What is co-production?

Co-produced research can provide innovative ways to address current societal challenges, develop new relations between research and practice by changing the respective roles of practitioners and academics, and help to break down some of the barriers that prevent research becoming an effective contribution to understanding and meaningful action.

Recent developments in approaches to the co-production of knowledge also offer the social scientist an opportunity to inspire, challenge, and open minds to new ways of learning, communicating and doing research.

The co-production of research can be broadly seen as a way of conducting research that is characterised by co-ownership within and throughout the research process.

Ideally each step in the design, management, delivery, dissemination and use of the research is somehow shared. The approach demands that joint arrangements are developed between researchers and partners, with the latter including research ‘users’, practitioners, and governmental, private and community stakeholders.

The broad set of activities that might be undertaken within this approach are certainly not new, with many areas of social science involved with practices such as participatory action research, collaborative ethnography etc. These are often specifically adopted to consider the needs of marginalised and excluded partners.

The current developments, whilst also addressing these concerns have also taken on a wider set of challenges and practices. Indeed, the co-production of knowledge may not be initiated by the researcher, but by the state, as either service provider or as research funder; by social movements; and by business or private interests seeking commercialisation and use of shared intellectual property.

However it is important to draw a distinction between the co-production of knowledge and other well utilised forms of research partnering and collaboration, such as commissioned and contracted research, joint ventures, and other arrangements enshrined in a variety of traditional contractual arrangements, where often one party is providing a ‘service’ to another.

Whilst co-production is applied to many different areas and fields, it is consistently used to describe a nonlinear, collaborative approach to knowledge creation that draws upon interactive processes and participatory research approaches that address the desire for greater equity in knowledge production.

Gordon Dabinett is Professor of Regional Studies in the Department of Urban Studies & Planning, The University of Sheffield. This blog is largely based on the many discussions and activities he was involved in whilst Director of the Research Exchange for the Social Sciences (RESS) between 2012 and 2015 and his own experiences of applied urban research.

If you are interested in co-production you may like to attend or speak at our third conference Challenges and Best Practice in Coproduction on Wednesday 18 May 2016. Registration for the event is now open. For further information please email coproduction@sheffield.ac.uk.