The purpose of co-creation in social change is to collaborate with key stakeholders with different roles: ideas are shared and improved together, to work towards better solutions. Taking a collaborative approach to social change provides a gateway to build alternative sources of power: cross pollinating expertise and viewpoints, to move towards and ultimately win the world we want, rather than just targeting existing power structures with the same tried and tested but possibly limited in impact tactics.

It is argued that the co-creation approach is transformative; impacting on the relationship that people have with their communities and governing institutions as it challenges the traditional top-down approach to solving social problems.

These tumultuous political times provide the perfect opportunity for organisations and grassroots groups to rethink how they can work together, to try a fresh approach to change making. For example, issues such as racial and health inequity amongst young people or climate change, are perhaps best tackled through co-creation, bringing together public and private actors, including citizens, neighbourhoods, and civil society organisations, in collaborative processes that define problems and design and implement solutions that produce innovative public value outcomes.

Examples like Creative Reaction Lab Youth Programs, train Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth to become civic leaders, designing projects that address racial and health inequities. The programmes they offer are designed with young people from inception. Through capacity building, young people develop skills and become more aware of how they can create change and tackle social justice issues in their community. Young people are also able to have a clear stake and influence in issues that affect them, strengthening their communication and networking skills.

“Young people come of age with a critical eye and a hopeful heart. It’s that combination of critical eye and hopeful heart that brings change. That’s one reason why so many young people were and are involved in movements for social change.” – Marshall Ganz

You might be thinking how can I prioritise relationships in my work with the communities I work with, how can I use creative tools to build our capabilities and share knowledge and power? The ethos of co-creation is that citizens from all walks of life can and do shape their world around them, making it a social process – it means different things to different people in different sectors of society, but there is a lot we can learn from each other about how to engage citizens, through creative and participatory methods.

The focus on co-creation has always been a method I have used in my youth participation work; supporting young people with social action projects and encouraging them to be involved in decision-making processes. One thing I have learnt is the power of placing peer-to-peer relationships at the heart of learning, providing space for different groups to learn with and from each other in their collective pursuit for social change; exchanging their perspectives, ideas, experiences and more. The first place to start is with meaningful dialogue and a real desire to listen and learn.

Examples like Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire turn the table on traditional decision making structures to improve local services and facilities.

“It can’t all be about staying in and working with the world as it is for us. We have to have a vision of a future to fight for, not just a present to fight against. And for that we need imagination, hopes and dreams in our kit bag as well as strategy, tactics and relationships.” – Clare Wightman Grapevine CEO

Three years ago Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire (Grapevine) and Act Build Change came together to develop a community organising methodology to grow a movement of 3000 people from isolation to powerful connection. The movement is called Connecting for Good (CfG) and we are all working to shift power in the city of Coventry so that all of us can plan, dream and contribute to our city and nation.

Organisers have long been innovating solutions to social problems that governments had helped to create. In a world defined by rapid change, the search for solutions to societal and environmental challenges has become more complex. To solve the problems of our time at the scale and speed required, it is crucial to create opportunities to collaborate, and encourage cross sector working. Co-creation is transforming the relationship that people have with their communities and governing institutions as it challenges the traditional top-down approach to solving social problems.

Reflective Questions

  1. How do you demonstrate trust in your social justice work? Could community members play a more powerful role in creating supportive environments to build trust, gather insights, and gain buy-in form key stakeholders?
  2. How are you currently assessing who is involved in projects/initiatives in your social change work? Who participates? Who benefits from this work? Who is currently missing?
  3. How do you make space in your social change work for the communities you serve to contribute in design making processes?
  4. In what ways are you providing opportunities for leaders in your organisation to shift and share power for systemic change?

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