Let’s co-create 2023!

Enabling co-creation for science-led organisations

Crick Institute_Hollys photo

By Holly Cave, Senior Creative

5 January 2023

During a training course in public engagement that we delivered to staff at the Alan Turing Institute last year, we shared the British Science Association’s vision of “a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society” and in which “everyone is represented and has their voice heard on the issues that matter to them.”

Enabling co-creation for science-led organisations is a worthy goal, one echoed in depth by UKRI in their public engagement strategy. But call it what you wish – co-creation, co-production, participatory approaches, public involvement – we’re advocating for researchers and innovators to go much further than simply listening.

It touches every aspect of our work here at Scientia Scripta. In our curatorial work with the Francis Crick Institute, we’re advocating for involving local communities in the exhibition creation process – in whatever way is useful, interesting and meaningful to them. We’re now at the stage where we’re preparing to let go of our curatorial vision for the new gallery to allow designers to run with it in, possibly in new directions.

We’re even practising co-creation in our marketing – connecting with delegates at conferences by encouraging them to contribute to a physical artwork in whatever way they see fit.

But I know that the idea of co-creation can be a scary concept. Probably because it’s the harder path with an undefined destination. Achieving true co-creation in which people and organisations work together in equal partnership, for equal benefit, isn’t easy.

I believe that a huge part of this is that we’re conditioned to idolise figureheads. We’re taught to celebrate people, not teams. It’s Winston Churchill who won the war. It’s Alexander the Great, not his army. Muhammad Ali was “The Greatest”, but what role did his trainers, his family, and other figures in his life play in his success?

Too many versions of history tell us that it’s brave and commendable to act alone. But to understand why this idea is damaging, you only have to look where independent action and firing most of Twitter’s employees got Elon Musk. Solely in personal terms, his net worth plummeted by more than anyone else in history in just over a year. $200 billion. A sum equivalent to the GDP of Greece.

One of the things about research and innovation that I hear from scientists on a daily basis is that collaboration is one of its greatest assets… and greatest joys. Science is a never-ending journey of advancement, improvement and relitigation. One shaped by social, political and factors, shaping them in turn.

As science communicators, we must do our best to embrace what feels like otherness. It’s our collective responsibility as human beings to seek out the voices that speak more softly, in languages unknown to us, raising issues we know nothing about – especially the voices insisting they don’t deserve to be heard.

Further reading on public engagement and co-creation for science-led organisations

The NCCPE website

UKRI’s public engagement strategy

The Involve website

The Co-Production Collective

The Engage2020 Action Catalogue