Case Study: Beat Freeks

Three approaches to embed co-creation into your organisation

Don’t Settle is a project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund that empowers 16-25 year olds to change the voice of heritage through arts, research and governance. While our outputs here at Don’t Settle can often look quite varied, the bulk of what we do resides in providing developmental programmes for young people to expand their skills-set, whilst creating meaningful change in the heritage sector. This could look like creating new public exhibitions and events in collaboration with our partner organisations such as Birmingham Museums Trust, or even providing young people with the skills to develop and be part of Youth Advisory Boards. Despite having various outputs, we have one core approach that encompasses our different strands, and that is co-creation.

From consulting young people in the bid-writing process, to now co-designing a manifesto for change within the heritage sector, Don’t Settle has embraced co-creation from the very beginning. Throughout the process of instilling co-creation, since the beginning of the project in 2019, we have developed our understanding of what co-creation means as a concept. We have learned how it can be used as a democratic tool to best serve young people and our wider communities, thereby increasing the quality of the work we do and, as a result, be used as an approach to Arts Council England’s ‘ambition and quality’ investment principle.

Below, we have highlighted three different approaches to demystify co-creation as a concept and begin your journey as an organisation to adopting a co-creation strategy into your practice. All of these approaches act as a starting point to co-creation, and while we identify some practical ideas for each one, it’s ultimately up to you to creatively adapt these approaches with the structure and specifics of your organisation or project in mind.

1. Rethink your organisational governance

It’s safe to say that a key element of propelling forward organisational change is to start at the top. Ensuring that strategic decisions are made democratically can look like a number of things in practice, and it might take some creative thinking to figure out what the right fit might be for your organisation.

Youth Engagement Structures are one example of including a space specifically for young people to hold their share of the power and have a direct impact on decision-making processes. Whether this takes the form of a Youth Advisory Board or creating space specifically for young board members, it’s important to reflect on what complements your organisation structurally and is within your capacity to maintain long term.

If you’d like some further guidance on including young people on boards and decision-making processes, you can download the Roundhouse London’s comprehensive guide here.

2. Reevaluate your approach to evaluation

We all know evaluation is key to understanding the impact your organisation/project has on those involved. How we evaluate on the other hand is essential to opening up a dialogue with those involved in your organisational outputs and services. Quantitative evaluation methods can prove useful for reporting purposes and having measurable indicators of achievement. However, to authentically engage your audiences, thinking outside of tick-box surveys may be a more meaningful route to measuring impact. Through a lens of co-creation, evaluation allows us to identify how our communities respond to our projects and programmes, and the steps we need to take to create increasingly intentional and engaged outputs. The goal here is to improve our community relationships and be responsive to the needs of our audiences.

So how do you go about measuring impact meaningfully?

Allowing the time and resources for discussion-based, open-ended evaluation through a guided conversational approach can be a first practical step in the right direction. This could mean putting time aside throughout projects, whether a development programme or public event, for participants to engage in discussion around their experiences. Topics could cover what they have learned, how they feel, or what they might like to see in the future. You’re not only able to have valuable, in-depth conversations about how your project or programme has been received, you’re also building upon your relationships with wider communities.

A key element of evaluation is utilizing the information you have collected within your internal practices. Extracting key trends amongst your audiences, and using these to inform future projects from their inception as well as throughout the development process, can ensure the evaluation work you have done maintains its value.

3. Consult your communities

Community consultation is an approach to co-creation, which aims to achieve responding and adapt to the needs of the community. It’s value lies in engaging the perspectives of local communities that can often go forgotten about in project planning processes. Finding out what communities that will be directly or indirectly impacted by your project or programme want to see from your organisation and how they might benefit from it, is vital to make your work relevant as an organisation.

This could be a process that supports initial project ideation, or even throughout the project development phase to ensure you’re feeding back to the needs of the community. In practice, this could look like community focus groups, or recruiting community members and young people as consultants.

While embedding community consultation into your project might take various forms in terms of what it might look like, the main takeaway when carrying out any kind of consultation should be the idea of active listening. Remember that the community you are working with isn’t there to validate your ideas, and so a willingness to take on board challenges, criticisms and new ideas is a must.

Hopefully, after highlighting these three different approaches, the concept of co-creation has been somewhat demystified. Breaking it down into practical steps you can take forward and embed into your thinking as an organisation is the first step complete. Now the hard part- making space to make these methods a reality and shaping them into what suits your organisation best!


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