3.3 Challenges and research questions

The field seems unanimous in their assessment that there are actually sufficient methods for participation and co-design. The challenges for this category exist on a different level. These can be summarised in three themes: what, who and how?

What are the societal benefits of this method and can this be demonstrated? One of the main challenges seems to be identifying potential success criteria for participation and co-creation. What is the added value of this way of working together, and which underlying principles contribute to possible success and social impact? This is not only about individual methods, but mainly about which combination / approach works, why and in which situations? How do we determine what value to create? How do we determine what contribution we can make to major transition issues?

Who do we need on board and what is their input, expectation, responsibility and connection, or how can this be established? What contributions can actors make to local challenges and major transition issues, and what are the mechanisms to achieve successful participatory co-creation? How can we jointly steer, guide and adapt these complex, long-term and dynamic processes, whereby new responsibilities and processes may need to be introduced to achieve successful transitions? How can we tackle complexity together without resorting to our own mechanisms and hobby horses? What new legal forms and forms of business and communication are required to cooperate successfully?

How do we get a clear and mutually reinforcing landscape of participatory co-creation? A frequently heard challenge is connecting the different methods and insights from the various interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary fields, and developing a common language to be able to do this. How do we prevent fragmentation between specialisms, boundaries between disciplines and other dividing lines that stand in the way of a trans-disciplinary mutually reinforcing, co-creating collaboration that seems so essential for addressing the complexity of our transition challenges?

It is important that we not only do research on transitions and participation, but also actually change our own practice and attitude and that we become participatory and co-creating in our daily work and life: to practice what we preach.

Methodical research questions These challenges lead to various research questions, aimed at, among other things, the actors and stakeholders, the method, context, organisation, the system, the content and the effect of participation and co-creation, including:

  • Stakeholders: How do you determine which people are involved in the various stages of the process? How do you involve them, in the short and longer term? What competences and expertise do stakeholders need for certain transition issues? How do you create shared understanding, empathy, connection, responsibility? How do you achieve long-term commitment?

  • Impact and effectiveness: How do we determine whether the methods really work in messy and diverse practice, and not just in simple situations? How do you generalise lessons from interventions in complex systems? What are the stimulating and hindering factors that determine whether value actually arises in co-design and participation processes? Can causal connections be found between approach and success / failure?

  • Perspectives and assumptions: How do we make explicit whether and how the transition is viewed from various complementary perspectives (social, economic, technical and institutional, for example experience and business perspective)? How can methods be linked so that integration takes place, as current methods often focus on a single dimension? What are the (normative) assumptions and objectives in processes of participation and co-creation and how do they influence the interpretation of the processes? Which contextual factors such as culture, degree to which knowledge is implicit, future orientation, etc. influence the co-creation process?

  • Various scales and structures: What is the effect of interventions on a small and large scale, and in the short and long term? How do we deal with different time-space scales (for example, shifting societal challenges from national to local politics has disadvantages, but also opens up new possibilities)? What is the role of politics and power? How can participation be anchored in institutional and other relevant structures?

Need in the future for ... As mentioned, many methods already exist for the various aspects that are important in this category, including to identify actors, to identify conflicts and to work with a group of complementary stakeholders . That is why there is a particular need for integration and connections between all the different approaches and for 'meta' methods, so that we gain tools and insight into:

  • When and in what form co-creation or participation (g) is a useful approach,

  • which combinations of methods to choose for which context (e.g. based on of proven impact in previous applications),

  • how to adapt various methods to the specific context in which they are used,

  • how we ensure that the outcomes are distributed as well and fairly as possible among all stakeholders, including those indirectly involved, disadvantaged parties or potential stakeholders who are unable or unwilling to participate.

In addition, there is a need to explore and develop the craft of co-creation and participation. The same method can work out in completely different ways, depending on the people involved and the context, which requires (learning) specific competences to make these types of processes run successfully. Finally, most knowledge and most methods are applicable to processes of relatively short duration. Societal transitions, however, require patience. There is therefore a need for methods that support longitudinal participation development processes.

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