The authors of The Open System: Redesigning Education and Reigniting Democracy, Landon Mascareñaz and Doannie Tran, shared the value of extending the concept of co-creation to co-production and co-commitment with me in a podcast. Their book promotes openness in our organizations to receive, consider, and act upon input from the communities that we serve.
An open System:
“A school can be an open system. We’ve seen schools that are involving families and students in co-creation of things like grading policies or discipline systems. We can even scale it up and think about open systems at the level of the district where families and community members and business leaders are being invited in to co-create workforce development pathways and work-based learning experiences alongside members of the district staff. So, it’s any space where you have people from inside and outside of the system, the traditional education system, building things, co-creating shoulder to shoulder with one another, and co-producing value for both the district or the educational system and the communities in which they reside.”
Their comments extended my definition of co-creation:
“Co-creation is the idea of building public value with your broader authorizing environment. It’s your stakeholders coming together to reimagine a system or design a system that offers something that people in the community want, desire and need. And then through the act of doing it with other people, it becomes stronger.
Typically, our number one mode of engaging communities is through focus groups and surveys. We frame the question, we ask them, we get their input, we treat it as a piece of data, somebody goes into a back room and goes on a whiteboard and designs the response to all of that. That’s not true co-creation. That’s treating families and communities like data inputs into a traditional closed system.
Instead, co-creation is bringing those families, community members, and sources of wisdom into those rooms, working with them side by side to both empathize with their experience with the current system, but also to engage them in the design of the system that replaces it or the systems that we’re building next.”
The idea of co-production moves stakeholders beyond being an advisory group.
“Co-production is the act of actually keeping those authorizing stakeholders together, the people that you’ve designed with in the actual building or doing of the work. That is critical. We see a lot of people who love co-creation work. They love getting people and building all sorts of stuff all over whiteboards and then don’t build the actual capacity and structure to move that work into the grind of implementation. If co-creation is the promise, co-production is the commitment. It’s the idea that not only do we need your ideas to design it, but we need you to do it.”
As I heard that statement about commitment, I asked, “I’m guessing that as you do that. You get a co-responsibility for the success. Is that fair?”
“That’s it. That’s totally fair. It’s about building a new type of muscle in public leaders and public systems for openness, for that responsiveness, for that type of co-design and co-production. We want people to start with a task force or start with an initiative and get moving on that. But then we want them to overcome their fear, get into that commitment that you’re talking about.”
Tran shared, “some educators co-create their class agreements or class constitutions because at the end of the day, an open system is really just about building a deeper level of commitment through gaining consent. They are building a greater sense of collective ownership of this shared thing that they built together. Another place where I could see it playing out is within the context of back-to-school night. I remember when I was a science teacher, doing back- to- school night was not me going through the syllabus, which is fine, you should totally do that. But also engaging families in defining what does science mean to you? What does it mean in your cultural context? Where have you seen science play a role in your experience and building some shared knowledge with them? Another aspect that I loved doing when I was a science teacher, was getting my kids to solve community problems. We engaged in this project where we tested some candies that an NPR report had told us may contain lead. We did chemical testing of the candies, and then we published a community report and passed it out.”
Tran cautioned, “Students know when things are performative or just for show, a rubber stamp. I think for a young person, they know when they come into a place if they are really a part of a classroom community and able to exercise some agency in it or are they just there to receive whatever the person in power wants to share with them.”
What are the purposeful leadership actions you are taking to lead open systems in your schools and classrooms?