Expectations shape experiences. Tap into the thinking patterns of people to prime for co-creation interactions.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

An inspiring co-operacy is how we like to think of co-creation workshops.

A place where people come together to exchange and think up together… to solve challenges and nurture possibilities.

A co-operacy involves a positive mindset, equal worth and contribution, transparency, safety and decisions made by those affected.[i]

With more than 10 years of experience in designing and running co-creation workshop across markets in Asia Pacific, we recommend these five key actions to prime for engaging and productive co-creation workshops.

1.     Start with a zip

Signal that this is far from a dreary, predictable meeting. Make it clear that the presence of each person is vital.

Zippiness starts with invitations:

  • Use visual cues of possibilities, ignition and experimentation
  • Include an inspiring and emotionally resonating quote
  • Convey a sincere and personal request to join
  • Convey what’s at stake, framing as either a win or a potential loss
  • Hero the uniqueness of the interaction and it’s purpose with a title or theme – is it an “Experimental Lab”, or “ 2030 Growth Engine?”

Themes, titles and metaphors can be carried through the workshop, into the agenda, physical space, and activities.


Humans respond to and process visual data better than any other type of data. Pictures and illustrations convey meaning and engage people. Perhaps it is a photograph of the person we are solving for, or an image depicting the event theme.

Igniting curiosity and positive anticipation are the priority!

2.     Curate the space

First impressions count. What do people see when they arrive at the space? The ambiance and visual layout of the space will signal the type of experience ahead, and that should be an energised and interactive one. Consider these key elements:

  • Table tops are a great focal point for colour, decorations, colourful workshop materials, individual welcome packs and interactive resources
  • Entrance ways act as a bridge into the space, use these to set the tone
  • Displays can help engage people and trigger more interactions
  • Spaces with high ceilings and filled with natural light are uplifting
  • Music helps create energy. Select a playlist that fits the topic, time of the day, or environment
  • Walls are needed to later display the team’s outputs

How the space is arranged and “dressed up” can influence people to be more present. A little bit of theatre goes a long way.

“If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives, it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect”
– Steven Johnson

3.     Know each other

Introducing ourselves is a lot more than a formality, it is precursor and an entitlement to contribution, which is essential in co-creation.

Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto, described this as the “activation phenomenon”[ii].  Once people voice their names, they are more likely to speak up later.

  • In a smaller group, time usually permits introductions of every person
  • If the group is large, at minimum ensure introductions in pairs or table groups
  • Strive for a novel format of introduction, yet one that kick-starts sharing of stories, setting the foundations for trust. There are plenty of tools and questions lists out there for inspiration. [iii]
  • Before diving into any task in groups, ensure team members introduce themselves to each other
  • Gawande, A. (2010). The checklist manifesto: How to get things right. New York: Metropolitan Books.

4.     Bring everyone’s voice to the purpose

When we contribute personally to the purpose, we have bought into it with meaning and are vested in what the group is doing.

It’s inevitable that people will have arrived with different perspectives and potentially conflicting motivations.  Critically, those different (and potentially passionate) perspectives must come to light, lest they bubble under the surface and later unravel an otherwise sound outcome.

Even if we are motivated by entirely different things, we are conditioned to being able to unite in a common purpose provided the foundations are laid.

In defining the purpose, we are answering “what are we here to do?”

  • Ask participants to share a topic-relevant personal narrative, drawing out the content, and potentially emotional attachment
  • Go-around with every individual team member sharing their aspiration, then converge with full participation to arrive at a common purpose
  • In the absence of absolute endorsement of the one purpose, a fallback is to ensure that the non-supporters “can live with it”
  • Write down the common purpose and ensure it is visible

Not only is this a vital step for engagement, it is imperative for the process.  The power of language choice is incalculable.  Phenomenally, what is written down, is what is achieved.

5.     A code for everyone to follow

Common guidelines are a necessity for establishing trust.    Think of this as a pledge, a shared responsibility for how interactions take place during the workshop.

  • Diverge to list out all the possible elements, and then converge to finalise what goes into the pledge
  • Alternatively, fast-track by introducing concept cards or keywords for discussion: freedom and risk taking, transparency, respect, participation and joyfulness. Use these as a starting point for discussion about guidelines the group would like to adopt.
  • To push past keywords and vague concepts, use fresh, everyday language (“Be open-minded” becomes “Push past your first thoughts” or “Take the opposite position”)

You’ll know that a high level of co-operacy has been achieved when everyone is receptive and vested in the best functioning of the team.

A workshop is not a regular work environment, and participants will later return to their separate organisations.  However, every co-creation workshop has the potential to be a model of rich, dynamic and productive interactions, of collective intelligence at its best.

[i] Hunter, D., with Thorpe, S., Brown, H., & Bailey, A. (2007,). The Art of Facilitation. San Francisco: Josset-Bass.

[ii] Gawande, A. (2010). The checklist manifesto: How to get things right. New York: Metropolitan Books.

[iii] Checkout this question list: