Co-Creation Mindset: Navigating Shifts for a Balanced and Convivial Future

Uday Dandavate
6 min readDec 30, 2023

Unveiling Co-Creation: 30 Years of Design Evolution

I have been evangelizing and practicing co-creation for the past 30 years within design practice. Only a handful of people with whom I have interacted, either as collaborators in projects or as an audience in workshops, classrooms, and conferences, truly grasp the foundational concept of co-creation. Most others have interpreted the concept of co-creation with a limited understanding.

In this article, I aim to elucidate my interpretation and practice of co-creation.

Embracing Change Amidst Global Transformations

With all the current changes taking place in social, psychological, political, and technological fields today, I felt the need to challenge my own mental model of the world from Pre-Covid and pre-Generative AI times. I needed to witness the changes around me in this new era without a hypothesis. I decided that I needed to wander like an ethnographer, observe, and learn about these shifts from the lives and imagination of everyday people. I did not want client perspectives to guide what I see and how I interpret it.

My biggest learning is that the shifts taking place in society today are transient, and the nature of change varies for different populations. We cannot also foresee the emerging future from one vantage point. We need to involve people who are living the change to understand and design for that change real-time.

Co-creation mindset offers a new space for foresight and design.

Challenges in a Digital Age: Loss of Agency and Imbalance

In the digital age, the emergence of technocrats as the new power group poses a new challenge in society. Access to the minds of the masses has given technocrats the ability to manipulate thoughts, behaviors, and choices more effectively than ever in the past. The use of digital technologies for surveillance in China is a perfect example of where the rest of the world could be headed.

According to Wikipedia, “China monitors its citizens through Internet surveillance, camera surveillance, and through other digital technologies. In 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released a new regulation, which imposed restrictions on the production and distribution of online news. The regulation required all platforms, such as online blogs, forums, websites, and social media apps to be managed by party-sanctioned editorial staff. These staff must obtain approval from the national or local government Internet and information offices and be trained by the central government. As required by the Chinese government, major internet platforms and messaging services in China established elaborate self-censorship mechanisms. Some have hired teams of thousands to police content and invested in powerful artificial intelligence algorithms.”

“By 2018, the Chinese government had installed close to 200 million surveillance cameras across the country, which amounts to approximately one camera per seven citizens. At the same time, approximately 40 million surveillance cameras were active in the United States in 2014, which amounts to approximately one camera per eight citizens; however, these are largely installed by homeowners and stores rather than the government. According to official statistics in 2012, more than 660 of the mainland’s 676 cities use surveillance systems. In Guangdong province, 1.1 million cameras were installed in 2012, with plans to increase the number to two million by 2015 at a predicted cost of 12.3 billion yuan. By 2020, the Chinese government expects to integrate private and public cameras, leveraging the country’s technological expertise in facial recognition technology to build a nationwide surveillance network.”

There are numerous other examples of the misuse of digital media such as spreading misinformation, identity thefts, and proliferation of deep fakes.

We live in times where some people who are more conscious of where we are headed are asking questions:

  1. If our thoughts are our own anymore and
  2. If our actions are driven by our sense of agency.

The need of the hour is for honest dialogue and critical thinking. This is where Co-creation mindset will help.

Literary Reflections and the Pandemic’s Impact

Some of the greatest literature was written in the prison cells. While suffering the isolation prison cells offer moments for reflection that are lost in the hustle and bustle of daily routines.

Marco Polo wrote The Travels of Marco Polo, Napoleon Bonaparte dictated his memoir, Oscar Wilde’s philosophical essay De Profundis, a love poem by the Kashmiri poet Bilhana, entitled Chaura Panchashika, Faiz Ahmad Faiz’ collection Dast-e-Saba and Zindan, Mahadev Desai’s Day to Day with Gandhi, Jayprakash Narayan’s Prison Diary and Umar Khalid’s For In Your Tongue, I Cannot Fit: Encounters With Prison are just a few examples.

During Covid every home became a prison, and shadows of death hovered over every mind. Though not everyone had the time and the right skills to write their prison literature, reflections about life did play out at a mass scale in social imagination. While visibly the world has moved on, my conversations with people of all age groups reveal that the long effect of Covid on social imagination has come to stay. These reflections have set people on re-examining their priorities and simplifying life. While their living conditions may have not changed, their cravings for a more meaningful life have grown exponentially. The effect of this restlessness will influence those who have lived through the pandemic for a long time. An alternate imagination of a better life is yet to be articulated in social imagination.

Filling the Void: Collaborative Creativity in Social Imagination

I see an opportunity to collaboratively, slowly and iteratively fill a void in social imagination through collective curiosity and creativity.

I see an opportunity to have dialogues about technology, society, and wellness.

These dialogues will be moderated by individuals who have dedicated their time to reflecting about a future that brings meaning and balance to people’s life.

The purpose of these dialogues will be to encourage in communities curiosity, openness, and skepticism about any ideas presented by the establishment – be it politicians, academic institutions, religion, or technocrats.

These dialogues will not just be limited to challenging ideas. Instead, the effort will be to critically consider innovative ways to conserve resources, form collaborative alliances for creative problem solving, and to engage energies in building future solutions with local knowledge and materials. No established idea or institution will be spared critical evaluation not denied the opportunity to evolve into a new form that will be in alignment with people’s craving for sustainable and responsible ways of living.

Journeying Together: Dialogue for a Balanced Tomorrow

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in his book Physiologie du goût from 1825 introduced the idea of conviviality. The gastrophilosopher understood conviviality as the situation, common at the table, when different people come together over a good long meal, and time passes swiftly in excited conversations.

My belief in the value of dialogue as a platform for meaning making and for harnessing collective creativity has grown from watching people who have embraced co-creation mindsets. Brillat-Savarin’s reference to the experience at the table helps understand the essence of this concept,

I propose that our journey to the future should feel like a dialogue at the table. Such a process will encourage civility, compassion, positivity, patience, sobriety, and above all a sense of joy.

The outcomes of the process of building social relationships and organizing dialogues will be more inclusive. They will encourage conservation versus consumption.

There is a message for established companies and institutions who care for harnessing ideas and technologies for the well-being of society. They will need to subdue their ego and arrogance and embrace co-creation mindset.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Co-Creation Mindset emerges as a powerful approach to address the challenges of our dynamic world. Through 30 years of design practice, the need to comprehend and navigate societal shifts becomes evident, particularly in the face of digital dominance and global imbalances. The article underscores the urgency for honest dialogue and critical thinking, emphasizing that the co-creation mindset offers a valuable space for foresight and design. As we collectively face a void in social imagination, the proposal to collaboratively fill it with curiosity and creativity becomes pivotal. Ultimately, the journey to a convivial future calls for embracing dialogue, fostering inclusivity, and challenging established norms, urging both individuals and institutions to adopt a co-creation mindset for a sustainable and responsible tomorrow.

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Uday Dandavate

A design activist and ethnographer of social imagination.