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There’s no doubt about it: co-creating value with consumers and providers is the future of healthcare — because it's too costly for innovators (and patients) to “hope” they guessed right.
For decades, other industries have reaped the benefits of co-creating solutions with customers. Now it’s time for healthcare to apply proven co-creation strategies to solve health problems, improve quality of life, and enhance patient experiences.
Traditionally, healthcare is done “to” or “for” patients. With co-creation, healthcare is moving toward solving health problems collaboratively “with” consumers and other stakeholders, from beginning to end (and over again).
Patients are starting to reap the benefits of co-creation, like other industries have for decades. And, health innovators that deploy co-creation strategies will reduce the cost and risk linked to new product development, leapfrog the competition, and increase brand loyalty.
If you’re not co-creating, it’s time to start. And this guide helps you cover the basics.
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Through my doctoral research and applications, I’ve uncovered the critical importance of co-creation in the commercialization process and the role co-creation plays in transforming healthcare organizations into agile innovation machines.
I created the “5 Co’s of Co-creation” framework to guide innovation leaders through the 5 types of co-creation, which can also be referred to as the 5 stages of co-creation:
Co-ideation, Co-valuation, Co-design, Co-test,
The framework also helps build a continuous communication stream with external stakeholders when designing, developing, and launching new products, services, and experiences.
Here are the 5 types of co-creation and a scenario that shows how an organization might use them to co-create with customers.
Instead of finding customers for your innovation, build an innovation with your customers. This phase ensures that you’re meeting a real market need — not just building on your team’s assumptions and biases.
Which of your product ideas will have the greatest impact, are most viable, or are more difficult for competitors to copy? To figure this out, you might choose to work with the same group as the first phase, or decide to invite more people to the party.
It’s crucial that you don’t waste time and resources on fully developing a product that doesn’t have market feedback. In this phase, hone in on the most important features so you can build, test, and iterate incrementally.
Where the rubber meets the road. After you’ve built your MVP, let your customers give it a spin and give you their unfiltered feedback. Be sure to figure out which specific features you’ll collect feedback on and how you’ll collect it.
Build a strong network in your target market. Not just end-users and buyers, but also key influencers who can help spread the word and build positive word-of-mouth among your market’s tech-savvy, innovative early adopters.
You may be familiar with other models for types of co-creation, like Matthew S. O’Hern and Aric Rindfleisch’s model from their work Customer Co-Creation: A Typology and Research Agenda.3 In the model, types of co-creation can be categorized as:
Submitting: Fixed contribution and firm-led selection
Tinkering: Open contribution and firm-led selection
Co-designing: Fixed contribution and customer-led selection
Collaborating: Open contribution and customer-led selection
Through the lens of my framework, this model can help to identify where your company is on the “matrix” of co-creation. For example, if you’re “submitting” in a fixed and firm-led environment, there’s not much co-creation going on here!
But if you’re “collaborating” in an open and customer-led environment, you’re full-speed co-creating.
So ask yourself: where on the matrix does your organization fall?
Here are a few other examples of companies that are tapping into the brains of external stakeholders early and often:
P&G Connect + Develop. P&G’s co-design program invites innovation partners to come on board and build something great together. Their site says: “It’s a fact: collaboration accelerates innovation.” Yup!
Starbucks Ideas. This program harnesses co-ideation and co-valuation on everything from new food and drinks to tech products to social responsibility projects. You may be surprised to learn that more than 70% of Starbucks ’ new ideas brought to market in recent years came from outside the company.
Nokia Beta Labs. Nokia’s co-test program invites techies and early adopters to be the first in line to test new phones and software upgrades. This lets them gather feedback and iron out the details before release to the general public.
Co-creation can be a boon for healthcare companies of all sizes and types, in any region around the globe, that want to achieve the same goal:
To build a continuous communication stream with consumers, providers, and other stakeholders and put them at the center of these innovation and experience programs, from beginning to end.
But is your organization really ready to co-create, or are you up against big implementation challenges? Let’s look at a few things that can be your keys to success — or your ultimate downfall.
Co-creation can’t be optimally effective without being built into a company’s culture. And, new cultures can’t be developed without buy-in from the company’s key leaders and decision-makers.
This consumer-centric way of thinking might require a deep paradigm shift among innovation leaders. Before starting the co-creation journey, it’s critical to understand how receptive the current culture is to open vs. closed innovation.
Managers need to shift from a closed innovation paradigm with control, planning and forecasting to being more flexible, adaptive, and maintaining a sincere dialogue with stakeholders.
You’ll need externally-oriented employees who can swiftly and efficiently respond to stakeholders’ true wants and needs. Co-creation leaders need to cultivate trust and encourage honest feedback.
Innovation leaders are used to funding internal R&D, product, marketing, and customer experience teams. Adding co-creation to your plate means new budget requirements for things like co-creation tools and compensation or incentives for participants.
Unlike traditional market research programs where funds come from a single department’s budget often once or twice a year, co-creation will require more resources.
It’s an overarching business strategy with continuous implementation — so co-creation expenses won’t (or shouldn’t) be a one-and-done affair.
As innovation leaders collect feedback throughout the co-creation process, they’ll face inherent biases that could lead the co-creation process in the wrong direction. As humans, we're wired to “like what we like” and could steer the outcome toward our preconceived notions.
When it comes to validating the next big idea, it’s important to remove your bias as much as possible so the truth can come to the surface. This ain’t easy, but it’s critical if you want your co-creation strategy to succeed.
There are thousands of examples of companies that have successfully woven co-creation into their core business model and company culture.
Observe how companies co-create across various industries and sectors, then narrow down this research into healthcare-specific examples. Try to distinguish the nuances of each case study and consider how these insights might be applied to your own co-creation efforts.
Consider the next product, service, or experience your organization plans to develop. How can you create a dialogue with consumers around this project?
Even if it’s too demanding to build out a full co-creation strategy and plan, even small steps toward opening a dialogue will help to work toward the broader co-creation goal.
A co-creation strategist offers expertise and guidance to help streamline the learning curve. These individuals and organizations can advise on unique opportunities, considerations, tools, and action items that each healthcare business needs to look at before being able to co-create successfully.
At the end of the day, they can save you major resources and time in finding your path to profit.
1. Hohmann, L. (2015). Innovation games: Creating breakthrough products through collaborative play. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Addison-Wesley.
2. Nobel, C. (2011, February 14). Clay Christensen's milkshake marketing. Retrieved April 13, 2021, from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/clay-christensens-milkshake-marketing
3. O’Hern, M. S., & Rindfleisch, A. (2010). Customer co-creation: A typology and research agenda. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235306810_Customer_Co-Creation_A_Typology_and_Research_Agenda