Effective Co-creation: Lessons from Pedagogies of Inclusion Project

April 2, 2024


Lucy Wakiaga

Associate Research Scientist


The Pedagogies of Inclusion: The nexus between gender, pedagogy, and STEM in Higher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa project seeks to understand the limitations that impact young women and other similarly marginalized populations from exploring Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses. Research shows that most countries in Africa have below 20% share of women who graduate from STEM education. This does not in anyway speak to the ability of women, rather sheds light on other underlying issues that this project hopes to uncover and address. Below, we share some lessons from the inception phase of this project as we engaged with stakeholders in virtual co-creation workshops.

Identify your stakeholders

We first began by reiterating our project’s research boundary, which was on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)) courses. We then defined our geographical boundary: Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Since the project is about undergraduate female students in higher education institutions offering STEM courses, our potential stakeholders would consist of higher education institutions, gender departments in higher education, research organizations, and ministries of education. We divided  SSA into three regions- Eastern, Southern, and Western- to allow us to reach the potential stakeholders more easily, and then sought organizations with regional or continental convening power within the SSA research and higher education ecosystem. We identified the Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) for Eastern Africa, the Southern African Regional Universities Research Association (SARUA) for Southern Africa, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) for Western Africa, specifically the Francophone countries, and the Association of African Universities (AAU) for a more continental reach.

Breaking the ice – Build the relationships in person

We initiated this step by reaching out to point persons within the four convening organizations. We created a one-page summary of the project to facilitate our initial and subsequent engagements. These initial face-to-face meetings were important for engaging with the point persons in a relaxed manner, focusing on relationship-building rather than project formalities. Sharing the project one-pager ahead of the meeting allowed for more fruitful engagement: light on content but heavy on relationship-building. The meetings often concluded with requests for formal engagement, prompting us to send formal letters to the heads of their institutions, signed by our Director of Research. This formalized process allowed the institutions’ heads to appoint the point persons as our engagement partners.

Formal engagements

The successive meetings involved setting up dates for the co-creation workshops. However, arriving at those dates was quite a journey, requiring a lot of patience and flexibility on the part of both parties: the project team and the convening organizations’ point persons. We learned that organizations fiercely guard their members against potentially unwarranted engagements. Seeking clarification during engagements clears the air and nurtures trust, respect, and confidence in the interactions.

Preparations for the co-creation workshops were quite engaging, with many moving parts. We had to consider each region’s unique needs. For example, ADEA’s West Africa stakeholders are mainly French-speaking, so we had to ensure we had translators during meetings. 

Get your team on the move

Working closely with our Policy Engagement and Communication (PEC) team, we created registration forms targeting stakeholders in each region. An interesting thing that we had to keep an eye on was branding. Our registration forms had to match the branding guidelines. We had to use the right colors and position the logos in the right succession, honoring the contribution of each partner organization. Placing a logo inappropriately can damage collaborative relationships, sometimes beyond repair. Indeed, branding is key! We also created bios for facilitators, which helped in making introductions during the workshops. 

Make it official

We had to write formal invitation letters to the stakeholders, inviting them to the virtual co-creation workshop. In that letter, we included the link to the registration form and the Zoom link. With the fourth convening lead, we realized we could have included both links in the invitation letter! Hindsight is always 20:20!

Once the letter had been signed by our Director of Research, we shared it with each organization’s point person, who then shared it with their stakeholders in the manner that best fits them.  Some organizations, for instance, shared their invitation letter on their X page, website, or emailing list. Others shared a list of potential stakeholders with us and had us email them directly. Other organizations opted to recreate our registration form in their template, set up their own Zoom links, and invited us in. 

Allowing our collaborating organizations the flexibility to disseminate the letter nurtured warm collaborative relationships because it was an indication that we respected their space and ways of doing things.

It was such an adrenaline rush to see registrations begin to trickle in! This gave us hope that all our hard work over the course of four months was finally paying off and that the virtual co-creation workshops were finally going to take place. We hosted three virtual co-creation workshops with the final one coming up very soon.

Lessons learned

Establishing rapport with potential convening leads and their organizations is time-consuming, especially for engagements that involve the organization’s senior management leadership. So, planning for it should be done well ahead of the actual start of the project. It is also important to think of alternative persons in cases where the organization’s leader will not be available.

Following up with point persons is key. Respectful persistence and a positive demeanor go a long way in breaking the ice and facilitating and sustaining the engagements.


Since The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) is passionate about impact, it is important to involve the Policy Engagement and Communications (PEC) team from the beginning of the project to support strategic communications and visibility needs.

Remember, organizing a virtual co-creation workshop is not just creating a Google registration form and setting up a Zoom link. It has budgetary implications, for instance, translation services, paying for Zoom subscriptions, and having reliable internet connectivity.

Hopefully, these few Do’s can kick your stakeholder engagement a notch higher. Good luck!