The methodology I use to support cocreative government strategy includes a spectrum for different modes of engagement and cocreation. Hopefully tools like this can help governments make informed decisions about how to work with others when developing (and implementing) strategies.
A spectrum in three levels
Engage with external stakeholders for controlled input and to mitigate risk.
This is suitable where plans are internally focused, or in a relatively well understood area and the risk of getting it wrong or getting people offside is low.
When things are more complicated it is impossible to find effective solutions without working closely with external stakeholders. It is necessary to work collaboratively with stakeholders to develop a strategy for a government response that has a reasonable chance of success. Without it, risk of failure is high.
Situations are different if they have a diverse mix of influential stakeholders and the context presents a degree of complexity… in these situations government can’t set a plan of action and forge ahead hoping. In fact, government needs to recognise the need to develop shared strategies to underpin responsive, collective action in the face of uncertainty.
The main difference between cocreation and codesign is shared agency and influence. Ideas of codesign that are presently gaining traction are built around a single agent (government, or the designer, business or entrepreneur) which develops and is ultimately responsible for implementing solutions. With cocreation, all participants contribute their own actions to effecting change.
Cocreation is also a strategic process that reflects uncertainty, emergence and the idea of strategy as a verb – knowing that ‘a strategy’ is never finished.
From programs to systems
Consultation aligns with a simple input-output model for government programs. The dominance of this philosophy parallels the relative dominance of consultative methods of engagement in government.
Codesign acknowledges shortcomings in the simple input-output model, and the need to work closely and iteratively with those ‘on the outside’ to develop solutions and a deeper understanding of impact.
Cocreation steps away from input-output program logic to look at impact in a systemic way – impact is a result of agents’ interactions within a system, and achieving a desired impact on that system requires a range of agents acting in a concerted way.
The state of play
Government leaders understand the need to work more closely and collaboratively with those outside the organisation in order to achieve results. But understanding what ‘collaboration’ might involve and applying a coherent model for action are much less common.
The result is a mismatch between rhetoric and action – and a mismatch between good intentions and mediocre results. Government strategies everywhere talk about collaboration, codesign and (increasingly) cocreation – while being developed using a consultative approach. And then government takes their gov-centric strategy out to potential partners, and wonders why it’s so hard to get them to play. ‘Collaboration’ is so overused it is being sapped of meaning, and the faddish adoption of ‘codesign’ and ‘co-creation’ may lead these words the same way.
There is nothing wrong with a consultative approach, and governments are rapidly getting better at working with others – even if the language and models for this can get muddled. Moreover, moving towards cocreation needs to be done selectively, recognising that cocreative methodologies are still being developed, and that there are many contexts where they’re actually not a good idea – at least as often because of internal challenges as external ones.
But while the business case for adopting a cocreative approach may be uncertain in the short term, governments need to develop the capacity to do this effectively in order to address big picture challenges – accelerating social and economic change, intractable problems and trajectories of government funding vs capacity. Cocreative practices are some of the green shoots with real promise – to help governments through the evolution they need to address these problems in future.