Co-creating sustainable eID solutions

by José Carlos Camposano, Kari Heikkinen, and Annika WolffLUT University

Implementing new electronic identity (eID) solutions for the public sector is a tough endeavour.  Public officers, technical teams, and researchers need to work together in order to solve several fundamental concerns of end users. Co-creation is a suitable approach to design solutions that respond better to those concerns, but it is far from being a “silver bullet”: There are further challenges that should be addressed to make a sustainable impact in the long term.

In the design research community, there are various participatory approaches, such as transformative design, design thinking, action research, user-centric design, co-creation (co-design), to name just a few. One has to dig deeper into each one of these approaches to identify the ingredients of success in the process of creating new technological artifacts. In this blog post, we will focus on the success factors, challenges, and characteristics of the co-design approach of IMPULSE.

Co-creation can be defined as an “act of collective creativity that is experienced and performed jointly by a group of people” [1, 5]. Thus, co-design can be considered as an instance and output of creating something together with others throughout the entire lifecycle of the design process. This methodology brings together many elements of different approaches related to user-centric design and participatory design. In the context of Computer Science and Software Engineering, it is moulded by incorporating the concerns of practitioners, researchers, and development organisations in the design and development of systems and services [2]. Furthermore, carrying it out also during the requirement elicitation process can result in better identification of quality requirements that could be seen as a better fit between the users and the system, thus providing a better value for the users [3].

Key factors and building blocks for successful co-creation in a public service contex schemes

Literature suggests that there are three broad areas to consider for successful co-creation [4]. These are 1) the strategy of the co-design process, 2) the co-design tools and methods, and 3) the facilitation of the co-design.

Similarly, there are several pre-requirements for successful co-creation [5]:

  • The participants should have the empathy and motivation to participate in a creative process.
  • The participants should be sufficiently diverse to represent the selected context and avoid possible bias.
  • The co-creation approach should be considered from the beginning to the end of the design process.
  • The environment should encourage a continuous dialogue with the stakeholders, before, in-between and after the co-creation workshops.
  • The tools and methods in use (in workshops) need to be chosen well.

Thus, the foundation for successful co-creation leans on carrying it out by including a diverse group of stakeholders and end-users, while also transparently illustrating the co-design process to accomplish a joint level of understanding (of the problem to be solved). As a consequence, one could expect that the trust in both the process and co-designed solutions will improve and that participants will freely give genuine contribution. Furthermore, in Computer Science and Software Engineering, iterative and agile processes are a well-known practice that can help maintain a continuous dialogue.

Challenges of co-creation within the public sector

There are several challenges of co-creating new eID solutions for and within the public sector. First, participatory processes require deep engagement and time dedication to properly understand the context and needs of stakeholders. Second, the results of these approaches can be unpredictable and guide the project into new directions, which might not fully align with prior expectations of doing continuous or incremental upgrades to existing software solutions (as might occur in more traditional software development processes). Third, the political nature of the public sector (e.g., electoral seasons, changes in political mandate or budget allocation, etc.) can lead to changes in the project stakeholders, in particular the decision-makers, which might force to reassess more frequently certain elements of the co-creation approach. Consequently, the project plan must always give enough room for flexibility and allow to adjust “on-the-go” the co-creation process.

Literature does provide some practical advice on how to cope with the above-mentioned public-sector features. For instance, ten policy recommendations for co-designers have been proposed [6], from which the first five (1-5) are labelled “stimulating co-creation” and the remaining five (6-10) can be labelled as “effects of co-creation”:

  1. Consider the context, e.g., historical state, governance traditions and culture.
  2. Train participants for co-creation.
  3. Acknowledge that participants may resist co-designing in principle.
  4. Be aware that solutions will be sustainable only if they can run without subsidies.
  5. Empower the participants to feel ownership of the co-creation process.
  6. Be aware that co-creation should focus on making public services or solutions that are better than their predecessors.
  7. Measure the effects of the co-creation.
  8. Build in a way that accountability problems will not come later.
  9. Find out which group(s) of individuals benefit the most.
  10. Look also for unexpected outcomes – either positive or negative.

Despite the multiple benefits of co-creation in responding to the “true needs” of the people, discovering those actual needs can be hard if the project milestones or enabling technologies have already been defined in advance or considered “set in stone”. On the other hand, co-creation may become overwhelming if participants are given a complete “blank canvas” with too much free reign to define their own needs, because they tend to be constrained by their existing experiences or knowledge and cannot fully envision their needs for a new technology (outside of what they are already familiar and comfortable with). In other words, co-creation is about finding a sensible balance between having clear goals and enabling various methods or alternatives to reach those goals. It is not necessarily a limitation that project plans specify a well-defined ‘starting point’ for the process, but the risk is that not enough time or resources are devoted to adapting, according to what is discovered during the co-creative process.

Characteristics of the co-creative process of IMPULSE

Considering the challenges mentioned above, in the IMPULSE project proposal we have initially defined a clear motivation, goals, and expected outcomes to be achieved from prototyping and testing our eID solution.

  • First, we will identify the user requirements through several processes, starting with the elicitation based on prior scientific literature and the partners’ own internal processes.
  • Later, we will increasingly refine and augment those requirements through the involvement of the general public in the six case study pilots (once we have a base eID application in place that is sufficiently developed and robust, to collect useful insights from the general public).

The multiple case approach brings additional benefits to the co-creation process since the findings can be compared across different locations and use case contexts. Building upon the use/experiences from the first round of pilots, we will improve the prototype of the eID solution and involve a broader range of stakeholders (such as local experts and Digital Innovation Hubs) in the discussion on how IMPULSE can enable new opportunities for generating more meaningful impact in the long term (e.g., in terms of economic or societal value).

[1] Sanders, E., B. & Stappers, P.J. 2008: Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. Special issue of Co-Design, 4 (1), 5–18.

[2] David, S., Sabiescu, A.G. and Cantoni, L. 2013. “Co-design with communities. A reflection on the literature.” In Proceedings of the 7th International Development Informatics Association Conference, Pretoria, South Africa: IDIA, 152-166.

[3] Steen, M., Manschot, M. and De Koning, N. 2011. “Benefits of co-design in service design projects.” International Journal of Design, 5(2): 53-60.

[4] Ramaswamy, V., & Gouillart, F. 2010: Building the co-creative enterprise. Harvard business review, 88(10), 100-109

[5] Sanders, L., & Simons, G. 2009: A Social Vision for Value Co-creation in Design. Open Source Business Resource, (December 2009).

[6] Tummers L., Voorberg, W. & Bekkers, V., 2015: Ten policy recommendations for co-creation during social Innovation, European Commission publication description, Erasmus University Rotterdam.