The scope of collaborative innovation – co-design vs. co-creation of value

Collaboration is the corner stone of success of the ‘human enterprise’ and in today’s world you can’t help stumbling on concepts such as co-creation, co-production and co-design that highlight the importance of collaboration especially when talking about innovation. Hence, it seems that with the help of these ‘co-concepts’ the notion of innovation is finally truly breaking free from the narrow conceptualization that trapped it into the dusky corners of companies’ R&D labs for so many decades. This development is great and should be encourage in all means possible. Unfortunately, it does seem, however, the broader notion of ‘collaborative innovation’ is somewhat held back due to the ambiguity and vagueness of the ‘co-concepts’ used to describe and explain the phenomenon. In other words, all of these concepts have slightly different meanings and scopes due to the differences of their disciplinary origins and underlying worldviews. As a consequence the concepts are sometimes mixed up and used in a confusing manner in both academia and practice.

In this post, I aim to shed some light in the difference of the scope of collaborative innovation when discussed in the context of 1. creating an offering of a company and 2. creating value in service ecosystems.

Jungle of co_speech bubbles

Usually, co-design refers to the time before a launch of a new offering, in which different stakeholders (especially potential beneficiaries) are involved in the innovation activities of a firm (or a governmental organization etc.). Co-design refers to the process and tools that enable the collaborative engagement of actors (designers and non-designers) in different roles during a design process of a company offering [1, 2]. The research streams relating to co-design highlight the importance of the user and point out that companies should pay more attention to their customers/users of their offering and involve them into the innovation process. However, they often still reflect a company-centric worldview as it is the company, who owns and defines the development process. It produces the offering to the customers, who are involved in those phases of the development that the company finds useful for itself.

Value co-creation on the other hand is a much broader process that can include also the above mentioned phase and actors, but that mainly refers to the systemic effort extending over time and place in which various resources are applied, exchanged, integrated and used by numerous actors in order to create value. Therefore, S-D logic distinguishes between co-production – collaborative creation of a company’s offering – and value co-creation – all encompassing, complex and dynamic process in which actor-determined value-in-context is created. In other words, co-production is seen as a component of co-creation of value [3], which represents the joint activities of the firm and the customer (or other actors) in the creation of a firm output [4]. It can occur through shared innovativeness, co-design or shared production of related products and it can occur with any parties in the value network [5].

While in co-production “customer involvement” is optional, in value co-creation it is unavoidable as there is no value co-creation without a beneficiary (e.g. a customer) determining contextual value through use.

The above text is related to a paper by Pirjo Friedrich and Kaisa Koskela-Huotari presented in CO-CREATE conference in June 2013 at Helsinki.


[1]  Sanders E. & Stappers, P.J. (2008) Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign, 4(1), 5-18.
[2] Mattelmäki, T. & Sleeswijk Visser, F. (2011) Lost in Co-X: interpretations of co-design and co-creation. In IASDR2011, The 4th World Conference on Design Research, Delft, the Netherlands.
[3] Vargo, S.L. & Lusch, R.F. (2008) Service-dominant logic: continuing the evolution. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 36, 1-10.
[4] Vargo, S. L. (2008) Customer integration and value creation: paradigmatic traps and perspectives. Journal of Service Research, 11(2), 211-215.
[5] Lusch, R.F. & Vargo, S.L. (2006) Service-dominant logic: reactions, reflections and refinements. Marketing Theory, 6(3), 281-288.