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Address Barriers to Implementation, During Ideation

This guide is built on practice, designed for people who are actively applying these principles within their work. These reflective exercises provide space to exercise co-design concepts, to appreciate prior successes and failures, and adapt proactively.


For the following questions, think back to a recent project—or think forward to an upcoming one. If the process used co-design, that's great—but if it didn't, don't worry: imagine a hypothetical version of the project, in which stakeholders were more involved.

This is not a form: Your responses below are for your own reflection and will not be submitted or saved here. Use the text boxes or print the worksheet to sketch out your answers.

Our possible barriers to implementing a product or service are…

The most pressing or top barrier from the above list is…

To address these barriers, we will need to…

Focusing on this lens throughout co-design will enable us to…

Reminder: If you’d like to save your answers, copy/paste them to your computer or write them on a printed worksheet.

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On its surface, the rallying cry of co-design is both radical and straightforward: include stakeholders in the creative process, and smart, responsive, sustainable initiatives will follow. But predictably, implementing idea can be a lot more complicated, especially in the long-term: you need buy-in from stakeholders, you need stronger tools for getting feedback, organizational leadership needs to feel comfortable ceding decision making power to stakeholders—to name a few. The good news is that co-design—when facilitated appropriately—can address these gaps. Over the course of our work, we have observed five dominant barriers between co-design and implementation—and five “lenses” through which a process might be arranged to address them.

Lens: Enabling Future Collaboration


Stakeholders and implementers lack the tools or relationships to work together effectively, but will need to do so as an initiative launches and adapts.


To create a foundation for working together in the future, through developing individuals’ process awareness and skills, and testing/improving organizational tools for collaborating with outsiders.

When to Use it

Go for this lens when collaboration during implementation is essential. Put more emphasis on how participants work together in co-design to build shared language, tools, and relationships that can carry over afterward. Beware not to assume everyone will have the resources or motivation to continue to collaborate intensively.

Lens: Organizing a Community


A key network of stakeholders is currently fragmented or does not work together, but a coordinated, organized network of stakeholders will need to champion a co-designed solution, circulate it among their constituents, or advocate for a complementary policy.


To connect or stabilize a community around an issue, through relationship-building, collective agenda-setting, and other opportunities to start working together

When to Use it

Go for this lens when your initiative will rely on a strong community to advocate and disseminate outputs, or when co-design can provide a rallying point for otherwise disjointed stakeholders. Beware not to rush this process (community building is a long-term project) and value the informal events and exchanges that bolster human relationships.

Lens: Building Buy-In


A specific group(s) of stakeholders co-designed solution are frequently excluded from decisionmaking or generally skeptical of solutions that have either unfamiliar or top-down origins, but they will need to play a key role or advocate for its uptake among peer implementers or beneficiaries in order for it to succeed.


To strengthen participants’ investment in the problem area, emerging solutions from co-design, and/or the collaborative decisionmaking process itself.

When to Use it

Go for this lens when key stakeholders will play big roles in implementation, when leaders are skeptical of an approach, or in messy, hierarchical environments where operational actors are often handed mandates without their input. Invite participants to be a bigger part of the co-design process planning itself. Beware of over-emphasizing the perspectives of leaders whose buy-in is necessary.

Lens: Exchanging Skills


Stakeholders lack certain skills, or those skills are concentrated within a different group, but an initiative requires distributed expertise or higher proficiency among certain stakeholders


To build knowledge around issue areas or technical expertise, through exchange among participants or structured training from outside facilitators.

When to Use it

Go for this lens when thinking through highly technical problems or solutions, and in environments where distributed actors will need to be making decisions or maintaining an initiative. Use exchanging skills as a prompt to get stakeholders working across silos, and beware how long it can take to reach the proficiency required.

Lens: Distributing Decisionmaking


The power to make decisions is concentrated in administrators or executives, but certain stakeholders will need to make timely decisions about the evolution of an initiative to help it adapt or meet its stated goals.


To enable stakeholders to make adjustments or give directions to an initiative, building trust among traditional decisionmakers, and increasing their willingness to distribute responsibility

When to Use it

Go for this lens in situations where local contexts have big differences in how they experience and address problems, or when addressing a very complex problem in an hierarchical context. Emphasize the rationale for distributing decisionmaking, and understand what reservations participants have about sharing power. Beware the sensitive nature of this lens, and put a lot of care into how you facilitate your process.

Want a quick refresher on the theory? Check out the whole argument here