Why Brexit And Trump Make Co-Creation More Relevant Than Ever

There has been a lot of talk both in our London office and company-wide about why the UK voted to leave the European Union, and what insights can be gleaned from this for our upcoming US general election. The extrapolation of voting results is pretty known, and includes:

  • People in areas where many residents have college degrees were far more likely to vote “Remain,” particularly in central London, where more than two-thirds of the city population has a bachelor’s degree.
  • Hosting a sizable immigrant population seemed to sway communities against leaving in the European Union, and denser cities tended against “Leave” overall.
  • The younger, unattached professionals of London favor European membership, while the poorer families living outside of major cities eye the continent with considerably more suspicion.

And there are numerous commentators discussing who supports Trump, and why. Consistent voting patterns mean that the so-called liberal cities on the coasts will vote Democrat, and rural white areas won’t. No matter the specifics of the data, one thing most agree on is that both the US and the UK (and wider Europe) are divided.

After the referendum, those of us in London made the rounds, talking to peers, friends, family and other agencies about this division. Common sentiments were heard, such as people in London “living in a bubble,” and “having no clue about anything outside of London.” Factor in that many young people are feeling as if their future was taken from them by older voters, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that London is in the throes of secession.

As a digital agency who prides itself on community engagement, Blue State has to ask itself how much we’re engaging with those outside of our London bubble, outside of our peer groups, and outside of our political leanings. We work on causes we believe in, so should we ignore those who support other causes we don’t believe in? And are we really engaging with all audiences, as opposed to speaking at them?

Assemble, a London-based architecture collective, offer a case study in true community engagement. Their collaboration with residents of the Granby Four Streets area of Toxteth in Liverpool is an example of working with a community towards their best interests, involving them and making them integral to a regeneration scheme. In our industry, we’ve had a word for this for years: co-creation. The alternative would have been a typical top down approach with an architect or developer providing a master scheme imposed on the residents, with a portion for affordable housing (that inevitably ends up being smaller than promised).

Co-creation for a digital agency means involving our clients, our audiences, or both, in coming up with insights, ideas, and solutions. It goes beyond user research in treating people as active participants in defining the future. What we need to ask ourselves is, are we involving people in the solutions that will affect them, versus assuming we know best? Do we test ideas with audiences? Do we make an effort to reach out to communities that may represent different viewpoints, to either validate or disprove our assumptions?

Woman and child on tablet
Ideation with the Chaudhry family, for Natural History Museum

With talk of division on both sides of the pond only increasing by the day, here are ways for strategists, marketers, designers and researchers to start implementing a co-creation mindset:

    1. Be wary of the common adage that any user research is better than none. While we generally agree with this sentiment, the challenge is that we can become lazy and rely on friends and family to essentially validate what we already believe to be true. User research takes effort, whether it’s proper ethnographic research in a community, or a quick phone call with someone in our audience group.
    2. Don’t just validate, create. It’s easy to say that we’re experts, and we know best. But that ignores that each of us operates against unconscious biases and our own backgrounds and cultures. It’s a big world, and we should tap into it for new ideas and perspectives. Hold co-creation workshops, sit in someone’s home, or collaborate with schools or other organisations to brainstorm, sketch, and truly engage people through ideation.
    3. Test and keep testing. We don’t have to be mass broadcasters. Digital means we can reach people with highly relevant messages, and can also measure what resonates with people. There is a humbleness to testing, as it means we don’t know what we can’t measure, and we’re going to let the data lead the way. Find out what people want, and what turns them off, and then use that information to optimise—whether that be a campaign, a message, a website or a design.
    4. Collaborate. With all the best intentions in the world, it’s difficult to step outside of our own areas of knowledge, to read what we don’t normally read, to empathise with different situations. And while spending time with our audiences is one part of addressing this, another is hiring or collaborating with people that bring a different perspective or skillset to what’s already on your team. If you create something for an audience in another region or demographic, then find someone in that region or demographic to work with you as a collaborator.
    5. Follow the golden rule. If you hate receiving pop-up ads, or being retargeted, then why are you telling your clients to do this? By working with our audiences, we might find entirely new ways of marketing and building relationships. The future will evolve, but it’s people who will lead the way. If enough people get annoyed (adblockers anyone?), we’ll be forced to forge new paths—all the more reason to be open-minded and proactive about defining the way forward with people at the centre.