Colours blurred together

Harnessing the power of intergenerational collaboration for social good: A framework

CoGenerate partnered with a team at the University of Waterloo to develop a set of tools that enable practitioners to bring “youngers” and “olders” together to create social change. As we've been out in the world spreading the cogenerate idea, we're often met with a lot of enthusiasm and then asked, "how do I get started?" While there isn't a single method or solution to bridge generational divides, we gathered a team of cogeneration champions and practitioners to build a testable framework based on our experiences and our observations of mutualism in nature. This framework will help others establish the ideal environment for successful cogeneration for social impact.

Whether it’s in our community, workplace, or personal relationships, collaboration plays a crucial role in our lives. Fortunately, there are many resources and frameworks that capture how to bring people together in collaboration, drawing from fields such as organizational development, sociology, psychology, teaching and learning, bridging divides, and more. There are frameworks that reference how to create contact between groups, generate collaborative capacity, bridge differences, and move away from generational conflict toward productive embrace of generational differences. This framework aims to build upon the established principles of collaboration and group dynamics by adding practical principles tailored specifically to support age-diverse groups in coming together to make a positive impact in the world. It is designed to assist individuals who recognize the potential of cogeneration and seek practical principles to apply this powerful methodology in their social impact work.

Many of the complex issues we face today in society are challenges that have been created and persisted over multiple generations. This means it will require multiple generations coming together to share experience and wisdom to find solutions. As we continue to evolve this framework, we will seek out and connect to case studies that exemplify these principles in action. By doing so, we can provide additional support to multigenerational practitioners who are working towards a common goal of making a positive social impact.

In this framework, we will emphasize the four key principles to design collaborative experiences that harnesses the power of generations coming together for social impact:

  • Meaningful connection
  • Unite around common purpose
  • Strive to equalize power
  • Embrace the perspectives of past, present, and future

Unite around common purpose

Shared purpose that sparks genuine interest in collaborating across generations to make a positive, collective impact.

  • Creates a common driver that unites everyone involved and gives them a foundation to build authentic relationships.
  • Brings together individuals of different ages and encourages them to work together towards a shared goal.
  • Provides the necessary motivation to overcome any potential resistance to collaborating across generations.

Ways to unite an age-diverse group around common purpose

Build opportunity, time, and space. 

  • Foster a supportive environment that encourages participants of all ages to express themselves and their interest in the topic being discussed.
  • Ensure adequate time for individuals from diverse age groups to identify the issue, requirement, or shared goal that they will be working towards.
  • Create a neutral space (physical or virtual) where all participants can come together and spend time forming connections and working cohesively towards a common goal.

Meaningful problems. 

  • Choose complex challenges that require ownership, input, and perspective from multiple generations to meaningfully address.
  • Introduce the possibility of intergenerational collaboration into existing problem spaces that have not yet been addressed with a co-generational approach. Facilitating Intergenerational Collaboration.

Meaningful connection

An openness to connect with others in a meaningful way and willingness to be vulnerable as you establish relationships during and beyond the intergenerational collaboration.

  • Cultivates reciprocity, where everyone involved reaps benefit from the collective experience, even if those benefits differ from person to person.
  • Fosters cognitive and emotional investment in the collaborative process and the relationships formed during the collaboration.
  • Creates the comfort needed for participants to challenge assumptions, work through conflict, and offer support to one another.

Ways to foster meaningful connection in an age-diverse group

Teach active listening. 

  • Before sharing experiences, encourage participants to actively listen with a constructive mindset and positive intent.

Share the floor.

  • Use structured turn-taking to ensure all participants are able to share their input and experiences.

Start with structure, then go with the flow.

  • Plan activities that foster meaningful connections while leaving space for serendipity and informal moments of connection.

Embrace curiosity.

  • Create questions that allow participants to share their unique generational perspectives and experiences.

Find common ground through storytelling.

  • Encourage participants to share stories that highlight parallels and shared experiences, such as life events, love, loss, and belonging. Through storytelling, participants can relate to one another and find common ground.

Together and apart.

  • Allow for meaningful connections to develop within and across generational groups, with intentional time for intergenerational collaboration and intentional time for generations to work with others of similar generational experiences.

Strive to equalize power

Given the widespread existence of systemic inequity, it is crucial to establish supportive settings in which all participants have a share of the group’s collective power and that facilitate the exchange of experience, knowledge, and expertise across generational boundaries.

  • Enables participants of different ages to engage fully in collaboration and share the collective power that unites them.
  • Foster open sharing of experience, knowledge, and expertise across generational silos helps to co-create solutions for complex problems and generate positive social impact.

Ways to aim for power balance in an age-diverse group

Challenge stereotypes.

  • Encourage participants to abandon their preconceived notions and approach the experience with a curious mindset, questioning stereotypes and assumptions.
  • Foster a culture of curiosity by encouraging participants to ask questions for clarity and to assume positive intent in all communications.

Avoid tokenism.

  • Proactively invite missing generations or individuals that represent generations that are imbalanced in representation to avoid imbalances in generational representation of the collaborative group.

Design with intention. 

  • Consider providing pre-collaboration training or workshops, such as active listening training, to equip all participants with empathy for people of other generations.
  • Create activities that encourage appreciation for contributions from all generations and showcase the power of collaboration between generations.
  • Design a scaffolded experience that enables participant journey, fosters cooperative processes, and promotes inclusivity.

Normalize repair.

  • Establish shared language and context by creating pathways for participants to articulate what it means to embrace a cogenerational mindset and align on how to bring forward and resolve conflict when it arises.
  • Facilitate upfront conversations about language and how participants would like to be addressed.

Embrace the perspectives of past, present, and future

Create an environment in which participants can perceive themselves, others, systems, and the world on a wider a time scale than their personal experience. By adopting a multi-generational perspective, you can generate a more comprehensive solution that caters to the needs of people of all ages.

  • Provides insight into the context surrounding today's problems, helping participants gain a deeper understanding.
  • Encourages participants to look beyond their own experiences and recognize the bigger picture.
  • Allows for self-discovery of commonalities across generations, putting experts of the past, present, and future on equal footing.
  • Enhances the capacity of participants of all ages to evolve their perspectives over time.

Ways to embrace perspectives that span yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Establish a solid foundation. 

  • Create a shared foundation that all participants can relate to, regardless of age.
  • Develop activities that encourage age-diverse groups to work together in exploring the issue and reaching their own conclusions.
  • Design activities that prompt reflection on both past and future to create empathy and understanding of the context behind these issues and promote a long-term approach to addressing them.

Storytelling to transcend time.

  • Use storytelling, active listening, and reflection to help bridge generational gaps and promote the discovery of similarities in experiences across different age groups and eras in time.
  • Use exercises that focus on shared experiences and commonalities that transcend generational differences, such as:
    • Introducing your 4-year-old self
    • Imagining a 200-year lifespan
    • Presenting an Elder in the room
    • Giving gifts (artifacts & Elders)


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Shigeoka, S., Marsh, J., Smith, J., Jilani, Z., Proulx, E. The Bridging Differences Playbook. Greater Good Science Center. Final.pdf?_ga=2.177369120.487917204.1645888313-1721564306.1642801280

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