Wellbeing co-design and co-practice

When you are deciding how you want to approach your wellbeing journey, it can be tempting to walk down a path that somebody else ready-made for you. However, your highest potential for wellbeing arises when you walk your own path alongside an inclusive community of people that are walking together.

At cohere, we help schools and organisations create inclusive cultures where people can walk their own path to wellbeing using a co-design and co-practice approach.

What is wellbeing co-design and co-practice?

Very simply, wellbeing co-design means designing wellbeing curriculum, strategies, and policies with people, rather than for them. Wellbeing co-practice means supporting the emergence of engaged communities of practice and empowering the communities to develop more inclusive and holistic practices over time, instead of standardising a set of strategies or procedures.
In more detail, wellbeing co-design and co-practice is a collaborative process where every person in a community develops their own approach to wellbeing, and they also contribute to the development of their community’s collective approach. This process is supported by an experienced facilitator that helps to establish an inclusive and participatory way of working together. External experts and wellbeing practitioners are sometimes invited to work alongside the community and support them in their learning and practice. However, the power to make decisions is distributed between the people who are putting their bodies on the line and will be impacted by the outcome of those decisions.
Another aspect of co-design and co-practice is that it centres wellbeing justice, meaning it engages in the often uncomfortable work of reckoning with power, privilege, and inequality, and is committed to transforming systems of injustice that have been internalised in the community. Co-design and co-practice also acknowledges the widespread impacts of trauma, and addresses these impacts by holding space for healing and integration, and by restoring relationships wherever unresolved conflict or indifference may linger.
When well-practised, co-design and co-practice empowers each person to walk their own authentic path to wellbeing alongside everyone else in their community. The process of walking together also gives rise to a collective path that is informed by all of the individual paths and is an expression of the community’s collective wisdom.
Co-design and co-practice can be contrasted with more top-down approaches, where a school or organisation might bring in the experts, pick an off-the-shelf wellbeing model, and design a training program for their people around that model. In this approach, the power is held by the experts or leaders that make decisions about other people’s learning and practice of wellbeing. The community is typically not included in the conversation around which models and strategies they will learn and use. Internalised systems of injustice are rarely acknowledged or addressed. Nor are the widespread impacts of trauma on people and communities. As a result, top-down approaches tend to expect people to walk down a ready-made path, and the lack of community engagement prevents people from doing the deeper work of making their own path as they walk it.

What does a wellbeing co-design and co-practice process look like?

Cohere uses a four-stage approach to wellbeing co-design and co-practice that is grounded in the work of Margret Wheatley, and it also draws on aspects of Theory U by Otto Scharmer and the Presencing Institute. The four stages are invite, connect, nourish, and illuminate. In more detail:
Invite. Co-design and co-practice begins by inviting every person in a school or organisation to be part of an inclusive community of practice, where they will walk their own pathway to wellbeing, and they will also contribute to the emergence of their communities collective pathway. In this community of practice, all voices and all perspectives on wellbeing are welcomed and valued. This includes voices and perspectives from within the community, and it also includes voices and perspectives from beyond the community, such as the voice of nature and the perspectives of external wellbeing practitioners. At this stage, wellbeing leaders take on the role of host, and they focus on how they can extend an invitation that is as inclusive as possible. Wellbeing leaders also focus on identifying and removing any barriers to participation that may be present in the community.
During the first stage, key terms such as “co-design” and “co-practice” are described and the relationship between them is explored. Here, co-design refers to a community of people that are designing their own approach to wellbeing alongside one another. What is being co-designed here is the wellbeing curriculum, models, and strategies people will learn and practice, along with the principles, processes, and policies that underlie the approach. Co-practice refers to a community of people that are practising wellbeing together. What is being co-practiced here is a diverse ecology of practices, processes, and strategies that build wellbeing for all.
Connect. The second stage focuses on building authentic relationships and providing multiple ways for people to connect with one another within trauma-informed and power-literate environments. This includes events and gatherings where people can share knowledge, experiences, and areas of interest, and they can also have courageous conversations about the ways their community may have internalised systems of injustice that affect wellbeing. These events and conversations help the participants to discover which pathways to wellbeing are most alive in their community, and they also help to uncover opportunities for healing and transformation. At this stage, wellbeing leaders take on the role of community connector, and they also take on the role of listener, listening to what each person says and also listening for what commonalities and differences they notice emerging across the community as a whole.
As authentic relationships develop, the participants naturally self-organise into a diverse ecosystem of practice communities that are learning the wellbeing models, strategies, and principles that are important to them. This ecosystem of practice communities also gives rise to a collective pathway to wellbeing that is greater than the sum of the individual pathways. What is special about this collective pathway is that it is an emergent property of the community, not the individuals. But once a collective pathway emerges, it reveals new paradigms and it infuses new possibilities into all of the individual pathways. In other words, the emergence of a collective pathway changes the way each person sees their individual approach to wellbeing, and it also has a profound influence on the practices they seek to learn and implement in their lives. And the thing about this collective pathway is that it cannot be known or predicted in advance. It is an emergent property of the community and it remains unknown until the participants come together to create it.
Nourish. Once an ecosystem of practice communities begins to form, attention shifts to nourishing everyone with the resources they need to co-design their approach to wellbeing, implement their practices alongside one another, and develop more inclusive and holistic practices over time. This nourishment can come in many forms, including teachers, mentors, trainings, equipment, time, and money. Alongside this nourishment, the practice communities are provided with ongoing opportunities to progress their learning, experiment with new practices, and share their experiences. At this stage, wellbeing leaders take on the role of nourisher, and they also take on the role of designer, with a focus on renewing the community’s wellbeing models, curriculum, and principles based on what is emerging.
Illuminate. The final stage helps the participants and the community as a whole see and evaluate what practices they have been able to embody, and what the opportunities are to open up to a more inclusive and holistic practice. This is facilitated by sharing stories both internally within the school or organisation and also externally at events and conferences. Here, wellbeing leaders take on the role of illuminator, elevating and sharing the stories that reflect the rich diversity of what the school or organisation has been able to achieve. This stage also feeds back into the first stage and can be used as a way to build the trust and relatedness necessary to deepen the space of possibility on your next cycle through the co-design and co-practice process.
In many ways, this shift in approach, from designing for to designing with, and from practising self-care strategies to practising wellbeing together in inclusive communities, represents a deep shift in approach for many schools and organisations. There are many nuances to both learn and unlearn, and it takes a certain level of experience and literacy to understand what this process looks like in practice, and to be able to facilitate it for a community. At cohere, we have the experience to support your community through this four stage process, and help you learn the art of co-design and co-practice, so that your community can lead this approach one day.

Let’s collaborate

Is your school or organisation committed to creating an inclusive culture where every person is empowered to walk their own path to wellbeing? Book a call with Ash to explore how we might be able to support you with taking a co-design and co-practice approach.
Supporting Pioneering Leaders as Communities of Practice by Margret Wheatley
Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale by Margret Wheatley and Debora Frieze
The Essentials of Theory U by Otto Scharmer
Design Justice Principles by the Design Justice Network
Beyond Sticky Notes by Kelly Ann McKercher