Shake it! Experimenting with empathic co-design

Quality of life involves both individual and societal values. It is a joint effort but based on highly personal needs and expectations. Co-design, citizen engagement and participation seem to be the key buzzwords here, but how to put these into practice? Even in a small village like Ransdaal, it is easier said than done to design a future that takes into account the needs, interests and concerns of all stakeholders involved.

We have experimented with different methods and tools in several co-design workshops, to develop new ways of collaboration between citizens of Ransdaal and policy makers of the local municipality that build on already existing citizen initiatives. One of the main struggles that we regularly encountered, is the need for concreteness on the one hand set against the slow process of developing and learning a new way of working on the other. The main aim of our co-creation journey is not to find a new purpose for the obsolete football field or to re-design the local school so that it becomes viable for the future. Nevertheless such concrete project examples are necessary to make the process tangible and keep citizens and other stakeholders engaged. At the same time, the process or methodology is needed to approach these initiatives in novel ways. One cannot do without the other. How to find the right balance between process and outputs?

We invited social designer and associate professor in empathic co-design Wina Smeenk to help us with the prototyping and connect the different needs of stakeholders. We organized a co-design workshop in March 2020 and used methods of the design thinking game Shake it! This game, which consists of a book and a set of method cards for exploring, re-framing, creating and synthesis, is aimed at managers, entrepreneurs, trainers, coaches, teachers and students who want to come up with innovative ideas for change together with their team or organization.

We deliberately gave workshop participants the choice: do you want to work on a concrete project or on the (maybe more abstract) methodology or process? Interestingly, most of the participants went for the methodology. This shows that even though there is the need for concreteness, there is also the awareness and understanding that a process or methodology is needed to actually take concrete steps. The group was divided into three teams and each team started with a different how might we-question and used different creative method cards to explore the question, re-frame it and create a prototype. The starting questions and the prototypes were different. But the main conclusions and insights were basically the same: the citizens of Ransdaal need a concrete/clear co-design process for their citizen initiatives.

The next challenge within this journey therefore is: how to make the process tangible for testing?

At the end of this workshop on Friday morning, March 13, 2020, we couldn’t imagine how challenging the next phase of prototyping and testing would actually be as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic…


– written by Anja Köppchen –

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