What is it?

To co-create is to bring stakeholders in at an early stage when agendas, strategies, or programs are being conceived rather than after they’re fully formed. You get more expertise and a richer understanding of needs. You spot flaws in advance and improve design and execution plans. You also get influential co-owners, whose support or partnership you need.

The co-creation process is used for strategic planning, collective actions, internal alignment and action planning, program and product development, and the development of brands, identities, positioning, and messages. Co-creation is also the ultimate form of communication. Communication tells people stories, facts and opinions. Conversation invites discussion (we argue the “social media revolution” has been disappointing creating true conversation). Co-creation steps beyond that, beyond conversation, by inviting stakeholders to help shape what you do, how you do it, and sometimes, even your identity as an organization.

Particularly in the nonprofit and academic worlds, co-creation must include the people you serve—program beneficiaries and students, respectively. We believe you can’t effectively serve people without asking them to help you figure out what to do or how to do it. It’s the appropriate blend of your expertise and their reality.

How it works

First there is a series of one-on-one conversations in which we outline a shared-fact base. From there, we look to spur not just information-gathering, but creation. Each conversation builds on the previous one—working toward a steady progression of creation. This doesn’t preclude disagreement with the fact base or assumptions. In fact, it deliberately invites it. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called our approach “most innovative.”

In some cases, the conversations alone can complete the co-creation process. We work with a designated team to assemble facts, call out obstacles or points of contention, and produce something new, which is then shared with participants. Along the way, we’ve also begun to build messaging and, in some cases, communications strategy.

The process is no more difficult or expensive than a typical stakeholder interview process—but it produces much more.

In many cases, it makes sense to bring the co-creation participants together for a live session. The session gets off to a fast and deep start, since so much work has been done offline, a shared-fact base is either established or ready for final discussion, and leaders have had time to begin formulating ideas about specific commitments and actions.

Live co-creation can produce programs and products, strategic plans and multilateral agendas, and specific commitments to action.