Participative creativity

Creativity © P.Bertini

Creativity © P.Bertini

[Excerpt. The full article is available on Editorial IV. Many thanks to Joseph McKeating]

Crowdsourcing, open innovation, co-creation, and co-production all have become buzzwords that are often used interchangeably.

However, these words identify different processes that have a few key differences, but also a key similarity: they are all innovation and creativity-driven activities.

The outcome of all of these activities are products or services, and all of these initiatives focus on the engagement of customers and people outside of the organization.

Then similarities stop and the differentiating factors come into play.

Crowdsourcing basically outsources to an external community some internal creative task. A company may decide to improve their brand perception by asking its customers to create a new commercial or label for a product. So the organization creates a digital platform, sets the conditions, promotes the initiative and feels confident that brilliant ideas will fly in, while the designers and creative department of the company may feel a little bit threatened, given that creativity, their job, has been partially outsourced.

But then some users hijack the goal – they mock the brand or reveal inconvenient truths about the product.

This is what GM and Henkel, to mention a few, discovered at their own expense.

When GM attempted to crowdsource its next commercial, they instead ended up with mocking submissions about how bad the next SUV would be for the environment.

Henkel obtained so many odd and mocking proposals for its new dishwasher label that it was forced to change the terms of conditions and the winners selection criteria. Originally, the winner was supposed to be the most voted proposal, but since the most voted proposals were all the mocking labels, Henkel had to change how they selected the winner, giving the last word to an internal commission. Needless to say, this didn’t turn out being a good choice and the community hijacked and criticized Henkel even more.


Communities often have different agendas than brands, and governing an online community is not an easy task, especially once customers decide to take the lead and change the rules of the game. At that point, brands risk further damage to their reputations.

Media often refers to the role these online communities play as co-creation. Sure, participants create something, but they develop their concepts in isolation and submit their ideas on an online platform to the organization, without interaction or contact with any of the stakeholders.

From Crowdsourcing to Co-creation

There are a few points of contact between co-creation and crowdsourcing and the two approaches can both be useful if appropriately employed.

The co-creation key features can be summarised as follows:

  • Co-creation involves a limited number of customers. Co-creation is not about involving as many people as possible, because in a crowd collaboration, dialogue and meaningful findings are not as possible. A community or large group can not co-create. Co-creation happens in teams, where people share goals and work together to create mutual benefits and value.
  • Co-creation initiatives are iterative in nature and require that participants interact during different stages of the project, from the concept to the final prototype testing.
  • Co-creation involves all stakeholders: customers, designers, marketing managers, product managers, etc. And all participants must actively contribute. Co-creation is not about individuals submitting ideas to the organization, it is about a collaborative, iterative, social and creative experience where all participants create mutual value, sharing ideas and understanding different needs and perspectives.

The participatory and active engagement of stakeholders and users reinforces their commitment and will to create an experience, product or service that has value for all participants, enhancing creativity and results.

Co-creation  happens behind the scenes, but it represents a key process to develop meaningful experiences and to produce innovation in  products and services. The dialogue and negotiation processes enhanced by co-creation initiatives involving users, designers and stakeholders can bring to the surface and reveal new emerging needs, which are the starting point to renew current experiences and bring innovation into being.



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