Chapter 3.2: Co-creation with stakeholders


This chapter explains the role of co-creation in policy making, with a focus on data visualisations as an enabler of co-creation.

In the previous chapter we saw how visualisations can help professionals and policy makers derive insights from data to achieve their objectives. But there is more to data visualisations than meets the eye. Data visualisations provide an effective means of communication in the policy co-creation process. In the following paragraphs, we'll discuss how visualisations can break down barriers to public engagement and help stakeholders collectively make and communicate decisions.

Co-creation all around us

Countless policy documents, academic papers, blogs, webinars and news articles regularly report on co-creation use cases in a variety of settings. We read about co-creation being used by the automotive industry to customise interior design of a vehicle, by governments to improve front-line services, by charities to build their core intangible asset through brand strategy development. It is not uncommon for projects and even policy programmes to go by the name of co-creation or some variation thereof. Without a doubt, co-creation is a buzzword. But what does it actually mean? To answer this question, we must first distinguish between co-creation, collaboration and cooperation.

Co-creation, collaboration, cooperation: what’s the difference?

Collaboration, as defined in the Oslo Manual, is a coordinated activity in which different parties contribute to a jointly defined problem. The requirement for all parties to contribute differentiates collaboration from cooperation, where participants merely agree to take responsibility for a task. In more formal cases, cooperation can involve contractual arrangements. When this happens, one party can supply another with ideas or inputs but without being actively engaged in their further development.

Against this backdrop, co-creation is best viewed through the prism of four overlapping concepts as outlined by Osborne et al (2016)

  • Co-production occurs when users co-produce, often involuntarily, the service experience together with public service staff. The elderly living in a residential home is an example of co-production.

  • Co-design happens when individuals partially customise a service for their own use. These user-led innovations (Svensson 2018) can be taken up by a public sector organisation and further developed using co-creation techniques.  

  • Co-construction happens when an individual helps to construct a service by using, for example, an app or a website, whether knowingly or unknowingly (Schembri 2006).

  • Co-innovation assumes that users are the most profound source of innovation (Lee et al 2012). As such, it tries to promote user involvement in different stages of service creation e.g. problem formulation, data collection, evaluation. 

Co-creation in PoliVisu

In PoliVisu, the choice of co-creation concept was always influenced by pilot priorities, data availability and existing analytical tools. In Mechelen, for example, a strong citizen science movement made co-innovation possible through active user engagement in the data collection process. In Pilsen, by contrast, city-level data was already collected through sensors and openly shared with the public via web-based apps. Co-construction is therefore more applicable to the Pilsen case as citizens actively use the online tools to analyse traffic and share their feedback with the city administration in an effort to improve urban planning. 

Data visualisations as an enabler of co-creation

The use of visualisations, particularly place-based visualisations, deserves special attention in the context of co-creation. Spatially referenced visuals can foster a common understanding among citizens about living conditions and any problems that they and their communities are facing. Interaction with the spatial context via digital tools makes it easier for people to spot local issues, identify current/future priorities and suggest the best course of action to policy makers.

It is for these reasons that PoliVisu chose geo-visualisations over other visualisation types (e.g. infographics) in its approach to co-creation. Geospatial maps and charts can be visually appealing, but they are more than eye candies. When used to their full potential, they provide a means to facilitate public participation in democratic life.

Do you know of any co-creation examples in transport? If so, feel free to share them in the forum on the next page.

▶ Co-creation examples in transport