What is Co-Creation?

Co-Creation taps into the collective insight and potential of groups.

It can be used to generate breakthrough solutions when existing models fall short.

It is especially useful when bringing together diverse stakeholders facing a common challenge.

Our perspective on co-creation rests upon the premise that creativity always resides in action. Therefore, co-creation can be considered to be a special form of collective action, the act of creating something together. We use the metaphor of art to refer to creative processes, with the practicing/ performance of this art being a journey. Art refers to a set of skills that cannot be perfected, but only improved upon, also implying that there is no “right” or “wrong”, only “better” or “worse”. Journey refers to an isolatable performance of this art, which results in improvement of your skills, in addition to reaching your goals.

Creativity, in our perspective, is not something someone either has or does not, but rather something that can be designed for. Given the right tools, skilled facilitators and coaches can enable and empower individuals and teams to tap into their creative potential.

A Definition

Co-Creation is a creative process that taps into the collective potential of groups to generate insights and innovation.

The word co-creation is composed by two parts: a suffix, co– and the word creation. That co– may be explained in different ways, such as, Collaborative or Collective. The prefix comes from the Latin cum, meaning together and used in English to mean “together, mutually, in common”.

Creation is the act of coming into being, producing, making.

The etymology of the world already highlights the key features of co-creation, which are the social, reciprocal dimension and the act of coming into being, creating, that is much more complex and abstract than production. The mix of those two words add another meaning, which is not only creating collectively, but creating something that has a value, for a mutually beneficial goal.

Specifically, it is :

  1. A process, in which
  2. teams of diverse stakeholders are
  3. actively engaged in an
  4. mutually empowering act of
  5. collective creativity with
  6. experiential and
  7. practical outcomes

Co-creation also rests upon a particular theory of interactions, wherein “stakeholders” are inclusive of people on the “inside”—the design or organizational team, and people on the “outside” of that team—users, employees, and others that actively contribute to the creative process. The role of the “outside” influence is specifically to cause creative disruption, bringing in viewpoints and experience that cause a reframing of ideas and the development of new perspectives.

What separates co-creation from other forms of collaboration is that:

  • Team dynamics shift and are not always collaborative
    • Not  = collaboration
  • It emphasizes different forms of interactions among stakeholders over specific “how to” processes
    • Not = design thinking
  • It integrates practical and experiential outcomes, with mutual empowerment being a core success criteria
    • Not = brainstorming, spitballing, or a typical team meeting

Co-Creation is inclusive of multiple forms of collaboration and design thinking, but it is not defined by these. Co-creation is a general term used across multiple disciplines, principally design, organizational development, and marketing. In each domain it takes on a different nuance, perhaps best understood by what it does in these fields.


In Design

  • Involve users in the design process (or)
  • Utilize a wide range of experts (from different fields) within the creative process
  • Create a sense of community and brand loyalty thru user engagement

In design, the terms Co-Design & Human Centered Design are co-creative.

In Marketing

  • Value co-creation takes place between the producer and consumer of a service
  • Value is created during the use of a product, not during the production

In Organizational Development

  • Foster innovation by tapping into the collective insight and potential of groups
  • Generate breakthrough solutions when existing models fall short
  • Bring together diverse stakeholders facing a common challenge

Co-Creation is not specific to any one discipline, but is rather a process that can add value and increase innovative potential through intentional experience design.

Space Between model

The “space between” is the product of a well designed experience that takes into consideration the knowledge, emotional, and learning journeys of all participants. It is the task of the facilitator to create and “hold” this space, which is:

  • A source of creative potential
  • Collectively empowering
  • Temporal
  • Designed

The Space Between model above illustrates the three major aspects (PEP- People, Environment, Process), depicted as curved triangles within the  pyramid, of co-creative experience design. The aspects are not mutually exclusive, as indicated by overlapping borders. In our forthcoming book “The Art of Co-Creation” we outline process design guidelines for practicing professionals. Many of these principles could be placed in more than one of the core aspects, which demonstrates the fluidity and interdependencies between them.

The metaphor of a theatrical performance holds these aspects together in a cohesive framework. A memorable performance is the result of a synergy between its constituent elements. It is the particular interaction between the environment, actors, director, script, and the audience. So too with co-creation.

Striving for Resonance

If we consider the metaphor of performance theatre, resonance is when a special synergy is felt in the space between. These are powerful moments when insights seem to just “pop out” from seemingly nowhere. They are the “ah ha” moments in creativity when everything shifts. What is occurring are moments of creativity that spontaneously emerge when a group is resonant (frequencies in harmony) with itself. In other terms, resonance is an amplification of creative output resulting from a harmony among elements.


Resonant co-creation requires shared attention, good feelings (such as trust and empathy), and synchrony, all of which are essential skills integral to the co-creative mindset. Although it builds upon the received notion of co-creation, and in fact it can occur in the very same activities, resonant co-creation requires that the people involved have keen observation skills, empathy, and mindfulness. Hence the need for talent development.

When and if co-creation participants interact with awareness and sensitivity, creative ideas emerge from the interintentional “field” of collective consciousness in which all interactions occur. Given the different engagement, it follows that ideas that emerge from the collective will be different from the typical brainstorming session where one or two people tend to dominate and others compromise. In resonant co-creation every participant finds value and mutually benefits from the process.

As Ruth Benedict once said about patterns of culture, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In resonant co-creation, innovation is an emergent property, which in turn relies upon carefully constructed environments and practices that facilitate and hold the “space between.”

More information on resonance can be read in the article, “Resonant Co-Creation as an Approach to Strategic Innovation” in the December 2016 issue of Journal of Organizational Change Management. Here is a brief look at the relationship between mindfulness and resonance.


Building Capacities to Unlock Collective Potential