Author: Jenny Graner, TUM

“We must look at any given situation or problem from the front and from the back, from the sides, and from the top and the bottom, so from at least six different angles. This allows us to take a more complete and holistic view of reality, and if we do, our response will be more constructive.”

– The Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy, 2016)

In early February 2020, before the Covid-19 crisis hit Europe, SCALINGS scholars got together in Vienna to discuss the topic of co-creation in person.  They focused on how to define co-creation, and how to move it forward.  While they might not have knowingly used the six-angle approach  suggested by the Dalai Lama, six researchers prompted the group to look at co-creation from six different perspectives, opening the floor for an expansive dialogue. 

Here are the six opening prompts:

  • Mandi Astola from TU Eindhoven started the discussion by providing the group with a working definition of co-creation: Co-creation is when people with different values, interests, and needs, engage in innovation together in such a way that all people have an influence on determining the shared purpose and outcomes of the projects while maintaining the empowerment of all the participants.  
  • Ruth Müller from TU Munich offered a justice and equity angle, encouraging the inclusion of a social justice component to co-creation and reminded the group of why it is important to be both critical and engaged with science and technology.  
  • Brice Laurent from ARMINES ParisTech added the theory of the subject that considers that actors who engage with co-creation would be active, enthusiastic in playing with new things, rather than being part of a social movement, such as seeking political representation in democratic institutions. 
  • Jack Stilgoe from UCL compared co-creation and co-production and asked whether co-creation was just an empty signifier.  
  • Bozena Ryszawska from UE Wrozlaw offered that transforming an idea into reality, i.e. creating, is an innate human tendency, and ideas become reality through human effort.  
  • Maja Horst from DTU asked what it means to be inclusive and noted that a defining characteristic of an actor in co-creation is their stake in what is happening. 

Then, Sebastian Pfotenhauer from TU Munich opened up a wider discussion with the whole group as a moderator, which led to a rich collection of ideas, questions, further analysis, and historical scholarly work.  There were many strands of thought in the discussion: co-creation is a door-opener to discussions that would not have happened otherwise; co-creation cannot be discussed without including the theory of democracy; democracy is an unwieldy term that can mean many things at the same time; perhaps co-creation is an actor’s category; a goal could be to define co-creation as a shared grassroots tool, instead of a top-down prescription.  

Amidst the exchange of ideas on co-creation, challenging questions arose, such as, what is its relationship with democracy? Is it worth investing in the term? Who is allowed to co-create?  Is co-creation scalable, if so how? What is the role of activism in the co-creation process? Has the term been co-opted by business for social sciences purposes? Where does co-creation fit outside the European context? 

The input and questions collected during the dialogue now serve as a foundation for the working group within SCALINGS which has taken on the mantle in further defining co-creation. The group itself demonstrated co-creation in action, through an engaged, holistic discussion.