Co-Production & Co-Creation Part 2: Traditional & Open Authorizing Environments

In Denver Public Schools, I had the opportunity to work with a tremendous set of folks to “break the cycle” on turnaround.  DPS has identified previous turnaround efforts as stalled or challenged due to three factors: planning/lead time, community involvement and strong designs.

In three schools, we hired two principals.  One was the interim principal, hired to lead the school through the first year of the turnaround process.  The other leader, dubbed the “Year 0 Leader”, was to be the new permanent principal of the school. Over the course of the first year the leader was charged with building community design team for a new model, engaging families and community and hiring a new staff.  

In each of the cases, formal and informal authorizing was needed.  The school board and DPS central administration had to formally approve the process and final plans.  The Teacher’s Association had to be notified in advance.  External stakeholders with informal authority were informed through multiple meetings to explain the process.  A group of concerned community advocacy groups were brought in early and often to appraise them throughout.

How did we manage the external environment to authorize these two turnaround schools? How did we build a bigger group of co-constructors and co-creators? This post is about how to think about these concepts in the broader frame.

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Co-Creation & Co-Production Part 1: Defining Terms

Part one of a four-part series on co-creation & co-production

An emergent and trendy term in education discourse, especially in family engagement spaces, are the ideas of “co-creation” and “co-production.” Some have even intoned that this work is the next generation of education work.  It is the work “to do with” rather than “to do for” or “to do to", and integral to the Open System.

It’s a big idea, fraught with challenges yet called for in our current education history and moment.  For too much of the past century of education improvement initiatives (catalogued by Jal Mehta in his book, The Allure of Order) the work of reform has been too often top-down or driven by technocrats inspired to impose a system upon others.  While there are genuine exceptions to this rule (and sometimes examples folks claim lack of input are actually embedded deeply in community participation) co-production and co-creation of education systems has not been a priority over the past century.

The Open System rejects this course of action entirely. It values open public processes, democratic governance and the merging of perspectives and power as the way to guide the system toward a better end. Built into the Guiding Principles (indeed, it is listed as Principal 1!) of the Open System site is the idea “Co-Creation & Co-Production In All Things.” I’ve been encouraged as other education advocates have begun to speak about co-creation and co-production more often, and realized I a piece that lays the theoretical and practical groundwork would be the right way to start.

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