The origins of Rich Co-creation

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This article is part of the Rich Co-creation collection

The Rich Co-creation principles and practices are the product of research, experimentation and client work conducted over the course of three decades.

In 1988 I took part in the Sixth Annual Symposium on Organization Transformation (OT6) held in Djurö, an island forming part of the Stockholm archipelago.

This was what some people now call an unconference: an event at which the participants create their own agenda of self-managed sessions in relation to a topic of mutual interest or concern. Open Space Technology was the method employed for the event, and on returning to the United Kingdom I began to establish myself as a professional organiser and facilitator of Open Space gatherings.

Read Paul Levy’s account of an Open Space conference I co-created and facilitated

Open Space Technology is one of several methods available to organisers of large-scale, multi-stakeholder meetings convened for the purpose of complex problem-solving, breakthrough innovation or whole system change. Other methods include Future Search, Real Time Strategic Change, and its close relative, Whole-Scale™ Change.

In 1995 I moved to Amsterdam and established The Centre for Large Group Interventions, an enterprise that helped clients such as Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways) and Royal Dutch Shell learn about these methods and use them to address strategic and operational issues.

Creating collaborative gatherings using large group interventions

by Jack Martin Leith

Gower Handbook of Training and Development, Chapter 28. Includes an overview of Real Time Strategic Change and Open Space Technology. Although published in 1999, much of the content remains relevant.

Download book chapter

A year earlier I had read The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies for Building a Learning Organization, by Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross and Bryan J. Smith.

In this book, the follow-up to The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Senge and his co‑authors provide guidance for developing and deploying the five disciplines of the learning organisation: personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking.

The Building Shared Vision section of the Fieldbook, contributed by Bryan J. Smith, includes this graphic:

Bryan Smith's Tell—Sell—Test—Consult—Co-create model

Here is my elaborated version of Bryan Smith’s model:
Tell—Sell—Test—Consult—Co-create model, elaborated by Jack Martin Leith »
The Fieldbook was my first encounter with the term ‘co‑creation’, and it was the perfect label for the work I would do with companies, government agencies and third sector organisations throughout the next 23 years.

However, in the early 2000s the term started to become more closely associated with customer co-creation — the practice of involving customers or users in the early stages of the product innovation process.

The text quoted below, which I found on the website of The World Bank with the title Co‑creating Development, makes reference to this narrow field of application.

Co‑creation is not about “build it and they will come.” Rather, it is about “bring them together and build it with them.”

Co‑creation harnesses human potential to mutually expand value. It not only views individuals as having creative capacities to forge mutually valuable outcomes together, but also that they attach meaning to their experiences of these outcomes and their very acts of creative interactions with the environments around them.

Thinking of co‑creation in this way takes us well beyond crowdsourcing and open innovation. It can include any of the value chain activities of any business, civic, or social enterprise—activities that can be opened up to more inclusive, creative, and meaningful engagement with stakeholders.

The source article is no longer online, but the passage remains here as it is one of the most concise descriptions of full-blooded co‑creation I have seen.

While the crowdsourcing firms and open innovation consultants were making a lot of noise about their customer-centric version of co‑creation, my approach was becoming increasingly distinct from every other co‑creation approach.

And so, in the summer of 2015, I named it Rich Co‑creation, to signal that the approach is potent and that its purpose is enriching the world.

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