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What: Co-creation is one of the pillars of Human Centred Design. Co-creation means to ‘innovate together’ and is a collective term covering various innovation and manufacturing methods allowing the company not to do everything alone. It involves close collaboration with other companies or with customers/users.

When: Co-creation is interesting if you are really open to input from users or experts with whom you work, and if their ideas really have an impact on production. You must be willing to abandon old control mechanisms and conventional hierarchy.

Advantages: Creativity and productivity increase in the company and new sources of revenue and business models can be created. For the various stakeholder groups, integrated co-creation increases the positive experiences and the economic value (higher revenue) and/or psychological value (greater satisfaction).

Co-creation is a collaborative process. The composition of the group of people working together and the involvement of the problem owner determine the form of co-creation. Some examples:
Collaborative innovation – A company brings together a consortium of experts, suppliers and partners in the development of its new product.

Co-production – The company allows its customers to take care of part of the ‘production’. (E.g. flat pack furniture which customers transport and assemble themselves, or self-scanning systems in supermarkets.)

Mass collaboration – A large group of people (volunteers) collaborate (usually for free) on the product, and generally via the Internet, by using web-based collaborative tools.  (E.g. Wikipedia)

Mass customisation – The company mass produces products which have been individually tailored to the customer’s personal wishes.  (E.g. T-shirt printed using your own photo)

Open innovation – The company invites a large group of experts within and outside the company to tackle its innovation challenge.

User generated content – Using knowledge and content that is made public by people through the Internet for example. There are all kinds of web tools to help you find very quickly information which others have posted online. (E.g. customer feedback on blogs and forums, YouTube videos, etc.)

You can group these various types of co-creation families into two dimensions:
- The role of the company: who steers the process, the customer or the company?
- The kind of value created: a standardized value that all customers enjoy, or a personalized value individually tailored to each customer?

Methodology: four steps
In the new co-creation process, the company’s management sets the strategic direction and the boundaries. This process is composed of the following steps:

Step 1 – Identify all stakeholders
List all the parties concerned with the process: who can provide useful input? Who has an interest in the design or who would like to influence it? Whose experience can the design enrich?

Step 2 – Map the interaction
Check which interaction you now have with these stakeholders or which interactions exist between stakeholders. Are there ways to make the interaction more intensive? What would be the impact of increasing the intensity of contact? For example, a website where customers can pass on their idea?

Step 3 – Organise workshops
Organise brainstorming workshops in which you consider what could be developed jointly, with whom, how, and so on. You can also organise a workshop in which you invite stakeholders to share experiences and to suggest improvements. This allows you to see immediately to which type of new ideas co-creation may lead. Obviously, this is only a limited form of co-creation. If you opt for intensive co-creation, you will have to go much further in engaging your stakeholders.

Step 4 – Building blocks
Develop tools allowing you to bring together the input of stakeholders, an instrument where they can put forward new ideas and where they can engage in a dialogue with other stakeholders. Thanks to the Internet and social media, it is possible to connect with millions of people very fast.
Think carefully about the way you can realise that logistically. How will you make products that are adapted to the customer’s input? Far-reaching co-creation certainly has a major impact on all processes in the company. In this respect, you should rely on experts to assist you in the change process.

Source: Ramaswamy and Gouillart: The power of co-creation