Six Essential Elements of Cross-Sectorial Co-Creation: Unleashing Collective Intelligence


Cross-sectorial co-creation is a powerful approach when tackling complex challenges and fostering innovation. According to Angelo Vermeulen, NDPC key-note at the NDPC Online Cross-Innovation Session (1 June 2023), there are six key elements that he has identified as crucial for successful co-creation endeavors. By bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds, fields, and with varying expertise, co-creation allows for the blending of ideas, perspectives, and experiences, leading to the unlocking of collective intelligence. This article is a summary of insights presented by Angelo. 

About Angelo Vermeulen 

Angelo works on bio-inspired concepts for interstellar exploration at Delft University of Technology, with a specific focus on self-replicating architecture and biological life support. He has a deep interest in complex system science and is fascinated by principles of self-organisation, emergence, and evolution. 

In 2009 Angelo co-founded SEADS (Space Ecologies Art and Design) – an international transdisciplinary collective of artists, scientists, engineers, and activists. Its goal is to reshape the future through critical inquiry and hands-on experimentation. Among other interventions and activities, SEADS sent its Ēngines of Ēternity art project twice to the International Space Station, in 2019 and 2020. 

In 2013 Angelo was crew commander of the first NASA-funded HI-SEAS Mars simulation in Hawai’i. For the last ten years, he has been collaborating with the European Space Agency’s MELiSSA program on bioregenerative life support for space. He advises several international space companies and applies his background in space technology to foster innovation in global food production and food security.  

Most recently he has taken up the position of CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at SpaceBorn United, a company dedicated to advancing human reproduction in space.‍ From being an external advisor since its inception, he is now overseeing all technology development at the company. SpaceBorn United’s current priority is crafting an IVF-in-space incubator with a brilliant team of international scientists and engineers.  Read more about his work here. 

About Co-Creation 

During the session, Angelo emphasized the importance of defining co-creation precisely. It goes beyond just “being creative together”; it involves allowing individuals with an interest or passion in a particular domain— even if they are not experts— to contribute their input. The key is to take these non-expert perspectives seriously and integrate them into the design process. This approach requires setting up a psychological culture that encourages participants to shed territorial attitudes towards their expertise and embrace the value of diverse input. 

1. Storytelling (reiterate) 

Angelo highlighted storytelling as a crucial tool in cross-sectorial co-creation. As participants navigate complex and layered crossover situations, it’s easy to lose focus. A well-crafted narrative that highlights the project’s goals, values, and desired outcomes can help keep everyone aligned. Regularly revisiting and refining the story based on collective input ensures that the group remains on track and engaged throughout the co-creation process. 

2. Seek out diversity (craft it) 

According to Angelo, diversity is more than just a buzzword in co-creation. Intentionally crafting diversity in teams, going beyond disciplinary boundaries to include a mix of cultures, ages, and experiences, is essential. Embracing diversity brings fresh perspectives and alternative viewpoints, sparking innovative solutions and preventing groupthink.  

3. Start straightaway (no endless talking) 

Angelo’s experience in projects like Biomodd underscores the importance of starting the co-creation process with hands-on collaboration. Participants should jump into action early on, generating creative energy and fostering a different mindset. This approach enables a quick exploration of ideas, prototypes, and designs, allowing for rapid progress and iteration.   

I think that there’s sometimes just too many Post-its and too many rountable sessions, and then you just need to take a screwdriver and some tape and start prototyping and designing stuff, ” Angelo emphasized.

4. Radical equality (guard it)

Dominant voices can stifle the contribution of others in co-creation efforts. According to Angelo ensuring radical equality in the group’s dynamics is crucial. Facilitators need to actively create a culture where everyone’s input is valued and heard. By making space for less vocal participants and giving them an opportunity to express their ideas, a collaborative environment can thrive. This approach to equalizing voices requires sensitivity and a conscious effort to ensure that all perspectives are considered. 

5. Culture of trust (no fear of failiure) 

A culture of trust is the backbone of effective cross-sectorial co-creation. By embracing failure, fostering psychological safety, promoting collaborative decision-making, encouraging open communication, and providing supportive feedback, participants can engage in a creative and dynamic process where diverse perspectives thrive. A culture of trust encourages collaboration and the free flow of innovative ideas. 

6. Leadership (fluid) 

Effective co-creation, as discussed in the session, requires facilitators to adopt a facilitating leadership style. Facilitators need to be receptive to the group’s emerging processes, striking a balance between guiding the team when needed and stepping back to allow organic collaboration and self-organization. This fluid leadership approach demands constant adjustment and sensitivity to the group dynamics.  

Drawing from Angelo Vermeulen’s insights in the NDPC Cross-Innovation Session, these six elements offer a solid foundation for practitioners and facilitators engaged in cross-sectorial co-creation. By embracing diversity, encouraging radical equality, and fostering a culture of trust and hands-on collaboration, organizations and communities can harness the collective intelligence of their participants to achieve impactful and transformative outcomes. Angelo’s experiences and recommendations provide valuable guidance for navigating the complexities of cross-sectorial co-creation, making it a powerful tool for driving innovation and positive change.