Co-Colour won funding for their project to co-create a Surrey-inspired colouring book for refugee children ages 4 through 10. Pictured here are team members: Adrian Genge (Health Sciences), Renmart Buhay (Biomedical Physiology), and Alanah Lam (Psychology).

Co-creation is difficult. And it's worth it.

August 29, 2019

Partnership work can be hard. Because caring about other people means inviting them into our plans, our agendas, sometimes even our homes. When it comes to community engagement, this may also mean changing direction multiple times so that your project's direction and goals become shared with your partner – they become co-created. 2018-19 award-winning team, CoColour, gave us a glimpse into how this process has played out for them.

What have been your biggest challenges working through your project?

The biggest challenges have been related to the co-creation aspect of the project. Building a relationship of trust with settlement agencies, organising meetings with community members, and recruiting translators has taken more time than we expected. We didn’t realize at first how communicating with community partners required a long process of trust and relationship building. A lot of our emails and phone calls were often left unanswered. It required us to follow up with people more than we would have liked to, but we learned to respect boundaries and be understanding of others’ priorities and capacities. We learned to be patient with the trust-building process over time, despite this being initially difficult for us.

If you could travel back in time to the beginning of your project, what advice would you give to yourself based on what you know, now (and why)?

We would tell ourselves to not be too stuck on deadlines and timelines. Working with community partners required patience and compromise when it comes to communication and expectations. Over time, the organizations in the settlement sector became responsive to our project and helped us meet more families whose stories have enriched the narrative in our colouring book. All the waiting was worth it!

We would also allow volunteers to take on more responsibility. Throughout this project we have been surprised time and time again by our volunteers’ (colleagues, artists, translators, settlement workers, etc.) willingness to help. We found ourselves, at times, feeling stressed about the amount of work needing to be done, but we were often pleasantly surprised by a volunteer informing us that they had completed a task that we were worried about.

What's been most fulfilling for you about this project?

The most fulfilling part of this project for us has been meeting the individuals that will use our resource/colouring book. They have invited us into their homes, shared their stories, and have inspired us to keep working on the project. As we work with more refugee families, we have been consistently reminded that their day-to-day experience here in Canada is not always as positive and flourishing as we initially thought during our earlier interviews. 

We have learned that though deeper systemic issues still exist that make the resettlement experience difficult, the little things we can offer, such as our colouring book and listening to their stories, does make an impact. Along with the connections we’ve made between families, translators and student artists, we have been able to bring together different community members and foster deeper connections among them. This was a positive experience for many of our artists – using their art to communicate and connect with the families we’ve met.

Co-creation is a difficult challenge, however, working with the community and hearing their insights has been very fulfilling for us. 


Hey, students  – What would you  do with $3,000?

Up to $30,000* is available to fund SFU students who want to work with community partners to create meaningful impact. Register today – all you need is your name and a brief description of your idea.