JARI KOSKINEN is the primus motor of Alternative Futures and also works as a consulting director at Futures Platform. Koskinen is a pioneer of co-design and facilitation. His work revolves around assisting clients in challenging change processes. In the past, he has worked in the CID group of Finland Futures Research Centre in international research projects.
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Facilitator and Co-designer, Alternative Futures (jari . koskinen at alternativefutures . fi)
Consulting Director, Futures Platform ( jari. koskinen at futuresplatform. com)
Co-design, co-creation, and participatory design are terms used to refer to facilitated design done as a group. The core of co-design is in professionally facilitated group processes. The word ’facilitation’, meaning coaching or guidance, stems from ’facilis’, Latin for ’easy’. Co-design is one manifestation of the immaterialisation of design and a sign of increased use of design methodology in strategic development activities: whereas the contemporary debate often touches on ideas such as the design of systems, strategies, cities, companies, processes, services, brands, digital goods, or concepts, in the past design was coupled with tangibles, such as objects, vehicles, clothing, or furniture.
Facilitated co-design can be done in a small scale, but just as well openly and in a larger scale by bringing in participants (and their competences) from a multitude of fields linked to the issue being designed. A co-design team may include executives, employees, partners, clients, customers, and end-users. The user perspective is of paramount importance. Participation and participatory approaches are key terms.
Co-design methodology builds on professionally facilitated dissemination of expertise and information, differing viewpoints brought together, and genuine encounters and dialogue between people. It deals with empowering, not controlling people. At its best, co-design processes include executives and experts from one’s own organisation (sometimes all employees), outside experts, partners, client representatives, and consumers. In co-design, the facilitator has a key role in assisting participants throughout guided group processes to think and to design on their own.
Co-design is suitable for business development or operational development in the public or the third sector. Co-design is also a feasible tool for systemic and cultural dissidence or thinking anew, for creating something completely novel, or for creative problem solving. Many organisations are experienced and efficient in gradually improving existing products, services, or solutions, but they may have trouble trying to create something completely new.
Co-design can be used in strategic development, concept design, or any change process imaginable. Here, co-design can be seen as a means of change facilitation. Co-design may focus on systemic or cultural changes: e.g. changes in organisational work habits, reorganisation of product or service lines, or imagining new, foresight-oriented occupational roles. Co-design should also be found in the toolset of societal decision-making and in increasing the involvement rate of citizens.
WHAT IS CO-DESIGN SUITED FOR?
Co-design can be implemented in e.g.
– product and service development
– strategic development
– shared and collaborative creation of change
– systemic and cultural development
– collective competence and expertise development (learning how to learn)
– improving the atmosphere and mood of the work place
– developing competence-oriented and self-organising work
Further, co-design can also be implemented as a work habit within a community or organisation.
At the same time, it is important to identify problematic usages of the term ’co-design’. Some activities may be described as co-design without much, if any, relation to professional activity. These include:
– loose debate with superficial facilitation
– ceremonial panel discussions with no dialogue whatsoever
– utmost focus on methods instead of competences or contents
– events where bosses or facilitators speak while others merely listen
– describing any and all meetings as co-design workshops
– workshops as a form of working life theatre, i.e. people pretending to have an impact
– workshops concentrating on business talk or artsy antics.
Well facilitated co-design enables efficient results while creating shared understanding as well as new skills and competences.
A co-design facilitator needs to have wide general knowledge and strategic understanding of the customer organisation as well as the ability to listen, comprehend, and act in the moment. Further, s/he needs to have strong insight and competence to guide co-design work in a coaching manner. A competent facilitator acts like a conductor, guiding the orchestra in the here and now. On the other hand, with experienced co-designers, the facilitator may act just as an enabler, who assists participants’ self-organisation. People who lack discretion or who cannot read the atmosphere do not make good facilitators, and neither do people who are overtly thorough and concentrate excessively on details or individuals who tend to overshadow what other people are trying to say. At best, a facilitator is a sort of a renaissance character, who is able to guide the co-design process through difficult circumstances and to discuss any and all subject matters from multiple viewpoints.
An era of digitalisation and technology hype requires compassionate design for and with people.
In practical terms, ”for and with people” translates into a new way of obtaining expertise. Experts have traditionally delivered a one-directional information flow. Current developments are showing promise of future experts, who show their expertise in a more interactive manner, by creating shared understanding through dialogue, so that all participants in a discussion can add to the shared pot. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that so-called experts by experience ought to outrank professionally and academically trained experts. Acquisition and development of occupation-specific competence remains as essential as ever, but this could be done more through interaction and with a wider spectrum, in closer cooperation with other occupational fields. This is directly linked to the rise of neo-generalists; we will see increased demand for experts who combine and link different competences, are able to create expertise networks, and work in the in-betweens of professional or occupational fields, i.e. creative problem solvers who are able to grasp the big picture.
Instead of traditional, one-way expertise, interactive expertise means
– multi-directional information flows with a wide spectrum of voices
– openness and readiness for continuous learning
– empowering, collaborative, and inviting instead of exclusive and closed
– genuine interest to listen and understand others
– are more human-centred work life: encouragement, inspiration, and support
– creation of new and shared knowledge and understanding
– development of competences and contents
– pedagogically justified leadership through facilitation
– creative problem solving
– wisdom of the crowds
PRINCIPLES OF CO-DESIGN
Co-design comes with a set of core principles, which I hold essential in environments where collaboration and shared development activities take place:
– Together and in cooperation – everybody is invited!
– Immediate results in the here and now!
– Openly, transparently, and democratically!
– With empathy, through support and encouragement!
– WHAT is said is more important that WHO speaks!
– Thinking YOURSELF, TOGETHER, and ANEW!
– From systems and processes towards human-centred and continuous co-creation – focus on the user and customer viewpoints!
– Pluralistic, trans-disciplinary and value-rich!
– Comprehensively but not without self-criticism – away from silos!
– Work is a continuous, shared process of learning, development, and developing!
– Work is based on competences and skills and, by nature, self-organising!
– Situational awareness and discretion enable flexibility and agility!
At its best, co-design is an actively intelligent, smart development activity. Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga discussed the idea of a playful human (homo ludens). Learning through games and play is a natural part of co-design, particularly where a game-like approach is pedagogically utilised to relax participants, create a good atmosphere, find motivation, or to boost creativity.
The real life is rarely built ”either-or”, but ”both-and”. Regardless, things are often presented as black and white through juxtaposition. This sort of thinking does not take the complex nature of matters, continuous change, or context dependency into consideration. Co-design is a good means to analyse complex, constantly changing issues in cooperation with others.
Continuous, accelerating changes demand us all to change our current ways of operation. A handful of key phenomena impact our everyday.
VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) translates into accelerating pace of change, increasing complexity, chaos, uncertainty, volatility, and ambiguity. This challenges lengthy processes, traditional, silo-like planning and decision-making. The fear is that even the starting points for design or planning grow rapidly old in situations where the threats and opportunities of the future have not been identified or analysed.
Accelerating change and increasing complexity are particularly problematic in organisations that have become rigid and slow monoliths. Monolithic organisations deal with long processes and hierarchic, siloed operations. The focus of operations is in management instead of customers or service users. Rigid organisations form a systemic whole, which can perhaps be tweaked and fine-tuned here and there, but unable to react quickly and flexibly as a system to abrupt changes in its operational environment. Matters can be adjusted in such an organisation, but the organisation itself cannot be managed with foresight knowledge.
In an era of ever-quickening change, increased complexity, and uncertainty, there is great demand for a new kind of planning and decision-making as well as for foresight and change capabilities. Doing things differently in a systematic way within a culture of experimentation with rapid prototyping and testing forms a basis for planning and ideating that proactively anticipates the future and prepares for it.
FORESIGHT ABILITY is at its highest when foresight is a systemic and systematic part of all planning, operations, and decision-making. All plans and decisions need to be reflected in relation to potential (and obvious) changes in the operational environment.
CHANGE CAPABILITY, on the other hand, is derived from the ability to take identified and analysed changes into account proactively in all operations.
So how to succeed amidst accelerating changes and increasing complexity? The answer is futures-oriented co-design and improved foresight ability and change capability. Systematic foresight + co-design = futures-oriented co-design. In practical terms this means that each time something is planned or a decision is made, foresight knowledge is reflected upon.
Foresight and change capability coupled with co-design give people a sense of security. When a group repeatedly gathers to discuss future threats and opportunities, changes no longer seem to come about abruptly and people are aware of possible implications. On one hand, futures-oriented co-design is a means to prepare for the future, and, on the other, an attempt at becoming a forerunner.
Futures-oriented co-design can take place in face-to-face meetings in workshops or via digital group work tools (such as Futures Platform).
Successful futures-oriented co-design underlines the importance of what Pasi Lankinen calls ”the will to encounter”: ”In a VUCA world, dialogue skills form a key characteristic for experts. The will to encounter is the ultimate prerequisite for coping and creating new things in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous operational environment, where anticipating situations is difficult. The most essential thing is not what you know when you encounter others – a whole lot more importance has to be put on what you learn in interaction with others and how your thinking evolves. This calls for the ability to be impressed by other people’s ideas and particularly by shared understanding. Encounters never come easy. It is difficult to move from one’s position, and one’s own thoughts usually feel like the best ones.”