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Co-creation for transition towards a sustainable society, Insights from NorDev2023 Conference

News: Sep 08, 2023

The NorDev2023 conference on 21-23 August enabled participants to delve into intriguing exchanges around co-creation for the transition towards a sustainable society, the theme of the conference. Global Sustainable Futures contributed by arranging the panel “Co-creation, an effective method for the transition to a sustainable Africa and beyond,” which brought together researchers who shared their insights on the potential of co-creation in diverse contexts.

During the 7th Nordic Development Research Conference (NorDev2023), hosted by Uppsala University, Magdalena Eriksson and Marie Thynell from Global Sustainable Futures organised a panel to explore how co-creation and transdisciplinary methods can drive sustainable solutions in various fields of research. Four panellists presented their experience of co-creation work and a following panel discussion shed light on the intricate relationship between traditional and external methodologies, engagement of local communities, funding challenges, and fostering collaboration between universities and communities in countries such as Senegal, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa.

Leveraging indigenous insights

The dialogue commenced with Hanna Sinare from Stockholm University. Sinare's presentation focused on collaboration and the creation of future pathways in dryland regions, specifically in Senegal, as part of the "XPaths" project. The project aims to enhance sustainable development locally through inclusive participation of stakeholders, such as l communities, decision-makers, and experts. The method involves utilising dialogue phases and working groups to identify challenges, stakeholders, and solutions at various levels.

By involving diverse groups such as farmers, herders, fishermen, women, and youth, the approach ensures a range of perspectives for identifying future goals and actions. Sinare emphasised that this ongoing project seeks to bridge global sustainability goals with meaningful and actionable outcomes at the local level.

Designing for development

The second presenter, Fiona Lambe from Stockholm Environment Institute, spoke about "Devising Capabilities: Service Design for Development Interventions." Lambe's research includes case studies on cookstove interventions in South Africa, weather insurance in Uganda, and energy transition in rural Kenya.

Lambe elaborated on the potential of service design for development interventions to enhance local agency by aligning with community needs. She also reflected on co-creation processes, highlighting the importance of prototyping for critical feedback and back-casting for comprehensive considerations. Lambe underscored the significance of long-term engagement and enduring platforms for transformational development outcomes.

Empowering social work

Zena Mnasi Mabeyo at the Institute of Social Work in Dar-es-Salaam, presented "Re-imagining social work education in East Africa." The project involves collaboration among several universities in the Global South and one university in Norway. The presentation made clear the need to reimagine social work education to be relevant in various African settings. Maveyo highlighted the historical reliance on Western models and the call for de-colonisation of university teachings and the integration of post-colonial perspectives in the Social Work courses.

The project scrutinises the integration of traditional as well as other local knowledge into the curriculum through an analysis of literature, revealing outdated materials and limited representation of local authors. Mabeyo presented the project's innovative approach, where students collaborate with communities to identify challenges and prototype solutions to inform practice and learning. She highlighted the potential of co-creation in reshaping social work education to empower local communities and enhance sustainable development efforts in different African settings.

Public health and vulnerable circumstances

Giuliana Longworth from Universitat Ramon Llul, Barcelona, concluded the series of presentations with "Potentials and challenges of using co-creation for public health with people living in socio-economically vulnerable circumstances in LMICs countries." Longworth’s presentation combined a systematic review and interviews with the first authors of the included studies to explore the role of co-creation in addressing LMIC-specific needs and enhancing intervention effectiveness.

The review by Longworth and colleagues covers 22 studies conducted in 24 LMICs, highlighting the increasing adoption of co-creation in international development. Challenges include financial constraints, regulatory hurdles, power dynamics, and time-intensive processes. Facilitators encompass trust-building, transdisciplinary collaboration, and leveraging local resources. Longworth’s study concluded that co-creation is transformative, enabling nuanced solutions to complex challenges in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC) contexts.

From left: Giuliana Longworth, Hanna Sinare, Zena Mnasi Mabeyo, and Fiona Lambe.

Panel discussion highlights

A discussion that built on the panellists’ presentations and included the audience opened with an insightful perspective on how Africa's rich history of traditional problem-solving approaches can complement conventional methodologies. The discussion underscored the importance of integrating local and indigenous knowledge and community-driven initiatives in any intervention. A compelling notion emerged: by blending local wisdom with what is currently referred to as "best practices", a holistic and effective problem-solving approach can be achieved. Doing so, the blending process itself must build on openness, respect and responsiveness among all parties involved.

Funding emerged as a recurring concern in the final discussion. The panellists addressed the challenges of incentivising co-creation research, highlighting the need to effectively communicate its benefits to decision-makers. The idea of integrating mixed methods and systematic reviews to bolster credibility gained traction, offering a potential pathway to secure funding for co-creation projects.

Addressing the symbiotic relationship between universities and communities, panellists shared strategies to evaluate student preparation both within the classroom and in the field. The focus was laid on nurturing synergies between academia and local communities to yield effective and sustainable outcomes.

As a common experience emerged the balance between founding a co-creation project firmly in a local community vs completing a project within a given timeframe. While co-creation projects typically benefit from thoroughly including local stakeholders, the process of anchoring the project locally tends to be a time-demanding process. It may be advisable to take this into account early on when designing a project.

The way forward

The NorDev 2023 panel on co-creation provided a comprehensive view of its potential in fostering sustainable development. From leveraging traditional knowledge to overcoming funding challenges and promoting collaborative research, the panellists demonstrated how co-creation can be a catalyst for change.

As the panel discussion ended, it was evident that co-creation and transdisciplinary initiatives are not only research methods; they are a mindset that embraces diversity, empowers local communities, and aims at creating lasting impact.

Read more about the NorDev 2023 Conference


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