Crowdsourcing, open innovation, co-creation, and co-production all have become buzzwords that are often used interchangeably.
However, these words identify different processes that have a few key differences, but also a key similarity: they are all innovation and creativity-driven activities.
The outcome of all of these activities are products or services, and all of these initiatives focus on the engagement of customers and people outside of the organization.
Then similarities stop and the differentiating factors come into play.
Crowdsourcing basically outsources to an external community some internal creative task. A company may decide to improve their brand perception by asking its customers to create a new commercial or label for a product. So the organization creates a digital platform, sets the conditions, promotes the initiative and feels confident that brilliant ideas will fly in, while the designers and creative department of the company may feel a little bit threatened, given that creativity, their job, has been partially outsourced.
But then some users hijack the goal – they mock the brand or reveal inconvenient truths about the product.
This is what GM and Henkel, to mention a few, discovered at their own expense.
When GM attempted to crowdsource its next commercial, they instead ended up with mocking submissions about how bad the next SUV would be for the environment.
Henkel obtained so many odd and mocking proposals for its new dishwasher label that it was forced to change the terms of conditions and the winners selection criteria. Originally, the winner was supposed to be the most voted proposal, but since the most voted proposals were all the mocking labels, Henkel had to change how they selected the winner, giving the last word to an internal commission. Needless to say, this didn’t turn out being a good choice and the community hijacked and criticized Henkel even more.
Communities often have different agendas than brands, and governing an online community is not an easy task, especially once customers decide to take the lead and change the rules of the game. At that point, brands risk further damage to their reputations.
Media often refers to the role these online communities play as co-creation. Sure, participants create something, but they develop their concepts in isolation and submit their ideas on an online platform to the organization, without interaction or contact with any of the stakeholders.
Apart from the interaction between participants, who can comment and eventually vote other participants’ ideas, there is no collaboration among participants or between participants and the stakeholders.
Creation is the act of coming into being, producing or making, which is what participants in these online communities are called to do: they submit suggestions, work on ideas and concepts for the organization, but not with it.
The little co- prefix makes a lot of difference: it comes from the Latin cum, meaning together, and it is used in English to mean “together, mutually, in common.” Therefore the co- prefix may be explained in different ways, such as Collaborative or Collective.
The implications of these 2 letters are huge: they indicate that the creative action and the outcome of it (the coming into being) emerge from a collaboration and a mutual action of all actors involved.
A collaborative experience is characterized by being social and interactive, and by involving all participants, engaging them to achieve a shared goal.
A collaborative creative experience is therefore a social experience aiming to generate innovation and value for all participants, through dialogue, meaning making, idea sharing and interaction .
From Crowdsourcing to Co-creation
There are a few points of contact between co-creation and crowdsourcing and the two approaches can both be useful if appropriately employed.
In 2008, Unilever, which runs two online communities, choose 16 participants to co-create the new Axe fragrance. Selected participants met in New York and were invited to brainstorm on the concept of freshness.
‘FooTalk’ is a VOIP app launched in January 2013 by British Telco Ghost Telecom. In order to make the app unique and fitting customers’ requirements, the company decided to engage users of various VOIP and messaging services in several brainstorming sessions that involved users, designers and key stakeholders.
Volvo engaged in a long term co-creation experience with 24 working women in California for two years, organizing iterative co-creation brainstorming sessions every six months with users, designers and stakeholders to understand what ladies’needs and expectations are when it comes to SUVs.
These experiences are not widely publicized, but they represent genuine co-creation case studies and they all present the co-creation key features:
- Co-creation involves a limited number of customers. Co-creation is not about involving as many people as possible, because in a crowd collaboration, dialogue and meaningful findings are not as possible. A community or large group can not co-create. Co-creation happens in teams, where people share goals and work together to create mutual benefits and value.
- Co-creation initiatives are iterative in nature and require that participants interact during different stages of the project, from the concept to the final prototype testing.
- Co-creation involves all stakeholders: customers, designers, marketing managers, product managers, etc. And all participants must actively contribute. Co-creation is not about individuals submitting ideas to the organization, it is about a collaborative, iterative, social and creative experience where all participants create mutual value, sharing ideas and understanding different needs and perspectives.
For the same reason, co-production initiatives, where the customer is called to complete the production phase, or open innovation, where organizations look for contamination from the external world, are not co-creation experience, since they miss the interaction aspect, and the active engagement of all participants.
The participatory and active engagement of stakeholders and users reinforces their commitment and will to create an experience, product or service that has value for all participants, enhancing creativity and results.
Co-creation happens behind the scenes, but it represents a key process to develop meaningful experiences and to produce innovation in products and services. The dialogue and negotiation processes enhanced by co-creation initiatives involving users, designers and stakeholders can bring to the surface and reveal new emerging needs, which are the starting point to renew current experiences and bring innovation into being.
About the author:
Patrizia Bertini is a user experience researcher, social scientist, author, speaker, certified LEGO SERIOUS PLAY (LSP) facilitator, journalist and experimenter.
Currently she works as UX consultant at Foolproof, an international UX company, and she is exploring the potential of co-creation to create meaningful experiences, products and services that can have a positive impact on people’s lives.
Passionate about creativity, she has been experimenting with LSP since 2009 and in 2011 created her blog Legoviews.com, a resource particularly appreciated by researchers focusing on management and creativity, and highly regarded by the LSP practitioners’ community. Legovoews.com tackles various issues including creative approaches, organisations’ social capitals and collective intelligence.