Co-creation in community can be powerful, but it also comes with misunderstandings. We often think co-creation as a quick and easy win. The reality is it is perhaps the hardest thing to pull off.
It's a huge area of potential improvement for our community industry.
Let's go exploring.
What is co-creation
In a community, people come together and converse.
When I say "converse" we can take that to mean conversing digitally through a variety of means - async discussions, chat, audio conversations, video meetings, and so forth. Really what it comes down to is understanding the need to "communicate" in whatever form.
And when we converse, lots of things can happen. Conversations lead to abundant opportunities to make stuff happen together. This is co-creation.
But this stuff doesn't "just happen". They need to happen within "a community space" that has been carefully nurtured and curated.
One such example is the generation of ideas, this is pretty hard to escape in a thriving community. New thoughts and ideas are sprinkled every time people have a conversation. In its most basic form, this is co-creation—people coming together to generate new things together. Without the community, this co-creation would not have happened.
Ideas are often intangible and low-cost co-creation. But it's still co-creation as it relied on more than one person to bring it to fruition. Even if the idea isn't actioned, the people and the community can still learn from it and perhaps it could turn into something bigger when the time is right.
The challenge with co-creation is the often lack of visibility. The seeds are sown in the community. Sometimes the community leaders turn it into something. Other times it can be members that go and do their own thing. It can take days, weeks, months or years until something tangible appears or is communicated back to the community.
In fact, as communities mature and grow, people will often give feedback at some random time in the future that their current success was seeded in the ideas, connections and support within the community.
As members, giving credit, a nod, a thank you, or an acknowledgement is so important in our community journeys. So much in community is impossible to track. The community team will always appreciate knowing and understanding that they've supported or created value for people along the way.
Ideas are perhaps the lowest level of co-creation. It is what flows freely. We can level up our co-creation to create more tangible things.
🧠 4 ideas on how think about co-creation in community
Let's dive a bit deeper into the practicality of how.
1. Spot an idea with potential
As a community builder, people, conversations and ideas often surround you, and knowing what to do with them can be hard. Our job is to understand and connect with the people, business and ecosystem. Our reach and knowledge is often underrated, and it can work to our advantage.
Not all great ideas are obvious. Often they are rough around the edges. They may need understanding, supporting and polishing to find the diamonds within. With some exploration and practice, ideas can evolve into something more substantial.
And remember, community is about people, we are all different, with different needs and experiences. Being supported and seen goes a long way.
When you see an idea with potential, think whether you can do any of the following:
Can you elevate it?
How can you use your powers as a community builder to spread the ideas far and wide?
- Quote, feature and reference it
- Share through any means possible (community, emails, social, recommendations)
- Connect the ideas to people
How can you dig deeper?
Sometimes there’s nothing better than having an opportunity to dig deeper into an idea. This can be to have a focus to help a member or to explore a collaboration.
- Ask questions
- What else has succeeded or failed?
- Seek understanding
- Share your worldview
- Create a gathering to explore with more depth
- Understand goals and desired outcomes
- Suggest or brainstorm the potential next actions that could be taken
How can you help create connections?
Perhaps what an idea needs to flourish is the connection to something or someone else:
- Create some introductions
- Show something related that already exists
- Share and encourage others to share what they know
How can you help turn it into a project?
Give encouragement, support and belief in the idea enough for it to turn into a project:
- Highlight the potential
- Be a supporter or a co-creator
- Give more than you take
- Check your capacity for encouragement, support or collaboration
- Offer resources and elevation
- Share and celebrate the successes
- Be transparent
- Be fair
2. Talk about what you care for
And, of course, support and talk what everyone else cares about. But the culture of talking starts with the community team.
Community thrives on culture and how the core team shows up. Members are encouraged to open up when core community members take the time to be the people they want their community to be. How you act reflects how the community acts.
- Be generous with what you share
- Give and ask for help
- Refine thinking through conversations
- Seek other perspectives and worldviews
- Seek collaboration
- Create experiments
- Give credit
- Share the success
3. Seen a member struggling?
Communities are full of members' challenges. Sometimes they are in plain sight, other times they are harder to spot. A struggle or a challenge can often be flipped into an opportunity to co-create.
Try to understand what is really happening
- Ask questions
- How can you help?
- What's the problem?
- What guidance would be helpful?
- Be compassionate
People often think they want solutions, but usually, that needs to be a journey only they can take. Instead, we can offer other things to help them find their path to their own solution.
The community leaders and the members can contribute in many ways, with:
4. What can co-creation become?
The options are endless, and this is the power of it all. Essentially co-creation is making something out of nothing, that's magical within itself.
What is made really depends on our goals as a community or as individual members. They can be about giving back, self-development, career improvement or business driven. There are no limits and the more types of co-creation we can support, the better!
- Job opportunities
- Experience & credibility
- A business opportunity
- An industry trend
- A community challenge
- Solve problems for members
Co-creation is magical
There is no doubt co-creation is magical. We hear about it. And become inspired by what we see.
However, often we don't see what truly goes into making these things happen. Co-creation is the real "community-led". The hard work that goes on behind the scenes. The lack of credit goes hand in hand with this. Where the community as a whole or members individually benefit.
When our world has a culture of data, metrics and ROI it can be easy to feel we need to track every community activity and success. Whilst it can be important to see and know, I also think a part of understanding and committing to community is knowing that we can't track every data point.
But of course, when we see it happen, do take note of it, perhaps in a community journal.