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Co-design and collaboration

  • by JW

“Users, customers, patients and other stakeholders need to be brought in as active co-designers.” [Stratos Innovation Group]

“Ensuring that those with the life experiences, expertise and knowledge are actively involved.” [Open University]


The ideas of ‘co-design and collaboration’ are being heard across all professions and areas of life.

It’s even being considered in academic research as Co-design As Collaborative Research – which is basically “a process of ensuring that those with the life experiences, expertise and knowledge are actively involved”…


And the question Should all projects be co-design projects? is a good place to start – when it comes to the practicalities of building homes which people would actually like to live in:

When a housing scheme successfully delivers high quality results, sells the majority of its units before planning permission is granted, is loved by residents and appears to provide exactly what the occupants asked for, it prompts the question: “why would you do it any other way?”

This is how Stephen Hill sums up his attitude to collaborative design work. Specialist Expert at the Design Council and Chair of the UK Cohousing Network, Hill has a long history of collaborative design projects with clients and communities. He will be the keynote speaker at next week’s online conference RIBA Guerrilla Tactics: Stop, Collaborate and Listen.

Hill himself prefers the term “co-production”. He cites Marmalade Lane, an award-winning co-housing scheme in Cambridge, as a great example of a successful co-production. Key to the success of Marmalade Lane was its novel partnership between a private developer and a cohousing group.


Another question might be how co-design can be a powerful force for creativity and collaboration in practically any area:

More than inviting designers or engineers into the process, users, customers, patients and other stakeholders need to be brought in as active co-designers, to confront the big issues and develop actionable ways to improve their current experiences or co-create a new solution.

Stratos Innovation Group | Medium


There are quite a few ideas and practices around co-design at the local level – a question being How can community members be treated as equal collaborators in the design process?

Co-design is a well-established approach to creative practice, particularly within the public sector. It has its roots in the participatory design techniques developed in Scandinavia in the 1970s. Co-design is often used as an umbrella term for participatory, co-creation and open design processes.

This approach goes beyond consultation by building and deepening equal collaboration between citizens affected by, or attempting to, resolve a particular challenge. A key tenet of co-design is that users, as ‘experts’ of their own experience, become central to the design process.


When asking What is Co-design? we should be looking beyond the rather tired practice of ‘consultation’:

Examples of co-design solutions:

  1. Collaborative design of a new product with user feedback and testing.
  2. Participatory urban planning that involves local communities in shaping the design of their neighborhoods.
  3. Health services co-design with patients, healthcare providers, and administrators to improve patient experience and outcomes.
  4. Collaborative creation of public policy with citizens and stakeholders to ensure that policy addresses their concerns.
  5. Co-design of educational curriculum with teachers, students, and parents to create engaging and collaborative learning experiences.

Benefits of using the co-design approach:

  1. It leads to a better understanding of user needs
  2. Creates solutions that are more useful, effective, and user-centered
  3. Increases user engagement and helps earn buy-in
  4. Promotes collaboration and stakeholder alignment
  5. Results in more innovative and creative solutions, delighting the end user


Finally, these ideas are being seen as really useful and as something which can be really implemented in all sorts of areas – from co-creation, co-design, co-production for public health to the power of Collaboration and Co-Design in architecture, from Collaborative Engineering and Co-Design to co-designing and collaborating with young people for Africa Fashion

Quite a lot going on! And quite a lot to consider on a prosaic, local level too – whether looking at the state of relationships between councils and their local voluntary and community sector, or co-designing with communities, or considering co-production at a local government level.

Let’s see where this approach can take us!