By Shelly Tsui (Eindhoven University of Technology)
Getting involved in a co-creation project is both exciting and challenging as you will be working with multiple stakeholders, all with their own unique perspectives and capabilities to get the project moving. The challenge is to figure out how to best manage all these differences in order to achieve the set goals, while ensuring that no one’s voice is deliberately drowned out by the torrent of all the ideas, needs, and interests. As with any situation where multiple stakeholders come together to work on realizing mutual goals, there are bound to be moments of head-butting on almost every aspect of the process, from dealing with expectations, to deciding on how things should be done, and to negotiating and determining the overall aim. These problems can be further exacerbated if stakeholders do not possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and resources to deal with them. Sustained conflicts can lead to decreased motivation and enthusiasm to participate, and overall, a loss of commitment to the project. Therefore, it is important to understand and develop strategies for project managers and stakeholders to effectively tackle these challenges.
Our research in Eindhoven proposes that a crucial step in co-creation is the empowerment of all stakeholders. In the broadest sense, empowered stakeholders can realize desired goals because they have the power to do so. When one says, “I have power”, it often refers to having the ability to affect change through one’s capabilities and talents. This includes having the skills to resolve conflict, process information, negotiate and make decisions, and so forth. To have and exercise power, a stakeholder must first have the belief that they are capable of succeeding (i.e. self-efficacy). Simultaneously, there must be appropriate conditions and infrastructures in place that aid in the achievement of the goals (as belief alone can only go so far). In other words, empowerment must account for both the psychological state of stakeholders, and structures in their environment.
To illustrate some ways for stakeholders to become empowered, we observed practices from Jouw Licht Op 040 in the Netherlands. It was a project that involved the municipality of Eindhoven, the local university, the business firms Signify and Heijmans, and local citizens in the ideation, development, and implementation of smart lighting solutions in their residential areas. Three notable practices included open-dialogue meetings, informative workshops, and a system of voting for all stakeholders. In the open-dialogue meetings, the project managers asked citizens to share information on problems in the neighborhood so that they may become better informed of the situation. Informative workshops allowed citizens to learn about relevant issues in the project, from smart lighting to case examples in other countries around the world on how they dealt with light-related issues. Lastly, all stakeholders could vote on their preferred solution to be implemented from the available ones proposed by Signify.
By having these practices in place, stakeholders were empowered in the following three ways: one, an appropriate platform was created to create dialogue and foster interaction between all the stakeholders. In this way, these different stakeholder groups can learn from and with each other, including how to deal with conflicts and come to agreements about objectives and aims. Two, informative workshops increased stakeholders’ understanding of the project, as well as augment their knowledge base. By having a better understanding of smart lighting and its potential, stakeholders are able envision, propose, and discuss the solutions as they have a better idea of what the technology could offer And three, giving stakeholders the right to accept and reject a major decision is acknowledging that their needs are being heard and accounted for. Establishing clear mechanisms of accountability and responsibility is one way to establish trust, thereby fostering cooperation, among stakeholders, and to affirm that the success of the project is based on collective effort.
In short, we show here how considering psychological and structural empowerment can be a helpful and critical lens to frame the challenges for stakeholder engagement when there is a multiplicity of backgrounds and interests. Empowerment puts the spotlight on addressing the needs of stakeholders of stakeholders, and how those needs related to knowledge, resources, and capabilities can enable or disable engagement in co-creation.
Interested in learning more about co-creation and empowerment? Please contact Shelly at firstname.lastname@example.org