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60-seconds with John Isitt, Founding Director of Partners in Creation

Why did you set up Partners in Creation?

Putting people at the heart of decision-making really does lead to better decisions. All the evidence we’ve experienced during the 12 years at Resonant, demonstrated to us that “people led change” is the key to better results for our clients.

It’s why at Partners we focus on gaining insight into people’s needs and behaviours through qualitative research and the application of co-creation techniques, which enable people to collaborate with our clients to invent better ways of doing things.

Is it realistic to expect non-technical people to create solutions to technical problems?

Absolutely. This may be counter-intuitive to ‘expert’ audiences, but the cliché “trust the process” is key to this. As the deputy direct of the Cabinet Office, Andrea Siodmok, points out, “In the early stages of idea development, creativity does not need to be specialist; it can be inclusive, open and participatory, involving co-design” (1).

Our challenge was to develop a systematic methodology that could work with naïve and non-technical people, was quick and inclusive for all people (including ‘hard to reach’ groups), and which reliably delivers innovation that meets the purpose of our clients. We get this in our Action Based Co-creation workshops. ABC for short!

We’ve used the ABC methodology successfully to develop strategy and policy, new and improved products and services, and population scale behaviour change. The subjects we’ve applied it to, range from mental health, alcohol consumption, sexual health and primary care.

What is the story behind the name Partners in Creation?

Amongst all the great stuff we’ve learnt over the past few decades, we were reading polymath Prof Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and his emissary, about the brain and its impact on the world around us. There’s a great line in the book: “The attention we pay actually alters the world, we are literally partners in creation”. With years of empirical evidence on what brings about behaviour change and the inventiveness of ‘customers’, this line resonated with us.

Why, after 12 years of award-winning work with Resonant, did you decide to set up Partners in Creation?

Although Resonant continues to do great marketing work, increasingly over the past 12 years we realised that long-lasting change and improvement came about when it was led directly by the people most affected, whether they were patients, service users, residents, front line staff or other stakeholders.

It wasn’t always possible, at Resonant, to put as much emphasis on ‘people led change’ as we’d have liked. Which is why we set up Partners – to have a single focus on ‘insight and invention’.

There’s an analogy that Alison likes to use. Marketing campaigns can be like chucking a stone into a pond – you can cause quite a ripple of change, but after a while the waves stop. But by getting people directly involved in the co-creation of solutions you can build a fountain. The effects go on and on.


(1) Dr Andrea Siodmok, Head of the Policy Lab and Deputy Director, The Cabinet Office (RSA Journal, Issue 4, 2014. Pp29)

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