Co-creation happens when an association and its members work together to create something that is valuable for both the association and the members. Generally speaking, it is important for the association to maintain decision-making control over the use of resources in the co-creative project, whereas the participating members should be given control over design decisions. If too many of the design decisions are made on the staff side, you risk creating something that might be sensitive to the needs of the marketplace, but without having engaged in a co-creative exercise with your members.
1. Members derive value from the process of development
Remember that members can and should derive value not just from the finished, co-created product, but from the process of development itself. At my own association, we’ve done a series of roadmapping sessions where we use a facilitated process to identify technological challenges facing our industry. The end product helps us set an agenda for the overall industry, and our members can take the end product back to their own companies and embed it in their own development processes. But members who participated in the roadmapping process have also learned how to roadmap, and this can help them address other challenges within their companies. The Roadmap is useful to them. But the process of roadmapping is even more valuable.
2. Consider internal relationships
There is too often an unfortunate adversarial relationship in associations between the group that people consider the association and the group that people consider outsiders. Whether that’s staff versus board, or staff and board versus membership, it’s a dangerous way to think about your association. Embracing co-creation is a way of beginning to redefine this relationship between “the association” and “its members.” Co-creation helps bring your members inside your association and helps establish an important duality between the decision makers and the participants in a co-creation experience.
3. Define roles for those involved
In my association, there is one process that determines our strategic objectives, then another process that develops programs for each of those strategy areas. Both are critically important, but we have to be clear about who is responsible for each so each group succeeds. If people think they’re in charge of strategy, they’re not going to accept the design constraints that you place on their program development process. If they don’t accept that their role is to live within a particular strategic objective, it’s not going to work. Lack of clarity on this essential point creates tension in the co-creation process, and often prevents the organization from delivering the results it seeks.
4. Look for opportunities for collaboration
Co-creative opportunities are practically everywhere, and can help an association address some of its most intractable problems. By way of example, my association, like a lot of manufacturing-based trade associations, is still trying to figure out what we call “the workforce challenge.” Member companies have a hard time finding the engineering talent they need to grow their businesses.
This problem is a wonderful co-creative opportunity for our association and its members. We started by experimenting with a middle school outreach program that’s branded for our technology space. We initially developed it at the association level and pilot-tested it in our local community where we’re headquartered. But very quickly, we shared it with our members and asked them to run it independently in their local communities. Now, we are regularly bringing all these folks together to share the successes and failures they’ve encountered. That keeps the co-creation practice running—slowly iterating a better product and vastly extending its reach.
5. Don’t underestimate your abilities
Finally, remember that if you’re an association, then you’re probably already doing some level of co-creation. It’s endemic to the association environment. But being more intentional about co-creation can expand on the value of member engagement tools already at your disposal.