There is a lot of energy expended bringing people together to find solutions to complex problems, but getting diverse stakeholders in the room together is no guarantee of success. Why do some efforts to co-create solutions founder when others succeed? It often comes down to three important steps of collaborative work that can be overlooked or underdone, yet together these three steps form the heart of any authentic collaboration.

Where trust is low and scepticism is high, what is it that allows people to work together to find solutions? An absolutely critical piece in the puzzle is that everyone trusts the process. Many clients seek to address this issue by hiring an “independent facilitator” to manage the co-creation process. “You may not trust us but you will trust this person we are paying, right?” Wrong!  “If I don’t trust you why would I trust your hired gun? And even if they are fabulous, why would I trust that you will listen to us or respect our views in this?”


In order that all stakeholders trust the process we have learned how important it is that they get their fingerprints on it. In others words, we want them – and all of us in the collaboration – to own the process by which we will work together to co-create solutions. Successful collaborators design the conversation together, the data, the questions they will ask, agreeing the boundaries, identifying the stakeholders together. They discuss and own the decision-making process, the criteria, the options development etc. And all this great collaboration happens before they start to talk about solutions. So that when they get to that step in the process they are ready, committed, engaged and able to truly co-create together. Even if trust in the ‘who’ remains low, trust in the ‘how’ allows progress to be made.


But where trust is low and the project, problem or situation is seen very differently by different stakeholders, invitations to help co-design the conversation are likely to be met with stony silence. “Why would I talk to you about collaborating when I believe that you are the problem?” What is it that makes the co-design step flourish? In our experience collaborators are much more likely to step into the process when they feel that the problem or project that brings them together is something they are a part of, they understand and feel is worth their precious time. Building a shared sense of the complex situation we face together and taking ownership for our own piece of that bigger problem is the magic of Co-defining. Only when we have all heard each other on the nature of the problem and found some agreement on aspects of it, can we productively move into co-designing and co-creating.

Commit to collaboration

So we come to the root question. What makes stepping in possible for those who don’t trust the system and don’t see the problem, or feel they already know what the solution is? This is the commitment question. It is both a pre-cursor to co-defining and co-designing and an integral part of each. It is about my/our commitment to collaborate with ‘them’ and ‘their’ commitment to working with us on this.

If we skip over the first three steps – Commitment, Co-definition and Co-design – and begin with Co-creating, how can we expect a high level of commitment? And in the absence of commitment, how can we do the difficult work together to find solutions to our complex problem?

There is a pathway to follow when collaborating and it begins well before we attempt to find solutions. In your work are you collaborating from the heart?

You can find more about the whole collaborative pathway on our website under