Why co-create?

Co-creation is the creativity shared by two or more people who create something collectively (Sanders 2008).
It is a collaborative creative process where ‘staff members and community partners work closely to achieve their shared goals’ (Simon, 2010).

In the co-creative approaches we showcase in this website, heritage professionals shared their expertise and their responsibility for the outcomes with the participants on a strategic and institutional level. Working co-creatively enabled these institutions to build a relationship with local communities and individuals, with new visitors, with young people or with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

‘The result is a project that is truly co-owned by institutional and community partners’ (Simon, 2010).

New relationships lie at its heart (Cottam, Leadbeater, 2004): in co-creation, values, ideas and assumptions are made explicit. People from all levels and walks of life are directly involved: curators and educators work together with young people, professionals, hobbyists, people from different cultural backgrounds or elderly people. Co-creative methods start from the idea that everyone is an expert on one issue or another, first and foremost on their own life. And that this expertise brings something new to the museum practice: it could enrich the stories a museum tells, it could enhance the understanding between the different worlds we inhabit or it could change the way a museum programs its future events. Different levels of expertise are equally valuable in co-creation; participants build a relationship and in that dialogue the exchange of ideas and values is vital.


‘Co-creation is not a one off event, like a referendum in which the community decides what should be done. [..] Nor is co-creation just a question of formal consultation in which professionals give users a chance to voice their views on a limited number of alternatives. It is a more creative and interactive process which challenges the views of all parties and seeks to combine professional and local expertise in new ways.’ (Cottam, Leadbeater, 2004)

Through co-creation different people work together to find a common language (without that language necessarily representing a common idea set or the need to compromise), thus finding a connection between groups that would normally not collaborate. The aim of co-creation is to create shared value and shared understanding – together with your stakeholders. ‘While co-creative and collaborative processes are often quite similar, co-creative projects start with community as well as institutional needs.’ (Simon, 2010). What is created is a deeper understanding of each other’s views, context, possibilities and limitations, with the shared aim of using this understanding to develop new opportunities together.

It is important to note that co-creation is a means towards achieving greater social responsiveness and community engagement, not an end in itself. It requires careful planning, without locking the process down in advance. It requires commitment frorm an institution to build up expertise and develop a new skillset that is aimed at community engagement. It requires a move from an ad hoc and incidental activity to a transformation within institutions. ‘To execute a successful co-creation project, staff members must not only trust the competencies and motivations of participants but deeply desire their input and leadership.’ (Simon, 2010)

Co-creation is a strategic choice, an opportunity for institutions to build long term relationships with their constituents. It can enable a heritage institution to create more layered and nuanced exhibitions and events, and to build relationships between groups that exist well beyond the scope of a project.


To sum up, 10 elements that are crucial in creating an open mind set when engaging in a co-creation process are :

  1. The aim of co-creation is to create shared value – together with your stakeholders.
  2. It’s about people, not about users or customers. Think of participants as ‘active agents’ rather than ‘beneficiaries’.
  3. Co-creation is a strategic choice and has strategic consequences.
  4. Co-creation invites multiple perspectives. Everyone is an expert in their own right – by balancing professional and experiential expertise a level playing field is created.
  5. Co-creation is inclusive, or rather: should be non-exclusive. Think about the representation you aim for, don’t (only) go for the obvious.
  6. Co-creation is an open and constructive process, where (process and/or outcome) control is shared. In some cases the motto ‘community voices, curatorial choices’ is
    used, but if you are not comfortable sharing control don’t do it.
  7. Have an open attitude, create a safe space, let people feel free to contribute in their own way. Be clear on what you expect from participants and how their efforts will be
  8. It’s about collective creativity - in a creative process a different dialogue between people is started. It’s not about finding the right idea, it’s about finding a multitude of
  9. Co-creation thrives with shared ownership - in both results and process.
  10. Co-creation is open ended. Keep people involved after sessions have ended, give feedback on the choices you make afterwards.

To discover more, dive into the inspiring case studies that where selected by Waag Society. Or check out the toolkit that we created to help you get started in your co-creative process.


References and further reading:

  • Golding, V. and W. Modest, editors, Museums and Communities - Curators, Collections and Collaboration. Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Hatch, M., The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers, McGraw-Hill Education, 2014.
  • Mastai, J., “There is no such thing as a visitor” in Griselda Pollock and Joyce Zemans, ed., Museums after Modernism, Strategies of Engagement. Blackwell publishing LTD, 2007, 173- 177.
  • Pinna, G., “European Museums as Agents of Inclusion” in Museums in an age of migration, Questions, Challenges, Perspectives. Edited by L.B. Peressut and C. Pozzi, Milan, Politecnico di Milan, 2012, 131-138.
  • Sanders, E.B.N. and P.J. Stappers, “Co-creation and the New Landscape of Design”, in CoDesign, March 2008.
  • Simon, N., The Participatory Museum. Museum 2.0, 2011.
  • RED PAPER 01 HEALTH: Co-creating Services, Hilary Cottam and Charles Leadbeater, 2004.
  • Sleeswijk Visser, F., ‘Re-using users, co-create and co-evaluate’ in Personal and ubiquitous computing, 10(2-3), 2005, 148-152.
  • Van Dijk, D. et al, Users as Designers, Waag Society, 2008.