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Nine tips for making co-innovation work even better

In a previous blog post we talked about co-innovation – what it is and when it’s most appropriate to use. Here are nine tips for making it work even better in your change project. So this is part two to help you more effectively use the principles behind the co-innovation approach.

If you haven’t already read that post, then you should probably do so! We’ve also got an episode about reflexive monitoring – a role that is key to successful co-innovation. 

Just a reminder that co-innovation is a systems-based approach to facilitating practice change. It means considering the wider environment around the problem and involving a range of people – a greater range than we might be used to thinking about – because this is about co-development. Co-development in understanding a problem and co-development in designing solutions. 

There are nine principles of co-innovation and we’re going to take you through each of them. These principles are based on Suzanne Nederlof’s work in the Netherlands, and we’ll put a link to her work in the show notes. They were adapted and used in the Primary Innovation programme, which we were both involved with a few years ago.

The first principle is to take the time to understand the problem from many different viewpoints. Don’t rush in and try to solve the obvious problem. It might just be a symptom, so look for other underlying conditions that need to be addressed first. We need to build a shared understanding, so it’s good to go slow at the beginning and build a solid foundation. We need to keep our minds open and be prepared to consider a variety of solutions.

The second principle is to be inclusive – we need to make sure everybody who has a vested interest in the problem is present. Don’t just go for the obvious ones, think laterally about who else it might be good to include, especially those who thoroughly understand the problem. Remember to include the policy makers and those who might try to block possible solutions. If you can include them from the beginning then they will have ownership of the solution.

The third principle is to engage with all the different sources of knowledge and value them all. You never know where the new insights are going to come from. Take the time to listen to all the different perspectives, as everyone brings something slightly different to the table. Respect other people’s views and ideas, and avoid making value judgements. Politely challenge long-held views, and don’t treat them as fact, unless they’ve been verified.  

Number four is strive to learn from each other by actively listening and trying to understand new perspectives. We need to be open to new ideas and be willing to let our own understanding evolve. Active listening is critical here, to ensure that we are truly hearing and understanding other people’s perspectives. 

Number five is keep sight of the shared vision. We need to agree on the causes of the problem and work together to develop the desired outcome of the project. As an example, at the start of your meetings, remind people about the agreed focus of the project. As Simon Sinek says, start with the why! 

Principle number six for co-innovation is be honest, open and constructive in our interactions with the other participants. We’re in this together and we need the collective wisdom of the group to solve complex problems. Otherwise we could have fixed it individually a long time ago! 

Number seven is be aware of the wider context of the problem and keep an eye out for any changes which may occur. Other factors beyond our project may influence the situation, such as a natural disaster or changes in trade barriers.  

Number eight is highlighting the need to be flexible and adaptable. The way we work together and the roles we play may change over time!

And finally, the ninth principle for co-innovation is that we need to stick with the co-innovation process despite the frustrations it may bring. At times it may feel uncomfortable and setbacks are bound to happen. No one said it would be fun or easy. It may well feel we’re going too slowly, but keep the end in mind.  

A bonus tip is to not to try and retrofit the whole co-innovation approach to an existing project. You might apply one or two of the principles, but trying to change the overall project approach half-way through is probably doomed to fail.

So there you have it – nine tips for co-innovation! Now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below this blog post and let us know whether you have tried using a co-innovation approach with any of your projects. We don’t want this to just be a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts with us! 

Thanks folks for reading this Enablers of change blog post. Remember to subscribe if you’d like to know when new episodes are available. 


  1. Primary Innovation project:
  2. Using an innovation systems approach to achieve remarkable change, YouTube video with Laurens Klerkx 
  3. Nederlof, S., M. Wongtschowski, F. van der Lee (eds). (2011). Putting heads together. Agricultural Innovation platforms in practice. Bulletin 396, KIT publishers
  4. Link to download the “Over the fence” book:  
  5. Primary Innovation webinar recording of Jeff Coutts talking about the nine principles
  6. Link to all the Primary Innovation webinar recordings:
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Graham HArris
Graham HArris
4 years ago

Thanks Denise and John – a clear set of principles presented for the Co-innovation approach. Keep up the good work.

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