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Learning Organization

Cocreation : a key part of Learning Organizations

Cocreation : what is it about ?

Co-creation is a relational practice through which stakeholders (in an organization or in society) engage in a dialogue in order to ‘make knowledge’, define direction and purpose, solve problems, innovate or create products or processes, learn from each other, etc…  This can happen in very different contexts and can involve internal or external stakeholders or both.

  • Product or service design with customers directly involved as stakeholders together with experts, university labs, marketing experts, design experts, etc…  The idea is that the mix of stakeholders will allow products with the best possible added value for the customer.  The customer becomes co-creator for the products and services that are meant to fill in their needs.(read more) Thorsten Roser & Alain Samson (2009). Co-creation, New Pathways to Value. An overview.
  • Develop shared vision and strategy for an organization with all stakeholders involved (with or without customers) (With methodologies such as : future search. Read more : Marvin Weisbord & Sandra Janoff., (2003). Three Perspectives of Future Search.
  • As a problem solving process attacking the challenges and issues in the organization with all involved stakeholders working together (often in the same room)
  • As an OD alternative for the implementation process during organizational change.
  • As a very explicit learning process using the diversity of competenties, talent, approach and experience
  • To develop processes for the organization (industrial and/or HR) and to do some social contracting on each other’s roles and contribution
A multidimensional concept

The concept of Co-Creation and the different methodologies that have been developed or borrowed to bring it in practice (such as : Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, Open Space, World-Café, Multi Party Cooperation, Story Telling, enz …) are often based on the principles of constructivist learning theory and vision.  The general idea is that in a fast moving, and volatile world you wont have ‘facts’ or ‘truth’ anymore, and so meaning of things has to be constructed all over again, in a relational practice with all stakeholders : a participative dialogue inventing the future (or better our future).

“In times of a network/participatory society, value co-creation should be at the heart of all corporate activity, where all stakeholders can bring their skills and resources to exchange, create, and determine value together” (Quote from : Celiane Camargo-Borges & Emerson F. Rasera., (2013), Social Constructionism in the Context of Organization Development: Dialogue, Imagination, and Co-Creation as Resources of Change.  Sage Open, April-June, 1-7).   That’s the reason why co-creation and the constructivist vision go so well together with the Learning Organization.

For co-creation a number of very specific methodologies have been developed but also more classical methodology can be built into a co-creative process as long the focus in on dialogue and not on diagnostics. Some examples of ‘hired methodologies’ are : Force Field Analysis, metaplanning, mindmapping, scenario planning, brainstorming, etc… Sometimes, the word ‘Collaboratory‘ is used to describe an open space, creative process where a group of people work together to generate solutions to complex problems.

Why would you do it ?

Co-Creation and distributed leadership, are organizational answer to the complexity of the context organizations work in.  The complexity, volatility and extreme knowledge intensiveness created the need to include all possible expertise, experience and energy in the strategic decisions and the day to day implementation of those.  Concentrate decisions for action at a Top Management level is a recipe for inertia, selective blindness, indecisiveness and ultimately failure. Stakeholder involvement, constructive dialogue and autonomy are key for organizational success today. A sustainable future for an organization needs the involvement of employees, managers, customers, suppliers, local communities, financiers, government in order to create shared purpose, contract on how they can contribute and take care of each other’s needs. The impact of co-creative processes are :

  • Stakeholder needs and impact are taken care of from the very start of the product or service design process.
  • Improved quality of the decision for different reasons : the context analysis is done from more diverse viewpoints which leads to better understanding of the challenge, more energy, diversity and creativity around the table helps to think out of the box, based on different area’s of expertise, more contradiction and challenge which prevents ‘selective blindness’ (ex : Diesel gate at Volkswagen, the Nokia smartphone debacle, etc…)
  • Through the co-creative process all involved develop a profound insight in why strategic choices are made, they develop with the other stakeholders a clear shared purpose for the organization and that develops a deep ‘ethic of contribution’.
  • Being involved in the decision and in the design process of new processes, methodology etc.. in the organization enables employees and managers to act on the decision in a far more autonomous way.  They will also be capable of ‘adapting their actions’ to changing circumstances and still contribute to the initial strategy they were part of. (A silo organization, with a weak shared purpose and low involvement in strategy and decision making the private interest, objectives, focus of teams, departments and individuals often prevail and limit the contribution to collective performance)

Co-Creation and distributed leadership are conditions for sustainable development of organizations because they are the ‘instrument’ of the necessary re-engineering to make organizations suitable for success in a VUCA world, because it brings expertise and experience together and enables a creative change process.

When to use it ?

Co-creation creates a dialogic process with all stakeholders involved in order to create ‘supported decisions and choices at the different stages of organizational strategy : data gathering and analysis, strategy definition & the translation of strategy in organizational architecture.  The final aim of doing it in an inclusive way is to :

  • enrich & improve the analysis, choices and decision through integration of knowledge, experience, needs and sensitivities of all different stakeholders
  • create support with all the stakeholders (through involving them), making everything transparent and not having to sell decisions through communication and persuasion.  Suitable methodology here is : future search, open space, Appreciative Inquiry, Communities of Practice, etc…
  • develop ownership with all those who will eventually involved in the execution of the decisions so that they can easily contribute, take autonomous decisions, create collaboration with other stakeholders, etc…  You enable a swift and flexible execution of the decisions throughout the organization.

In the procesflow picture we depict the main elements of the strategic process. For each of those steps exist a large number of methodologies and tools to make it truly co-creative. Move! created a few job-aids to ensure the quality of some of these steps. You can download the tools numbered in function of the position they take in the strategic process :

(1) Environmental Scan | (2) Stakeholder Management | (3) Confrontatiematrix | (4) Scenario Planning


Introducing co-creating ways of strategy building or problem solving can only be successful if you take into account the following advice :

  • Most organizations today, are still build on the paradigm of ‘predictability’, the separation of thinking and doing, the need for well defined tasks, jobs and responsibilities and a vertical ‘steering mechanism’. So it is absolutely normal that when you invite stakeholders to take their future in their own hands, it will be difficult, it will go wrong from time to time and it will create confusion, stress, fear maybe. Their first reaction might be : ‘sitting on the fence’, create even more distance, not participate, try to push the monkey back, start complaining about everything, etc…And then the risk is very real that management or those who took the initiative to introduce co-creative ways of working start to take over again themselves… ‘since nobody else does it’ and in doing so create a ‘vicious circle’ in which the stakeholders are even less inclined to take ownership. So give it time, start small.. so people can try things out and give them the reassurance that it is ‘for real’ (and not the CEO at the end who takes decision without taking their work into account).
  • Leaders and managers often feel ‘less valued’ or ‘not needed anymore’ in a co-creative setting.  That is an absolute misunderstanding.  Mangers are of course important to participate in this process because of their knowledge, expertise, experience, networks, etc… But they also have a role to play as coach and process facilitator of the co-creative dynamic.
  • Be patient, it’s a learning process, it takes time… (don’t get nervous, don’t intervene too fast)
  • The process need to be facilitated, individuals and teams need be supported in this way of working as well as the managers need to be coached in their new role.  A good logistic support and powerful online tools to work together, certainly in virtual teams and multi-site international organizations is very important.
  • Make sure you create a dialogic climate, where people can develop true connections by :
    • Listening, showing respect and embrace diversity and the will to understand others even if you don’t agree
    • Postpone ‘judgement’
    • Ask, Ask and Ask again… (and listen)
    • Assume everybody can be creative and so invite the ‘idiots’ over (The word ‘idiot’ is used in the sense of somebody who doesn’t know yet that something is not possible).
    • Don’t forget that there is not ‘one objective experience’ everybody’s experience is different and that difference is the road to innovation.

Food for Thought

Jef Colruyt (in Dutch)
Clement and Sebastiaan on co-creation
Open Space methodology
Co-creation & leadership
Organization Development