On Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of meeting up with some fellow UM alums during an information session for the Ross Business School. I didn’t graduate with an MBA; I did my MFA in the School of Art & Design. Nonetheless, I was welcomed and had the opportunity to share my perspectives on what makes Michigan different from other universities and experiences. Actually, I think it is becoming increasingly relevant that students in art and design connect with business students and vice versa.
The highlight of the evening was a lecture by Venkat Ramaswamy, Hallman Fellow of Electronic Business and Professor of Marketing at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. During his visit to India he was launching his new book, “The Power of Co-Creation”, and he gave a very nice explanation of co-creation to the audience of prospective MBAs and Alums.
For me, the lecture was especially timely. I have been diving deep into the theory and practice of service design for the last eight months. My goal is to use knowledge of complex systems and dematerialized practices as options for thinking, teaching, and solving problems that can benefit from the engagement of multiple stakeholders. Some of these problems range from the provision of water resources, delivery of health services, discovery of patterns in public health, the maintenance and design of infrastructure, or even how learning is measured and fed back into teaching and course content.
Prof. Ramaswamy’s talk focused on examples that demonstrated co-creation as a paradigm for value creation. He provided a sample of instances where the design of platforms focuses on interactions between enterprise providers (supply chain, enterprise planning, customer relationship) on one hand â€“ and stakeholders on the other. The key part of the value creation lies in the assembly of a platform through which the process of engagement and co-creation can take place. In this way, engagement happens first, enterprise second.
Venkat’s first example came from civic planning in Seoul, South Korea. OASIS is a platform for engagement with public services. It facilitates citizen engagement with the city council using a combination of online, video, and face-to-face platforms. To make it an effective platform, complaints are not allowed â€“ only suggestions. The facilitators also ask/keep the suggestions limited to the goals that have already been determined. So the question civic participants have to ask themselves is, “How do we achieve our goals?”
The participation process begin with (1) suggestions which get tagged by the participants. The tags allow people to start structured (2) discussions of the ideas. About 12% then get taken for (3) off-line examinations. Eventually there are (4) Seoul OASIS meetings which are filmed live and where stakeholders and civic service providers get to interact. Finally, a handful of suggestions make it to (5) implementation where the project gets documented along with benchmarks and other accountability checks.
Another great example for India is how the Delhi Traffic Police have been using Facebook as a platform for accountability and peer pressure on Delhi’s citizens to follow the rules. In some cases, the platform has even allowed citizens to establish some accountability on the part of the police as well.
Caja Navarra (Spain) is pioneering civic banking using engagement platforms to make an impact in the social sector. It shows customers how much it makes from their savings and provides them with the ability to choose from an array of eight or so recipients of their social contributions. The recipient organizations are further pushed to present how they use the money as a result of the participation. The benefits also feed back to the bank’s ability to attract new customers. By providing “gift cards” with preset amounts, new participants can log on and get involved with their donations. Meanwhile, the bank is then able to show potential customers how their money would be used by Caja Navarra as opposed to the customer’s current bank.
All of this reminded me of some other platforms that tie emerging enterprises with potential stakeholders. Kickstarter is a new platform for ideas that need capital to get their projects off the ground. Anyone can contribute, and it only depends on the project’s ability to pitch their idea â€“ and maybe some well-placed social capital (here’s some tips on managing a kickstarter project). One hugely successful project pitch that was launched is Gameful (exceeding their funding goal by over 3000%). It’s an online Secret HQ for gamers and game developers who want to help change the world and make our real lives better. The project’s developers did a really nice thing in pitching the project. They set of levels of giving, that mimicked some game tropes like secret entry points and awards.
Co-creation and service design are largely about the engagement that happens in the development of product and service offerings. Later as we ate dinner, I asked Prof. Ramaswamy what it might mean to go beyond products and services. What would happen, for example, if co-creation impacted the evolution of the core business model and plan? Eric Beinhocker explores some of the conditions for how this might happen in his book, The Origin of Wealth. One of the central themes of the book revolves around how businesses themselves are a form of design. The design of businesses encompasses how to understand the market and connected institutions, product and service offerings, operations, marketing and sales, strategy, and the organization itself. If, as Beinhocker argues, business designs evolve over time through differentiation, selection, and amplification, then it stands to reason that co-creative platforms for engagement can distribute that work as well as just the product and service offerings. The only question is where will it happen?