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Cooking up a co-creation feast – beyond vanilla

By Marianne Guldbrandsen


Marianne Guldbrandsen

In a world where patient-centricity is key, it is becoming more and more common to talk about co-designing or co-creating with your key stakeholders, including patients. 

Co-creation refers to any act of collective creativity, ie, creativity that is shared by two or more people. In reality, co- creation is a huge field of expertise and doing it well is a craft in itself; you don’t want to design by committee and end up with something ‘vanilla’ that pleases no one.

It isn’t about doing everything together, but rather letting your solution be informed and shaped by a diverse group of direct and indirect users, such as patients, nurses and medical professionals.

Co-creation can be compared to cooking well. You want to get the right ingredients, the basics as well as the unique spices that give it a bit of punch. Combining the obvious with the less obvious ensures the final dish has the right expression, flavour and aroma layered in the right way. Just like cooking, knowing what to include and when and how to treat your ingredients are all part of co-creation, and as a creative agency, you must be the master chef.

As an ongoing process that might be set out at the beginning of the project or programme, co-creation is also shaped as you go along. It isn’t just about bringing people together via focus groups or expert interviews, it’s about understanding how you select and weave methods together, using the best tool at the right time for the right outcome.

In the initial stages when you are gathering insights about the context, the unmet or unexpressed needs, you may prefer to organise meetings with stakeholder groups together in real life or, more often than not with international projects, virtually via Skype meetings.

At times, it means going deep and broad during the insight stage and spending time with patients or specialists in their own environments to get better insights into their lives, personal or professional. The use of these more observational and ethnographic methods is often the key to getting to really deep insights; things that people might not be able to put into words or even be aware of.

These insights are often real ‘aha’ moments (although sometimes they come along over time and are less spontaneous). You might even think of them as your ‘innovative spice’.

The process of value creation in co-creation comes from letting the people that are eventually going to be the end users play a large role in knowledge development, idea generation and concept development, as they take part
as ‘experts by experience’.

We might think this is easy, but through generating insights and coming up with ideas, our responsibility as agencies is to support the ‘expert by experience’. So, by providing the right tools, lenses of priority and making sure we are weighing up all the aspects, we create something fit for purpose.

Another challenge for us as agencies is to nudge our clients to involve the end user earlier and earlier in the drug development process. Often, we co-design material to support the use of a drug during its clinical development
or launch phases.

In a future where we are going to have more people living longer with more co-morbidities, the real challenge for co-creation lies not in seeing the bigger picture, but the more in-depth picture, ie, how do we co-create solutions where people can monitor and manage their co-morbidities.

This means that we might not just co-create with end users but also with stakeholders that span private, public and third sector companies. By using a creative agency as a facilitator, co-creation benefits from the skill sets of design thinking, user-insight, data analysis and visualisation, to mention a few of the core skills at the heart of the process.

On top of that, but core to the value creation, is an ability to synthesise and communicate with (health) literacy in mind, ensuring that what comes out at the end is appropriate, understandable and interesting, and avoids one of the pitfalls of co-creation: that you have designed by committee and ended up with something vanilla.

Marianne Guldbrandsen is Strategy Director at Cuttsy and Cuttsy

In associaton with

Cuttsy + Cuttsy

10th October 2019

From: Marketing


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