In 2018 when the Crafts Council asked us at From Now On to explore the potential for co-creation to build communities around craft and making, we grabbed the opportunity to use case studies from their Make:Shift:Do Craft Innovation programme as evidence. We drilled down into these inspirational stories through a number of community events, seeking to understand how both language and methods influence the outcomes.
In a series of exchanges we found, not unexpectedly, that co-creation projects in practice differ according to context; different places, communities, skills and needs require different approaches. One co-creation project might open every decision to participants, another might limit participants to specific areas of activity. Questions of control, responsibility, skill, ownership and expectation need to be explored in order to design a co-creation project - a piece of creative work in its own right.
We heard again and again: co-creation is not something you can layer on to a project; it's a culture shift which can have deep implications for an organisation. If you’re not in a place to meet this challenge, maybe cocreation isn’t right for you. But if you are, the benefits can be abundant, in terms of the makeup of the participants and their motivation and commitment, as well as the quality, meaning or relevance of the work which is produced.
2020 challenged our ongoing exploration. ‘With’, ‘together’, ‘shared’: the defining language of anything ‘co’ in nature disappeared in favour of our words of the year: ‘distance’, ‘isolation’, ‘quarantine’. Struggling already with these ideas, we were further confronted by questions of equity, social justice, decolonisation. Our conversation about the collective was weak on questions relating to power and representation in sectors already recognised to be poorly performing and slow to change.
The Crafts Council stepped up and the brief changed. A new question: what does co-creation look like in the age of Covid 19 and what might it mean in our near future? And a new digital format: this project now offered the opportunity to draw on a wider section of the Crafts Council’s community and tap into their experiences. Here’s what we learned from 3 thought leaders.