Eight and a half ways to use co-creation in your charity

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Girlguiding’s head of digital and number one in The Drum’s UK 50 under 30 list, Jo Kerr, shares tips on creating digital content and services with your supporters rather than for them.

It might seem like the latest digital buzz-word (or agency money-spinner) but if you think about it, co-creation makes perfect sense. We no longer have people waiting patiently to lap up our broadcast communications. We talk endlessly about ‘engagement’, ‘conversation’ and ‘user generated content’ and yet, we often think we can develop new concepts in secret, and expect to surprise and delight people when we launch them out of nowhere. The opposite is true. That’s why we need to put our projects in the hands of the people who use them.

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Why co-create?

The Millennials have spoken, and 87% say they think brands should get consumers like them to give opinions before creating products. And 81% would be happy to get involved with co-creating products themselves.

People want and need to be involved in the product development process. What’s more, there are plenty of innovative examples from the corporate world where this approach has won out – from Fedex co-creating a solution for organ delivery for transplant patients, to almost all Coca Cola marketing campaigns in the last three years. Read the (co-created) book This Is Service Design Thinking for more examples.

What’s it like in practice?

Co-creation works well with Agile and Lean methodologies, so if you’re familiar with user stories, sprints and Alpha releases, you should be able to slot in user involvement.

At Girlguiding we didn’t have a history of digital excellence, but we couldn’t have got buy-in to our digital strategy without authentically involving the voices of our 550,000 members. We held open workshops and testing sessions across the UK to find out what girls and young women want from our new channels, and we’ve complimented this with ways to engage online. In total, we co-created with over 500 girls and volunteers in 2014. Our Team Digital – that’s 15 young women who bloomin’ love digital – have been our sounding board throughout.

How do we know it works? A Beta site that shows how fresh and relevant Girlguiding is to girls today. Brownie points to Yoomee, our brilliant co-creation partner, for making it happen.

The danger of not co-creating

Sure, it can feel risky and all the barriers to innovation within the charity space apply here. How can a diverse group of supporters really know how to solve problems, and come up with ideas for campaigns and online services? Isn’t it best left to the professionals?

The real sell for your charity is the danger of not co-creating. Recent coverage of the implosion around a well-known mental heath charity’s controversial new Twitter app, shows that if you don’t engage service users and supporters in product development, they can react passionately and negatively. In a world where everyone with a mobile has access to change.org and social media, all your supporters are also campaigners. Better to channel that energy into product development workshops ahead of time, rather than fire-fighting once your project is out there.

Convinced co-creation will work for you?

Use these eight and a half tips to make it happen:

1. Share openly and fearlessly – aim to share early when you know it’s not perfect. At Girlguiding, we set up a blog to track our highs and lows and used #digitalguiding on Twitter and Instagram.

2. Engage with as many people as possible, as in depth as possible – but don’t over-commit. Understand your constraints on resource and budget before you start.

3. This is not decision by committee – all feedback is valuable, but you don’t have to act on every piece.

4. Be honest about any limitations – in that way you can use input and feedback. At Girlguiding we say we will listen to and read everything, respond to most things, and act on some things.

5. Show people the results of the time they have invested – people are delighted when they see their input in code. This has meant that we always have lots of willing volunteers for workshops.

6. Use the appropriate channels for your supporters – make use of everything from Instagram to the quarterly print magazine to communicate the project.

7. Be representative, not tokenistic – interrogate decisions that have been made in the past around service user engagement, and representation. For example, as a youth charity, is it right to have only one young person on a steering group?

8. Use your biggest advocates – get them involved with a ‘closed’ version of your product first to gain buy in. We are immensely grateful to our Trustees and senior volunteers for giving their feedback wholeheartedly.

And that crucial last half point?

Don’t forget your sense of humour and have some fun – co-creation should be an interactive and joyful experience. So why not connect with your supporters in a real way, and develop something incredible?


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Jo is a charity sector digital strategist and currently Head of Digital Communications at Girlguiding – the UK's leading charity for girls and young women. Jo was voted #1 on The Drum’s list of women in digital under 30. Jo is a RSA Fellow and was appointed a Digital Champion by the Society. Girlguiding's ambitious digital strategy is to overhaul all digital communications, relaunch existing platforms and develop innovative new tools. Progress can be seen publically on new.girlguiding.org.uk, and digital.girlguiding.org.uk/blog. Before Girlguiding, Jo launched pioneering digital social action campaigns at youth charity vInspired that reached millions of young people worldwide.