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By Beth Ellen Holimon

In the realm of decision-making, the involvement of stakeholders is crucial; the ways to do that are endless.  As “co-creation” has become an effective and widely used practice in stakeholder engagement, it has also become a misused buzzword.  “Feedback” and “co-creation”  are sometimes used interchangeably, but it is important to recognize their fundamental differences. (For a great example of co-creation, listen to The Unlimited Nonprofit, Episode 2 with Alison Carlman.)

Stakeholder feedback refers to the process of soliciting opinions, perspectives, and suggestions from individuals or groups who have a vested interest in a particular project, product, or initiative. It involves gathering insights from stakeholders after the completion or presentation of an idea, product, or service. Stakeholder feedback serves as a valuable source of external input that aids organizations in evaluating their offerings and making improvements.


Co-Creation and Feedback Are Not the Same

Co-Creation and Feedback Are Not the Same

One key characteristic of stakeholder feedback is its unidirectional nature. It primarily involves organizations seeking inputs from stakeholders without directly involving them in the decision-making process. This approach offers the advantage of capturing a wide range of perspectives, providing valuable insights that can enhance decision-making. Stakeholder feedback is often obtained through surveys, interviews, focus groups, or online platforms, enabling organizations to gather diverse opinions efficiently.

Co-Creation and Feedback Are Not the Same

The benefits of stakeholder feedback include gaining a comprehensive understanding of stakeholders’ preferences, identifying potential issues or areas for improvement, and ensuring customer satisfaction. By leveraging stakeholder feedback, organizations can refine their strategies, optimize their products or services, and align them with the needs and expectations of their target audience. However, stakeholder feedback alone may fall short in fostering a sense of ownership, collaboration, and innovation among stakeholders.

Co-creation goes beyond the traditional concept of stakeholder feedback by involving stakeholders directly in the decision-making and development processes. Co-creation acknowledges stakeholders as active participants who possess valuable knowledge, skills, and insights. It facilitates collaborative engagement, creating an environment where stakeholders contribute their ideas, expertise, and perspectives to shape the outcome.

The essence of co-creation lies in the idea that stakeholders become co-creators, working alongside organizations to generate innovative solutions and outcomes. This process involves open and ongoing dialogue, iterative development, and shared decision-making. Co-creation is often implemented through workshops, design thinking sessions, hackathons, or other participatory methods, fostering collaboration and harnessing collective intelligence.

Co-creation, organizations taps into diverse perspectives, fosters creativity, and increases the chances of producing innovative solutions. Co-creation also cultivates a sense of ownership and buy-in among stakeholders, as they feel directly invested in the outcomes. Moreover, it leads to increased stakeholder satisfaction, loyalty, and long-term partnerships.

Here is a general overview of the key differences: 

Co-creation Getting Feedback
Approach Collaborative and participatory Passive and soliciting
Stakeholder Involvement Involves multiple stakeholders actively from the very beginning of planning Involves stakeholders primarily for evaluation or opinion at the end of a project
Purpose Generate ideas, insights, and solutions collectively Gather opinions, suggestions, or reactions
Timing Ongoing and continuous involvement Usually at specific stages or after a completed design
Depth of Involvement Deep involvement in ideation, prototyping, and decision-making Surface-level input or opinions
Ownership Shared ownership and responsibility among participants Designer retains ownership and decision-making power
Collaboration Multidisciplinary collaboration and co-creation of solutions Limited collaboration, mainly for feedback provision
Decision-making Inclusive, collaborative decision-making process Feedback used by the designer to make decisions
Impact on Design Influences the entire design process and outcomes Influences specific aspects or refinements of the design
Relationship Building Fosters strong relationships and engagement among stakeholders Limited relationship building, focused on information gathering
Iterative Improvement Iterative prototyping, testing, and refinement Limited opportunity for iterative improvement

While both stakeholder feedback and co-creation involve stakeholders’ participation, they differ significantly in terms of their aims, processes, and levels of engagement. Stakeholder feedback is a valuable tool for gathering external perspectives, evaluating existing offerings, and making informed decisions. On the other hand, co-creation focuses on collaboration, active involvement, and joint creation of solutions, fostering innovation and ownership among stakeholders.

Both approaches have their unique advantages and should be used strategically based on the desired outcomes and the level of stakeholder involvement required. Understanding the differences between stakeholder feedback and co-creation enables organizations to leverage the most appropriate approach.