Supporting public systems and communities in crisis: The critical role of co-creation in implementation practice

April 16, 2020

As we seek to support public agencies in implementing mission critical work during the pandemic, we are reminded of a fundamental approach to effective implementation practice – co-creation. Co-creation involves the authentic engagement of stakeholders, community partners, and families in planning for implementation. This includes choosing implementation strategies that are contextualized and tailored to the strengths and needs of the service system, practitioners who deliver services, and families who engage with services.  

Implementation support should always be delivered through a partnership – rather than a top-down approach or outside expert model. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to use a co-creative approach with systems to gather diverse perspectives on how to address acute challenges while building the system’s capacity for longer-term planning. Co-creation includes a series of important skills and competencies, and those of us providing implementation support may find ourselves relying on them more intentionally during this worrisome time:

  • Co-learning – entering the implementation space as co-learners seeking to understand the problems faced by public agencies and communities from their perspective and creating space for new ideas to emerge to address these challenges
  • Brokering relationships – connecting disconnected stakeholders to each other, knowing that trusting relationships are at the center of effective change, especially when responding to a crisis 
  • Addressing power differentials – ensuring that families and communities are not subject to top-down implementation strategies that don’t meet their needs in this crisis 
  • Co-design – building implementation strategies with those who will deliver or experience the strategies 
  • Tailoring Support – dropping our plans for implementation support pre-pandemic and asking communities and public agencies what they need now and how much support is helpful without being burdensome

As conditions and contexts for implementation continue to change rapidly and become more complex, our role as implementation practitioners is to be as responsive as possible. While these skills and competencies for implementation practice should always guide our day-to-day work, we will hopefully learn something during this time that will ensure a co-creative approach is used now and in a post-pandemic world. 

Click here to listen to a brief conversation on co-creation and how we have been using the skills and competencies noted above in our own work during the pandemic. 

For more information on co-creation and implementation practice:

Principles and Competencies for Implementation Support Practitioners
Co-Creating the Conditions to Sustain the Use of Research Evidence in Public Child Welfare
Co-Creative Technical Assistance

Allison Metz is Director of the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), a Senior Research Scientist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, a Research Professor at the School of Social Work, and Adjunct Professor at the School of Global Public Health at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sarah Verbiest is Director of the Jordan Institute for Families in the School of Social Work and Executive Director of the Center for Maternal and Infant Health in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Todd Jensen is a Family Research and Engagement Specialist in the Jordan Institute for Families and a Research Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Amanda Farley is an Implementation Associate at the National Implementation Research Network at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.