Blog Post

How Values and Mindsets Can Build Strengths-Based Co-Creation – Guest Blog by Aruna Venkatachalam

by | 17 May, 2023 | Blog, Collaborators, Collaboratory Podcast, Resources

In the most recent episode of Collaboratory, “Values in Action”, our guests Aruna Venkatachalam and Dimitrios Papalexis discuss the values which guide their work and how they have put them into practice.

During the episode, Aruna provides insights into the mindsets, tools and approaches that she uses to foster co-creativity for her work at Young Change Agents, so we asked her to write a guest blog post to explore them further.

Aruna Venkatachalam

In the co-creation work I do, I’m both proud and grateful to be able to centre the values I hold close to my heart and act on these through intentional behaviours. Leading with a sense of self-awareness gives me the agency to choose to step into co-creation situations where I or others believe I am able to add value – and just as importantly – step aside where there may be others who can lead or contribute more meaningfully, with a strong narrative for why this is the case. This is a more honest, self-determinative form of power-sharing that facilitates open (and sometimes vulnerable!) conversations. It also allows for fluidity in how codesign unfolds, where it is driven by the strengths of those involved. Trust and time are critical to doing this well.

From a practitioner perspective, the VIA Survey of Character Strengths is a fantastic resource for building such self-awareness. This tool has been developed by the University of Pennsylvania and also gathers data points about how a person’s strengths sit amongst the millions of respondents who have participated to-date, plus, the relative commonality or rarity of strengths. This lends an unbiased practicality and data-driven lens to self-aware practice, and can be a useful catalyst for community conversations when building co-creation teams. It may also validate how, for example, community leaders hold empathic lived-experience insights that are highly unique and important. As another example, in a co-design team of diverse individuals or organisations: collectively identifying and clearly articulating shared values and mindsets like empathy, curiosity, social inclusivity, cultural safety and growth-oriented thinking, can translate to agreed mechanisms for learning from and alongside each other in the practice of co-creation. 

I’ve found another way to both build and demonstrate collective values and mindsets is through creating safe, welcoming spaces for community codesign. A strong understanding of the values and mindsets we bring allows practitioners to articulate intentions for how those spaces will be used and how the process of codesign/ co-creation will continue. I was introduced to the Weave and Splice card set by Lateesha Jeffrey from Waves of Change Consulting. These cards intend to facilitate safe, engaging conversation spaces for folk who may not have engaged in codesign or co-creation before; or may question whether they even belong or can contribute meaningfully. I have found these cards help to open spaces for important lived-experience conversations, which then help articulate shared values systems and attitudes. 

In working alongside First Nations leaders, building a shared mindset about why and how we co-create is critical to building trust and momentum around the outcomes we are striving for together. I have found the 8 Ways of Aboriginal Learning an invaluable visual resource for articulating a common set of values around the ‘how’ of co-creation. These 8 Ways are described as, ‘eight interconnected pedagogies involving narrative-driven learning, visualised learning processes, hands-on/reflective techniques, use of symbols/metaphors, land-based learning, indirect/synergistic logic, modelled/scaffolded genre mastery, and connectedness to community.’ The creators are careful to share that this is not a prescriptive model and is intended to be adapted based on community context and cultural nuance.

As organisations ultimately consist of individuals, this kind of self-awareness can translate to developing organisational frameworks that step out foundational principles (values and mindsets) of that organisation’s approach to co-creation. Whether an individual or organisation, I believe it’s important to formulate a strong understanding of the values, strengths and intent we bring, then facilitate a mutual understanding with the individuals/ organisations we partner with to unpack how together, these will build collective impact. Such self (and organisational) awareness hopefully leads to both acknowledging and dismantling the inequitable power structures of which we are all a part, in a more meaningful way.

To hear more from Aruna and other featured collaborative practitioners, who discuss how their values influence their work and share other useful frameworks and tools for fostering co-creativity, be sure to check out the episode of Collaboratory, “Values in Action”.