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Virtual co-creation workshops: Designing remotely with (and for) consumers or end users

by Sabrina Hallongren

Virtual co-creation workshops are a popular innovation research method utilized within product development.

They are a powerful tool that can benefit your research, especially during a time when you can't count on being able to conduct research in-person. Learn what they are, why they are used, and how to prepare them for use in your research.

What exactly are co-creation workshops?

In co-creation workshops, consumers or end users come together with key internal stakeholders to shape the next steps of a product or experience. Rather than focusing on participants as subjects to study, co-creation workshops bring participants into the development process as active agents working with designers, product developers, marketing professionals, and other client stakeholders.

Co-creation workshops are not focus groups

In contrast to focus groups in which clients observe a discussion out-of-view in a backroom, all participants in a co-creation workshop are in the session together – as equal partners – co-creating what the future elements or features of a product will be in real-time.

When analogies and metaphors are used appropriately, they become generative and support cognitive translation.

Unlike focus groups, co-creation sessions:

  • Enable the creation of 360° systemic solutions that take into account simultaneously the needs/wants of everyone involved and the unique needs/constraints of the organization.
  • Define the guardrails and design criteria for the future product by opening channels to agile, real-time and practical feedback within the development process.
  • Result in formalized “Action Plans” for immediate next-step execution (i.e. concept statements to be tested, experiential blueprints for how new offerings come to life, product roadmaps that align to stakeholder needs, etc.)

Co-creation workshops offer the opportunity to bring everyone together in a rich, creative and immersive way to design the future together. What emerges from co-creation sessions are ideal future directions, strategies, and/or product requirements articulated in ways that balance customer needs and business needs. Additionally, any explicit watch-outs or risks verbalized in co-creation sessions get captured and documented, along with participant-informed mitigation strategies.

Tips for facilitating remote co-creation workshops

Innovative platforms and technology make it possible to facilitate remote co-creation sessions that can be deeply meaningful and engaging. When it comes to facilitating truly immersive remote co-creation sessions, here are some tips we’ve learned running workshops over the course of the pandemic…

Planning for the sessions:

  1. When recruiting participants, be sure to screen for individuals that have access to the tools and resources necessary for remote engagement, such as a fast and reliable internet connection, a computer with a working camera, and a headset or earbuds with a microphone.
  2. While many in-person workshops take place on one day for several hours, plan for multiple remote engagements that are between 2 and 3 hours in length instead. For example, rather than expecting participants to be on zoom for a 6-hour workshop on one day, plan for two, 3-hour workshops on different days.
  3. Prepare a very detailed agenda that lists the activities, supplies or information needed, and information around the “run of show” to use as a reference. This document should include what every facilitator is doing at each point. For example, document when host privileges change or when someone is running analyses behind the scenes.
  4. Set clear expectations with participants ahead of time.
  5. Prepare participants by explaining what co-creation sessions are.

    Remind them that they will need to be on camera in a quiet location without distractions for the duration of the workshop.

    Request that they use ear buds or a headset to reduce background noise and feedback.

    Thank them for agreeing to be a part of the research and let them know how valuable their voice is.

  6. Set clear expectations with internal stakeholders ahead of time.
  7. Provide them the same information participants receive. However, place special emphasis on the importance of learning from consumers and end users during this work, reiterating that they are equals in this engagement.

    If there are moments when internal stakeholders should refrain from engaging, be sure to call those out ahead of time (and remind them again during the workshop if necessary).

  8. Prepare your tools in advance.
  9. Zoom offers a breakout room feature that allows for more intimate small group engagement. Definitely take advantage of this feature and assign participants and stakeholders to breakout groups prior to the engagement.

    Virtual white boards, like Mural and Miro, allow for everyone to participate in activities in real-time. Prepare a virtual white board that features an agenda and all of the necessary elements and activities you will use to help make the session pvely and participatory.

    Finally, remember that most of the fun activities that make co-creation workshops successful in person can easily be adapted to remote workshops thanks to templates and features available in virtual whiteboards.

Facilitating the workshop:

  1. Be sure to have multiple facilitators available, specifically be sure to have at least one facilitator per break out group. It’s also helpful to assign facilitators to specific background tasks. For example, be sure at least one facilitator is available to manage the whiteboard (making updates as needed, moving elements, pasting sticky notes, etc.), and be sure at least one facilitator is available to manage Zoom (to track attendance, manage breakout groups, admit participants into the meeting, follow-up on any comments posted in the chat, etc.). It’s possible for one co-facilitator to manage Zoom and the white board at the same time if the group size is fewer than 20 total individuals. Keeping up with larger groups is easier with more “wizards” behind the curtains.
  2. While not a requirement, we’ve found that having participants complete a pre-workshop activity ahead of time is a great way to bring them into the session better prepared. Additionally, opening the workshop with a discussion around the activity can serve as a really meaningful icebreaker.
  3. We have also found that many participants do not have experience using virtual whiteboards, and often times there isn’t enough time available to teach them how to use them. Rather than having each participant use Mural, we tend to have facilitators share their screen and add content to the board as it emerges in the discussion. Participants watch in real time as their thoughts and contributions are added to sticky notes and activities.
  4. Some participants may be hesitant to speak up or add to the conversation. Take advantage of opportunities to reach out to these individuals and ask if they have anything to add. They are often likely to contribute when given the space to do so. Encouraging participants to use the chat feature is another key way to support participants who may be a bit more timid.
  5. Lastly, be sure to take advantage of fun features your meeting platform or virtual whiteboard may offer, such as voting, polling participants, playing music while participants work on an activity, etc.

Want to learn how to use virtual cocreation workshops for your project?

We'd love to have a conversation about your needs.

About the Author

Sabrina Hallongren brings to Sylver Consulting a rich background in applied research and new product development. She has substantial experience conducting qualitative and quantitative research involving participants from a variety of age ranges and backgrounds. Naturally curious and never one to take the path of least resistance, Sabrina particularly enjoys exploring areas of inquiry that require new and innovative research methods. Sabrina holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Northwestern University with a focus on parenting and child technology use. She also has an MA in Child Development and an MA in Puppetry.

  • 2022
  • Qualitative Research
  • Innovation
  • Design Thinking
  • Methods
  • Workshops

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