In 2016, the Colombian government and the country’s leftist militant group - the FARC, signed a peace treaty. Since then, and for a few years to come, the country and its’ people are in a process of reconciliation and peace building. The summit was a small part of that process, with the focus on peace building through co-creation.
The summit took place in a territory designated for ex-guerilla members to transition back into civil society, almost three hours away from the closest city - San Jose del Guaviare. A place on the edge of the Amazon, dotted with palm trees, identical houses, and a backdrop of vibrant sunsets.
All the participants, a mix of foreigners, Colombian new grads, ex-guerilla locals, and non-guerilla locals, lived in the territory throughout the summit - learning, eating, working and relaxing together.
Definitions might vary, but from how I lived it: co-creation is the process of designing together with the people who the service or product is for. Co-creation is different than participatory design methods where customers or people are consulted for feedback but are not asked to define problems or solutions as they see fit.
For this summit, our community co-creators were a local mother, two ex-combatants and a local teenager. The rest of the participants were myself, and a few Colombian students including a designer, psychologist and a developer.
How co-creation worked
For our team, there were a few things that helped us better co-create.
1 - Sharing a common reference point. For example, after everyone learns a specific design exercise, it's easier for all creators to engage with that exercise and to feel empowered to do so. Having a common reference point worked better than one member of the group attempted to introduce a new exercise or method that the rest of the team wasn't aware of, because it raised the status of that member to that of an expert.
2 - Getting a group of people with diverse skill sets. When each member has a strength, they feel better about sharing that skill and teaching others about it. This helps to create a balance, when they're engaged in activities where they feel less confident about.
3 - Being open to different working styles, not just skills. When you're co-creating, chances are that you'll be working with people who are very different than yourself. In these cases it helps to put aside previous ways of working to make room for alternative approaches that may feel more natural, and thus more contextual and relevant to local communities.
Problem we focused on: early education
Halfway through the summit we broke off into smaller teams to focus on a specific problem area. Our group was tasked to think about early education.
While women in the FARC could serve as combatants, they were not allowed to raise children in the guerilla. Now that they were out of the guerrilla, many women were eager to jump into motherhood.
In order to better understand the problem, our team conducted two days of field research in the transition territory, and two nearby villages. During the first day we visited local schools as well as the homes of local families.
[Photo below by Ricardo Salgado Cadena]
Our prototypes: Contextual DIY Toys
Our team built a series of toys that could be built by parents themselves at a low cost. The advantage of building the toys themselves, is two fold:
1) There may not be any other educational material available, either because it’s too expensive or not provided by the government. If that's the case, then building your own might be a lonely but great option.
2) If there is material provided, it may be irrelevant to the local culture and regional context. When parents build the toys themselves (or a few for their community) , they are able to construct regionally and culturally relevant toys. For example, the FARC have a close connection to the jungle since it was their home for many years. Ideally, they could build toys that would allow them to share knowledge of that ecosystem with their children from early on.
Prototype focus: Teatrino
While we all worked together, I spent most of my time with Lucila and Luna ( two local community members) on a storytelling board.
The aim of the storytelling board which we named Teatrino, was that it would encourage interaction between different ages of children, and between parents and their children - by provoking contextual stories.
1) Small holes in which you could insert small wooden figures.
2) Slits down two of the sides so that children (or parents) could make and then insert their own backdrops.
3) Painted base so that children could connect their individual bases to form a larger, modular storyboard.
4) A set of three dice: one for emotions, one for verbs (running, singing, exploring, etc), and one for story provocations ("all of a sudden", "guess who appeared?").
Why co-creation matters
Co-creation is vital as a way of empowering communities to take ownership of problems in their communities, and as such to become invested in identifying problems and solutions.
In this context, it was also important for community members to be designing solutions so that they could take ownership of the solution after the rest of the participants left.
By the end of the summit, each team had to have a prototype to present to the community. However the focus of the summit was rightly placed on learning the design process, and applying it again in the future. Ideally, participants can now use this process to continue solving problems in their community.