Expert Session: Co-creation citizens and the government

Four main principles for successful co-creation between government and citizens

This Expert Session was part of the New Europe City Makers Pre-Summit on the 4th and 5th of February at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam. New Democracy and the Co-City will be further explored on Day Four of the City Makers Summit on the 30th of May at Pakhuis de Zwijger.  Register for the Summit here!

During the City Makers Pre-summit on the 5th of February 450 City Makers from 79 different European cities came together in Amsterdam. In the well-attended expert session on Co-creation these City Makers entered into conversation in order to formulate the core principles that are needed to establish a successful co-creation between government and citizens.

This search started from the shared assumption that co-creation means to overcome the opposition between social initiatives and the institutions they encounter, and instead create a productive relationship of joint venture. The result is collaboration on terms of co-ownership of the city. Four principles were crystalized as the essential factors for successful co-creation between citizens and government.

1. Adopt the right mentality

“Co-designing as part of co-creation means to really understand how someone else looks at the society in order to be able to build together” -Mellouki Cadat

In order to make co-creation successful there needs to be openness, equality and a willingness to step in each other’s shoes. Sophie Kiesouw, co-initiator of Starters4Communities, emphasized that everyone needs to be equal. With shared responsibility also comes shared authority over the project. A mentality of equality and empathy proves essential to deal with the often contradictory attitudes of municipalities compared to bottom up initiatives. The right mentality offers a way to bridge these differences and establish a common ground. However maintaining equality also means maintaining the responsibility that comes with your role in the co-creation. As Amalia Zepou, vice-mayor of Athens, stated, “roles are very important here, equality in fact has to do with accepting the different roles”. Entering into a collaborative conversation thus means to construct an equality that simultaneously recognizes the different roles and responsibilities of every stakeholder.

2. Make space to identify the need

“When we need administration to speak with citizens we need a platform for this” –Elena de Nictolis

There should be a space of collaboration where the different needs and expectations of all stakeholders can be articulated. At LabGov Elena Nictolis does this by creating ‘urban labs’ where cities and communities are brought into contact over a collective project. In such labs, as well as through techniques such as the Art of Hosting, a common space is created to identify the needs that play a role in the collaboration. To identify and realign these needs, a platform for collaboration is a crucial factor for success.

3. Lower the center of gravity

“Inclusiveness should always be combined with rights” -René Carraz, Urban Gorillas

There was great consensus during the session on co-creation that there should be more power to the city. More power however also means more responsibility and vice versa. According to the principle of subsidiarity, social problems can often best be dealt with by those who are nearest to its solution. However shifting responsibility from government to citizens should not result in a burden but in empowerment. Therefore successful co-creation means a shared ownership that is based on inclusion and equality of the different stakeholders. It is the role of the government to ensure such empowerment through equal rights and conditions for collaboration.

4. Look for changemakers on all levels

“We use four phases in co-creation. First we map the activity of citizens in the city, second we empower these initiatives by connecting and supporting them, third we evaluate the initiatives’ impact on the city, and lastly we incorporate initiatives with high impact in the municipality by changing regulations and thereby bringing structural change” –Amalia Zepou

With these four phases Amalia Zepou presented an exemplary practice in which different stages in the process of governance need changemakers in order to add to successful co-creation. Not only citizens should be responsible for initiating change, but also policy makers and administrators play decisive roles by valuing collaboration. This also means that co-creation exists on all kinds of levels such as co-design, co-producing, co-budgeting, and co-deciding. It is important to look for changemakers on all these levels.

These four principles for successful co-creation give a strong fundament for collaboration between government and citizens. But how can these four principles be translated in concrete ways of doing? And how have different initiatives dealt with these challenges for co-creation?

Do you have examples or experiences with successful co-creation, then we invite you to share your ideas. Send us your creative elaborations on the principles mentioned above or insights on other aspects of co-creation that are still missing. You can send your ideas and articles to Joachim[@]


Involved city makers
Amalia Zepou
Vice Mayor for Civil Society, Athens
Mellouki Cadat
Senior adviseur, Movisie
Sophie Kiesouw
Coordinator Starters4Communities, The Netherlands
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