challenge he or she has. It can be an open call for concepts, designs, ideas, solutions… The initiator “owns” the outcomes. An example is Goldcorp, a mining company, which used the global crowd in trying to identify new pockets of gold (literally) – and succeeded.
    • Community co-creation: Where communities (groups of people who share an interest, identity, or benefit) contribute towards a shared purpose. Everyone within the community (could be everyone) benefits from the outcome. Think Wikipedia – the world’s information database, run and filled by individuals.
    • Coalitions: Where groups of selected individuals/organizations join forces to realize a shared goal that none of them could achieve individually. Outcomes are owned/shared by all contributors. Here you could think of Nespresso where they partner with coffee machine manufacturers.
    • Expert co-creation: Where specific experts are handpicked to synthesize per- spectives and solve an initiator’s challenge. Interactions between participants are generally deeper than in Crowd Sourcing cases, and the outcomes are “owned” solely by the initiator. As an example, at Elemental we co-created the new KLM lounge at Schiphol airport with handpicked experts.

    Elemental is especially good at Expert Co-creation, and Coalitions.

    Why co-creation?

    We think that co-creation is extremely valuable, due to its ability to bring unexpected new outcomes with the help of fresh, new perspectives. Typical outcomes could be a new:

             Branding, Business Model, Campaign, Customer Journey, Design, Event, Innovation, Positioning, Proposition, Product, Purpose, Service, Strategy, User Experience, Vision

    The list is not exhaustive but gives a good indication of what is possible.

    How is co-creation different from collaboration?

    With a fresh set of perspectives (people) brought together for a specific task, in the right setting, you will always end up with unexpected (new) output. Always.

    Collaboration literally means “working together”. This could mean anything from building a brick wall to bringing a man to the moon – and back.

    Co-creation is different. It is about bringing things into being, together, forming them out of nothing. You can dream up something that wasn’t there before. And make it happen. It holds a promise which is almost unbelievable: are we actually able to create something new, right here on the spot? Is it actually possible to set up a structured process that makes creativity happen? We can answer that affirmatively: YES.

    A typical co-creation session

    Our expert co-creation sessions follow the same flow and have the same ingredients, fine-tuned based on our experience over the years. We know how to run them, only the outcome is unknown. Here are the main ingredients of a successful session:

        • 4 Hours

        • 4 Core team, 8 External experts

        • Following our 5 steps (Vision, Challenge, Rapid Map, Concepting, Advice)

        • 1 Inspiring location

        • 2 Moderators

        • Plenty of fresh air, snacks and room to write and to have break-out sessions

    The Changemaker’s handbook for co-creation

    Elemental founders Martijn Pater and James Veenhoff collected fifteen years of co-creation experience in their book Collaborate or Die: The Changemaker’s Handbook for Co-Creation. This handbook is a practical book based on years of boots-on-the-ground experience. Within this handbook we break down the in’s and out’s of co-Creation and make use of Five Guiding Principles to offer a paradigm for success.

              1. Inspire to Participate

              2. Select the Best

              3. Trust the Process

              4. Raise the Bar

              5. Lead the Change

    Example of co-creation using the Five Guiding Principles

    Denim City is the living proof that co-creation works: the concept was developed in co-creation, using the Five Principles with experts from a variety of backgrounds (government, industry, brands, design, retail), and was realised in a coalition of global industry players, among whom a number of fierce competitors.

    We Inspired to Participate by framing the transition towards innovation, sustainability and education as a responsibility, a course of action to reverse an otherwise unintended but definite road to misery and pollution.

    We Selected the Best by consciously involving top brands, city officials and industry experts.

    We “Trusted the Process by applying our very own session methodologies, exactly as described in Principle 3 within the book Collaborate or Die.

    Raising the Bar on our own project was especially challenging AND fruitful. We pushed ourselves to create clarity and prune away ideas to formulate “Towards a Brighter Blue”. We evolved and enriched our preliminary ideas to create the Jean School curriculum and developed a roll-out format for Denim City.

    The thought being that once you embrace co-creation, you have to accept that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But the journey of conceiving – and having to lead – the House of Denim projects, taught us about the “need to lead”. “Lead the Change” has been a large part of our lives for the past 12 years.

    Offline vs. online co-creation

    We have by now, all experienced that meeting online is not the same as meeting live. Not even close. It is believed that there is a hundred times more information channeled through body language, facial expressions, and other signals during a face-to-face conversation than there is when meeting through Zoom. However, we based on our own experience:

    We can safely say that online expert co-creation sessions deliver the same results as offline sessions.

    However, there are still pros and cons of online co-creation sessions. Co-creation is all about engagement. Online engagement requires a completely new set of tools and perfect execution, whilst live you can simply wink at someone, smile, and carry on. If you want and need to create a deeper connection between people, you must do it live (at the cost of CO2 emissions, higher financial cost, and a limited choice of experts to involve).

    Pros of online co-creation:

        • Gather groups of people from different cities, countries and even continents in one single brainstorming session.

        • Increased reach and speed

        • Lower cost

        • Lower impact (no travel)

    Cons of online co-creation:

        • You do not experience the magic of meeting new people in person and creating new relationships.

        • Online engagement requires a completely new set of tools and perfect execution

    Elemental’s approach to co-creation

    We work for global market leaders, across sectors, and we specifically focus on clients who want to make a difference – using co-creation. Our team at Elemental consists of Connectors, who carefully pinpoint external experts and stakeholders, being academic, corporate, startup, consumers (direct and indirect), we search for the best fit based on the challenge of the client. During energetic and fast-paced workshops, we bring together people from different perspectives to develop new ideas and solutions. From single workshops to large-scale projects, we moderate sessions to engage your customers, employees, stakeholders and global experts in your most pressing challenges.

    With our strategists we take it to the next step and spark new value, together. Want to know more about how we co-create? And what we do? Check  ➦ Elemental Services.


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