maanantai 6. helmikuuta 2017

Of co-creation

Institutional design and policy implementation do not always produce the results that were the reason for their initiation and they never produce only the intended results, but a multitude of consequences, some of which are beneficial to the original goal and some of which are not. The tendency is that the situations grow more complex. The grey wolf policy in Finland is one example. Despite the recent bottom-up institution building and policy implementation (Anon, 2015), the negative surprises tend to appear and bring the problematic situation close to square one again: where the conflict is intense and the wolf protection harder. These setbacks are due to many causes and reasons -- sometimes to problematic managerial actions, interest group reactions or a combination thereof.

Sometimes the situations like this are called wicked. I would rather call them a problematic situation. Friedrich von Hayek (1982, 37) has already reminded us that realisations are always surprising and emerging societal structures, order and results are due to human actions, but not all of them are due to human design. The late Ulrich Beck (2016) was of a similar opinion as he emphasised the role and significance of side-effects in institutional adjustment and in the growth of societies. For him, the governmental goals are, in fact, reactions to the side-effects of previous attempts to control side-effects. This is a peculiar feature of institutional evolution.

This realisation-oriented policy making is slowly gaining ground from transcendental institutionalism. According to Sen (2009, 5-6), the political desire to set institutions right transcendentally has two features: “First, it concentrates its attention on what it identifies as perfect justice, rather than on relative comparisons of justices and injustice… Second, in the search for perfection, transcendental institutionalism concentrates primarily on getting institutions right, and it is not directly focused on the actual societies that would ultimately emerge”.

The realization-orientation principle is close to the pragmatic maxim by Charles S. Peirce (CP5.402): “Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object”. Realizations, i.e., effects, do not appear spontaneously, without human intention and design, they appear in complex transactions from within the ecostructure already in place but change due to these very same transactions. Realisations are co-created.

Understood from this view, institutional adjustments and policy designs are what their conceived effects ultimately become - the policies are only as good as their co-created effects. As Sen reminds us, those who focus on realizations and who are engaged in making comparisons from the point of view of real-life consequences are more often interested in identifying and solving practical policy problems leading to these injustices. The realisation-orientation calls for coordinated co-creation of policy designs and implementation.

The idea is not as old as it first seems. In co-construction, people are invited to participate in policy planning, agenda setting and, say, evaluation of ongoing policy processes, but they do not participate in implementation.  In co-production, people take part in data collection, but they do not necessarily participate in any other parts of the knowledge production process, i.e., in defining research problems or in executing analysis and, especially, not in weighting societal policy problems and potential solutions. In co-design, people participate in policy instrument development, but again there are no guarantees that the engagement and collaboration meaningfully extends from the early phase of the policy cycle to any point further. 

These three forms of public involvement may, of course, produce wonderful practical effects but there is one feature that makes them different from the approach of co-creation. The three approaches do not walk the participants all the way to effects; they do not engage people until the intended policy outcomes and emerged side-effects, some of which are mutually valued and some of which may not be.

In his cosmology, Peirce (CP 6.302) introduced three general aspects of change: tychism, synecism and agapism. Tychistic change is spontaneous, being that of absolute chance, of fortuitous variation. A change happens without articulated, planned and preordained purpose. Synecistic change is about continuity, struggle, agreement and mechanical necessity. In our handling, we could say that this is where we find conflict on one hand and partners on the other. The third mode of change is agapism. It is a commitment to the presence and importance of friendship and love. It is evolution by creative love, evolutionary love, or creative symbiosis, as I like to call it.

Creative symbiosis brings new purposes into being, something that synecistic partnership or tychistic interaction do not. Creative symbiosis is a form of change that is essentially teleological and end-directed (Deacon, 2012; Nagel, 2012). It is not spontaneous although ingredients of surprise, spontaneity and emergence are accounted for there and it is not mechanical even though the evolutionary process seems to proceed from one stage to the other. Creative symbiosis re-does and re-negotiates the purpose, working rules and motivation continuously according to perpetually changing environmental interdependencies and functions. The actual enables the possible and the variation in the possible brings in the potential. Stuart Kauffman (2016) calls this sort of co-creation ’the Adjacent Possible’.

The ontological challenge of co-creation is immense. On a more practical level, the approach of co-creation creates and develops participatory means and encourages people to engage in problem definition, action research design, in the execution of the co-creation process and reflective weighing of results and side-effects. Co-creation is not only about policy solutions but also, perhaps more so, about cultural entrepreneurship and value articulation for more critically responsive, fair, and engaging solutions. Co-creation is about realisations, indeed, about taking coordinated co-creative processes all the way to the ends-in-view, to the fulfilled purpose and emerged side-effects.

Co-creation calls for transdisciplinary research and abductive logic of reasoning. Transdisciplinary science is supposed to help policy processes to produce improved practical effects and novel conceptions and theories about the societal and economic processes behind these improved practical effects. The general purpose of transdisciplinary science is to bring about something that is not yet in existence; this is exactly why the transdisciplinary science must often follow the abductive logic of reasoning. Deduction sustains the theoretical core ideals and the assumption of a particular social practice. In a strict sense, deduction does not produce new knowledge: it only may affirm the hypothesis. Induction goes from particulars to generals deriving knowledge from empirical experience based upon a system of handling data. Inductive inference is not, however, necessary inference, as is deduction.

For Peirce (CP 5.189) abduction is a capacity for “the operation of adopting an explanatory hypothesis.” However, abduction is not only about adopting the hypothesis but “it is the only logical operation which introduces a novel idea” (Peirce CP 5.171). As Thomas Alexander (2013, 163) reminded us, abduction is “an imaginative effort of understanding.” Abduction is the logic for co-creation. A commitment to co-creation is simply a quest for critical responsiveness in the face of well-intended but surprising policy realisations (Hiedanpää & Bromley 2016, 236). In such a process, the purpose is to co-create and co-select a reasonable practice. We might also say that this is a pragmatist maxim for democratic creativity (e.g., Gouinlock 1999).

As the perpetuity of wolf problems in Finland have indicated, participatory co-design of policy instruments, co-construction of policies, and co-production of knowledge do not necessarily suffice to untangle a complex problematic situation. The problem may have been that the government, its administration and transdisciplinary wildlife research (our work) have not had the will, skills or resources to walk, critically and adaptively, through the implementation and enforcement of new institutional adjustments and policy designs. As so often happens at the critical, almost securely late stage of implementation, transactions are left to take their own spontaneous course, and the results soon turn to side-effects. However, as is evident, co-creation is easier said than done.


Alexander, Thomas (2013) The Human Eros: Eco-Ontology and the Aesthetics of Existence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Anon (2015) Management plan for the wolf population in Finland. Helsinki: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Beck, Ulrich (2016) The Metamorphosis of the World: How Climate Change is Transforming Our Concept of the World. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Deacon, Terrence (2012) Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Gouinlock, James (1999) Dewey: Creative Intelligence and Emergent Reality. Rosenthal, S.B., Hausman, C.R. and Anderson, T. (Eds.) Classical American Pragmatism. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Hayek von, Friedrich (1982) Law, Legislation and Liberty. London: Routledge. 

Hiedanpää, Juha & Daniel W. Bromley (2016) Environmental Heresies: The Quest for Reasonable. London: Macmillan.

Kauffman, Stuart A. (2016) Humanity in a Creative Universe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nagel, Thomas (2012) Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly Wrong. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peirce, Charles S. (1934) Collected Papers of Charles S. Peirce, 8 vols., C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss (vols. 1–6) and A. Burks (vols. 7–8). 8 eds., Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sen, Amartya (2009) The Idea of Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Originally: ESEE Newsletter Winter 2016 – Hot Topic
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