In a recent blog post a colleague, Runa Bouius, shared the term “co-creative collaboration”. For me it clicked and made so much sense. You may be wondering what the heck does it mean?
To co-create means “to create something jointly”. To collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
What’s the difference between the two? I believe that by adding “co-creative” to collaboration it underscores the creative aspects of the process and focuses on the positive energy and joy that results from co-creating a new program, project, initiative, organization; and the ownership one feels to the “end product”. It is a great way to bond with a team or group of individuals.
To co-create with a group, there are a number of beliefs that are important to have in place and processes that support co-creative collaboration.
Beliefs that support co-creative collaboration
What I’ve found from my work with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds is that it is important to believe that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In other words, you believe that the chances of creating something new and innovative are much greater when you have variety of different perspectives and “heads” around the table, than what results from your own mind or from a small group who represent similar backgrounds (e.g. disciplines) and/or cultures.
I admire how Barbara Gray, a seasoned negotiator and organizational theorist, wrote about collaboration. She likened the collaborative process to a kaleidoscope and the pieces of colored glass within to the various diverse stakeholders involved in such a process. When you turn a kaleidoscope, the image changes, and a new one is created each time. Similarly in a well-designed collaborative process, each stakeholder is enabled to share their ideas and the final “product” the group comes up with is a combination of each person’s unique contribution; yet it is even better as each person builds on the next and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
Many of us begin our careers believing that we have all the answers, and it is easier to create something on our own rather than to involve others. We don’t really value collaboration until we experience a well-designed co-creative collaborative process.
Processes that support co-creative collaboration
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had the opportunity to co-chair a national strategy for the federal government. The consultant we hired to support us through that process was a gifted facilitator, Dorothy Strachan, who taught me so much. The strategy was “Enhancing Prevention in the Practice of Health Professionals” and it involved representatives from 8 national health professional associations in Canada; for example the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nursing Association, Canadian Dental Association … . Through a multi-phased process, we created a strategy document that supported integrating prevention through four key issue areas: policy and planning, program and service delivery, education of health professionals, and research and evaluation. The final “product” was endorsed by the Boards of each of the health professional associations who were around the table. It was a landmark document that included a number of concrete actions the various professions could take that included Goals and Options for Action in each of the issue areas, and a dissemination strategy characterized by “Prevention through Partnership: Collaborating for Change”.
Being part of this process made me value collaboration and understand how a well-designed and facilitated process can be both creative and productive.
We didn’t call it “co-creative collaboration” but indeed it was.
To be part of a co-creative collaborative process you need to trust in the process, believe that the whole IS greater than the sum of the parts, ideally include a diverse group of stakeholders in the process, create a safe environment with clear expectations, respect and value the contributions of everyone, and not come to the process invested in a particular outcome, rather be open to possibility. It is helpful to engage a skilled outside neutral facilitator with experience in collaborative processes.
As part of Female Wave of Change Canada, a member-based non-profit whose vision is:
“A more conscious, equitable, just, sustainable and peaceful world where authentic feminine leadership qualities are valued and underpin the creation of new and healthy organizations, structures and systems”,
I invited members to work together to co-create a project related to the Environment. In an email they were told that they didn’t need to be subject matter experts, and it was great if they were; however, having a passion for and interest in co-creating a project in the Environment area was important. Over 3 months of meeting via zoom about every 2 weeks, we co-created what is now called “The Mother Earth Ambassador Program”, an educational program for girls ages 9 to 12 that integrates indigenous wisdom and storytelling. As a group, we identified the: Problems we are solving, the broad Goal, the Outcomes/Objectives, a draft Outline, and Additional Design Aspects. We are now in conversation with a Master’s level university program and their students who we anticipate will assist us in fleshing out the program and “making it real”. If you’re interested in learning more and being part of a co-creative collaborative process, join us at: https://fwoccanada.com.
With the complex issues we are facing today, such as systemic racism, climate change, and gender inequality, we need a variety of “heads around the table” from different backgrounds and cultures to generate creative solutions and move us toward a world that works for everyone. Are you up to the challenge?
 Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989.
 Feminine Leadership Qualities include: compassionate, creative, collaborative, emotionally intelligent, authentic, inclusive … usually associated with the feminine. That said, men as well as women can have and learn these qualities.
Creating a new project? Building a new partnership?
Embarking on a strategic planning process? Building collaboration between
multiple stakeholders or between one or more teams in an organization? All of
these scenarios benefit from the skills of an experienced and skilled facilitator.
What is a professional
A professional facilitator is someone who has been trained
by a recognized organization and/or academic institution. In Canada, several
recognized organizations that train facilitators are: the Canadian Institute
for Conflict Resolution at St. Paul’s University – https://www.cicr-icrc.ca/en/  ,
the Justice Institute – https://www.jibc.ca/
, and the Institute of Cultural Affairs – which also has an
international/parent organization – http://www.ica-international.org/.
A facilitator may also be certified by the International Association of
Facilitators – https://www.iaf-world.org/site/.
Role of a Facilitator
A facilitator’s role is to guide a group; to make it easier for a group to do its work. A facilitator takes the words and thoughts of participants and records them on a flipchart or laptop with projection. Facilitators are trained in processes to build consensus, prevent conflict and encourage creativity.
A facilitator has a strong process function versus being a content expert. Thus the role of a facilitator is not to contribute content, but rather to encourage the
active participation of all group members and to ensure that their ideas are
recorded as they stated them. In fact, people tend to get annoyed if you change
the words they give you to your own.
It is helpful when facilitating groups to understand their
“language” and the sector to which they belong. This enables you to know when
groups are “getting off track” and to more easily summarize the ideas raised.
It is also useful to encourage people to speak in “bullets” or “headlines” and
there are various processes to assist participants to do this.
facilitator is able to:
- Create a safe environment
- Summarize main points
- Use eye contact
- Identify and interpret non-verbal messages; e.g. frowns and
- Speak clearly
- Write legibly
- Ascertain if and when a group is “getting off track” and
“bring them back on track”
Additional characteristics that are helpful to have as a
- A good sense of humor
- An interest in and sensitivity to people from diverse
- Lots of energy.
There are many styles of facilitation and each facilitator
develops their own unique approach.
Benefits of an Outside
You may be a leader, project manager or changemaker who has
some facilitation expertise. If so, that is valuable. That said, it is useful
to hire an outside facilitator for the following reasons:
- They are a neutral third party and don’t have any biases or
strong affiliations with any of the involved stakeholders
- They can free you up as a leader to observe the group and
- They can enable you to contribute your ideas as a group
- They can provide a valuable “outsider” perspective on the
group and its dynamics.
The Power of
I’ve witnessed first-hand the power of a well-designed and facilitated process. An example is while leading the design team of an international development project in Nigeria that was to be implemented in 2 states – one in the Muslim North and one in the Christian South. With the support of my team, I facilitated a process whereby the key stakeholders in each state had the opportunity to identify their current situation, vision a desired future (after 5 years of project support), identify the gaps between NOW and THEN and what support they needed to move toward their vision. The participants in each state identified someone to present their key findings to a national workshop held a week later in the capital city. My team supported each representative to prepare a PowerPoint of the key workshop outputs to present at the national workshop.
Partway through the national workshop, the
head of Policy and Planning in the Muslim state stood up and said “Brothers and
sisters, I thought we were so different from you. I believed we were not as
advanced as you educationally and that our challenges and visions would be
totally different. Hearing you present today I now realize that we are
essentially the same; you face the same challenges as we do and have a similar
vision. I am so looking forward to working together with you to turn our vision
Another participant stood up and exclaimed,
“This is the first conference I’ve been to in this country where students have
been together with representatives of different levels of government, health
providers and academia. Students should be here as THEY are the leaders of tomorrow!”
Such peak experiences are highlights of this
work. They make me passionate about the opportunity to design and facilitate
processes that bring diverse groups of people together, change beliefs, foster collaboration,
and create initiatives that make a difference.
facilitated processes have the power to:
- Foster increased understanding (e.g. among different cultural and religious groups)
- Model and promote collaboration within an organization
- Create new partnerships
- Build ownership; and
- Foster creativity and innovation.
If you have a new project you’re
designing, a multistakeholder initiative you’re working on, need some visioning
or a new strategic plan, I’d love to speak with you. Please
to book a Discovery Session.
 Where I received my initial
training in facilitation, mediation and conflict resolution
 I was a member of the first group of
facilitators who were certified in Canada by the International Association of