By Cazzie Reyes, Social Media Intern for the IHTI

Part of the frustration with starting and sustaining anti-trafficking student groups on college campuses is maintaining participation. Typically, these groups start with a small gathering of people who care about the issue and wish to raise awareness in their school community. The reality is, there are many student organizations that aim for the same goals: building support for their cause and increasing membership. So, what can make an anti-trafficking group stand out in a sea of extracurricular activities? The answer may lie in the way the organization is run, rather than the content addressed by the group. In many cases, student group participation becomes a cycle of meetings, publicizing initiatives, and hosting events. This particular structure is almost automatic and usually executive board-driven. This is not to say that the group members would not be able to contribute but rather that those opportunities usually don’t come until people have made a commitment to join the group. Preventing this can be as easy as using the process of co-creation. Co-creation is a way to involve people in the creation and growth of an anti-trafficking organization from the beginning.

Co-creation is exactly what it sounds like: creating with others. It is a way of thinking. It is also a problem solving method that allows policies, issues, solutions, and projects to be centered on the needs of stakeholders and users rather than best practice models. Through co-creation, firms and active customers (in the case of student groups, the student leaders/organizers and potential members) are able to come together to share insights and resources that may later lead to new ideas for engagement and activism. The outline below provides one of many ways to co-create.


What is the problem that the student group is dealing with? Whether it is sustaining membership or attracting more event attendees, the answer may seem clear. A dream scenario might be having a 100-member strong anti-trafficking group. However, these answers are limited in scope. What co-creation requires is for the group leaders to step back and seek out answers from the stakeholders themselves. The empathy phase may involve going to the student activities office and asking the administrative assistant what he or she sees groups struggling with the most. Another idea would be to invite other student leaders for coffee and have an informal discussion about their organizations. Striking up a conversation with people at lunch and asking them what they’re interested in and why they’ve joined certain groups is another option. Sometimes, there needs to be less talking and more observing: go to another group’s meeting and see how people are reacting or not reacting. What starts discussion? How are students engaging or not engaging? Why are people motivated to attend the meeting? What initiatives are gaining momentum on campus? Why are those particular ones so popular?


There will be a mass load of information after the empathy phase. From there, these notes can be grouped and organized into saying, doing, thinking, and feeling categories. The “saying” category is a space for the impactful insights that people had. “Doing” includes the ways that people acted or reacted to certain situations. “Thinking” and “feeling” are not as clear cut because they are deductions from what people said and what they did not say. It is only after the empathy phase and the define phase that student leaders get a better idea of what makes people tick and what their problems or dream scenarios might really be.


Once a problem statement or dream scenario is formed, the group’s student leaders can start to brainstorm ideas on how to address the issue or bring about “the dream” end result. From here, the group picks three to four main ideas that they can bring back to the stakeholders for feedback (e.g., students, student activities office personnel, group advisors).


At this point, the group organizers need to prepare for an actual co-creation session. A co-creation session is a workshop by which student leaders and potential members can give, get, and develop ideas amongst each other. Typical preparation arrangements involve assigning roles (e.g., facilitators, note takers, and floaters), gathering materials, arranging logistics, inviting participants with different backgrounds (typically small focus groups of no more than 10 people), setting an agenda, and creating an open-minded environment.


Every co-creation session is different, and there is no “right” way to run one. Instead, there are general guidelines and tips to consider. They are as follows:

  1. Start with an ice breaker, and foster an energy that encourages people to be more comfortable sharing their input.
  2. Clearly state the purpose of the session and the agenda for the day.
  3. Plan small break out activities that get people up on their feet. Creativity tends to flow when people aren’t sitting and when they’re given physical materials to work with (e.g., colorful post-its, drawing boards).
  4. As organizers, be ready to let go of “pet ideas” and be flexible. Follow the natural flow of the discussion without losing sight of the session’s purpose.
  5. Concisely and clearly recap ideas.
  6. Keep the session to about two hours.
  7. Thank and follow up with participants.


From the feedback and ideas generated at the co-creation meeting, the student leaders then have the task of selecting the most plausible, attractive solutions and implementing them. The end result may be a different way of facilitating meetings or a pilot action campaign. The biggest difference is that these end results were largely influenced and developed by the potential members themselves, not the group’s leaders.

Co-creation is utilized in a variety of industries. To get a clearer picture of what it means and what it can look like, visit the following links:

Co-creating with civil society:

Student engagement and co-creation:

The five guiding principles of co-creation:

Co-creation class course: