How we Co-create Solutions

November 01, 2022

Written by Christina Wong
Edited by Elodie Jacquet and Stephanie Hall

Facing society’s most pressing challenges together

As we look back on the past year through our impact report, we reflect on the times we’ve convened communities, shared stories and used dialogue as a way to explore together and find common ground. Dialogue is a powerful way to initiate difficult conversations and share different perspectives, but it also provides the opportunity for people to come together and co-create the next best steps forward. 

Why do we use “co-create” instead of “create”

Co-creating means creating together. When we co-create, we reaffirm that a decision was created collectively as opposed to the individual opinions of a select few. When we say “co-create”, we are giving due credit and recognition to the multitude of shared perspectives and lived experiences that came together to form the solutions. 

Co-creation builds the capacity of everyone involved

When we make decisions together, not only do we build the capacity of the decision-makers, but we build the capacities of everyone involved. Individuals learn that their values and experiences matter, regardless of their identities, demographics and social status. When individuals are recognized for their voices, this can inspire action, further conversations and build social capital by deepening community engagement.

In 2019, the Centre hosted a public dialogue called Your Voice. Your Home. Meeting the Housing Needs of Burnaby Residents, an innovative partnership with the City of Burnaby. It was designed to engage the community and inform the work of the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing. By the end of the dialogue, there was a 26% increase in participants’ confidence that Burnaby can develop a housing strategy that meets the core housing needs of all residents, and 97% of participants agreed that there were sufficient opportunities to participate and express their views. Based on the data collected in this dialogue, the City of Burnaby released The HOME: Burnaby’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy in December 2021, a comprehensive, action-oriented plan that detailed specific steps to improve housing opportunities over the next 10 years. This collaboration shows that when provided with the appropriate tools and support, residents from very different backgrounds and perspectives can work together to provide high quality input into City decision-making processes. 

By incorporating the lived experiences and advice of everyone involved, not only are we nurturing the space for individual creativity and growth, we are also helping build a more just and equitable future that can meet everyone’s needs.

Co-creation paves the way for innovation

When decision-makers and other stakeholders engage with the public to build relationships and work towards solutions, not only are we helping each other see through lenses of empathy, compassion and acknowledgement, we are also creating space for innovation and empowerment. 

In SFU’s vision for a medical school, the university wanted to take a different approach in educating physicians and focus on a community-embedded, socially accountable and culturally appropriate method of primary care. Diverting from the usual Western colonial approach to medicine, SFU decided early-on to have a medical program that models an understanding of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, including cultural safety and humility, traditional medicine, and decolonized, holistic health care. To engage all relevant community stakeholders, Catherine Dauvergne, SFU’s vice-president, Academic and Provost, held a virtual information and discussion session for Indigenous SFU students, faculty and staff. While Indigenous knowledge and medicine is not new by any means, SFU creating a medical school with collaborative Indigenous input and taking a decolonized approach to health care is innovative in its own sense and will hopefully lead the example for future health care teachings. 

Real change emerges when all impacted members of a community are involved. Ensuring that voices that have been historically marginalized or excluded are at the table enables solutions that will draw from multiple perspectives and ensures that a solution will not reinforce existing inequities or injustices. Innovation happens best when those who have historically been more included are not the only individuals at the table.

What are the risks of not fully engaging the public?

When decision-makers fail to engage the public on critical societal issues they risk developing solutions that are inadequate or perpetuate injustices and inequalities. Other risks include reduced public buy-in for the solutions proposed, loss of trust and legitimacy for the decision-maker and deeper polarization of public debate. 

Public hearings are often residents’ only direct, face-to-face interaction with local government decision-makers. However, the open microphone format invites speeches that can raise social and political tensions instead of building a consensus that respects all perspectives. Furthermore, we heard from participants in the Future of Public Hearings Dialogue that the current format of public hearings (in-person only) makes the event inaccessible for many citizens who have different work schedules or accessibility needs. To change this, the Centre’s Strengthening Canadian Democracy initiative developed the Renovate the Public Hearing project, a collaborative exploration of potential improvements to the British Columbia local government’s land-use public hearing requirements. The Centre hosted a province-wide workshop in April 2022 to identify what is valued about current public hearing procedures, explore alternative public input methods and substantiate what criteria should be used to evaluate the alternatives. 

If the current public hearing format remains the same, what we’re hearing is that decision-makers would not be able to truly encompass the whole spectrum of values and lived experiences of its community members. Further consequences can include escalating conflicts, loss of trust within the respective community, delays in decision-making and higher costs for effective re-implementation.

Things to look out for during your next public engagement

When we convene with our communities, we take steps to make our outreach equitable, accessible and welcoming to a broad diversity of community members. The higher the impact of a decision on a community, the more involvement is required to engage those who are affected. This requires reducing barriers of participation for individuals whose views are often under-represented. It is only then that we are able to correctly identify issues and incorporate multiple views to reach a consensus together and, ultimately, move closer to creating lasting change.

While it is expected that there will be some limitations of your initiative, it is important to be transparent about the goals and steps of the entire process. 

Co-creation doesn’t stop at the solutions 

After creating solutions together, it is equally important to keep the public informed about the status of the decision-making process. In this way, co-creation is a fully involved process that truly encapsulates the involvement of everyone. 

To see how we were recently part of co-creating solutions for lasting change, see our 2021/2022 Impact Report.

For more tips on how to fully engage the public, see our Public Engagement Toolkit.