Human beings are social creatures. Co-design and co-creation requires human interaction and co-reflection, open dialogue, transparency and trust. Especially when it concerns complex challenges or sensitive topics, human interaction involves much more than an exchange of ideas and opinions. Humans communicate on different levels and the non-verbal communication that includes different senses is often even more meaningful and effective than verbal communication.
So human beings are social creatures. But how can we then co-design and co-create in times of lockdowns and social distancing? We already had the technology to communicate in the virtual world, but the year 2020 has definitely accelerated the use of online communication and collaboration tools. We were forced to learn and adapt quickly, which brought new opportunities as well as new challenges.
In our last physical workshop in March 2020 we learned that we need a prototype that both visualizes and facilitates the co-design process. The citizens of Ransdaal and the policy makers of the municipality of Voerendaal needed a tool, or an instrument, in combination with a clear and well-defined process, to help them develop and implement new participatory ways of policy making. Initiated by empathic co-design expert Wina Smeenk, and inspired by and based on the Design Choices Framework for Co-creation Projects by Lee et al. (2018), we designed the Co-Design Canvas. As we will explain in more detail in our next blogpost, this canvas is a physical conversation tool, to facilitate and guide an open dialogue between multiple stakeholders. How to test such tool at a distance?
The Covid-19 pandemic suddenly made on-site meetings impossible and we were forced to meet, test, and reflect in a virtual environment. We managed to continue the prototype phase by using a combination of facilitation online and providing practical tasks for the ‘real world’. By using Microsoft Teams for the online conversation, Miro for the actual testing, and Padlet for reflection, we presented, explained and even tested both the first and the second version of the Co-Design Canvas online. These online meetings (in June and July 2020 for the first iteration and October 2020 for the second iteration) went surprisingly well, but only because the relatively small group of highly motivated citizens and policy makers was already engaged from the very beginning of the process. We learned however, that these virtual conversations and tests cannot completely replace the intended physical meetings, in which citizens and policy makers should work together by themselves, without Cube or another facilitator orchestrating the entire conversation. What is also missing in these virtual meetings are the opportunities to have informal talks with individuals in-between workshop activities, which also makes the test less elaborate. Furthermore, it caused a few drop-outs of older adults, who felt less comfortable participating in the online testing. So while virtual meetings in some way provide more flexibility in time and space, they also bring challenges in terms of inclusion and human interaction.
In our next blogpost, we will present our prototype of the Co-Design Canvas in more detail, which will be available for download soon and will hopefully be used and adapted in real life interactions in 2021 and beyond.
– written by Anja Köppchen –