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Guidance on co-producing a research project - Design Tips

  Created on Tuesday, 08 May 2018. Posted in Co-production | Design Tips

Going the Extra Mile [NIHR 2015] envisaged a population actively involved in research to improve health and wellbeing, stating that the “most successful collaborations will be those where knowledge is shared in a mutual partnership between researchers, the public and health professionals.”

The application of co-production within applied health research varies, some argue that co-production in research is just ‘really good PPI’.  The recent publication Guidance on co-producing a research project [INVOLVE, NIHR 2018] aims to provide clarity through 5 key principles and features of co-production.

Key Principles

  • Sharing of Power
    Co-production requires the research to be jointly owned with people actively working together to achieve a joint understanding. Sharing of power does not mean that everybody is involved in every decision and every part of the project, people working on a project will still have different roles. With shared power and ownership of key decisions comes responsibility. There needs to be defined roles for everyone with each team member holding real responsibility.
  • Including all perspectives and skills
    Make sure the research team includes all those who can make a contribution, this will ensure all necessary views, experiences, skills and knowledge are included. Co-production involves embracing diversity and enabling involvement of all those people required for a particular project, including underrepresented groups. Inclusivity requires the research to be accessible. This includes ensuring physical access to meetings and accessible information; documents, for example, are in an appropriate format and language.
  • Respecting and valuing the knowledge of all those working together on the research
    Everyone working together on a research project is of equal importance. Everybody on the team is recognised as an asset. Co-production acknowledges the different knowledge bases, experiences and perspectives of all involved and each member of the research team is afforded equal respect and value.
  • Reciprocity
    All contributions to the research should be recognised. Everybody working together on a research project should get something back from contributing to that project. This could take many forms, not just financial rewards. For example, the development of social networks, increased confidence, new knowledge and skills and access to courses and training.
  • Building and maintaining relationships
    The evolving relationships between the various people working together in research are key to co-producing research. In order for trust to develop, individuals need to reflect on the knowledge, assumptions, preconceptions and biases that they bring to a research project. There needs to be acknowledgement and understanding of the complexity involved in ‘power differentials’.

Key Features

  • Establish Ground Rules
    Set out expectations, in terms of the roles, responsibilities and behaviours of all at the start of the project. This will create an environment of respect.
  • Joint Ownership of Key Decisions
    Joint ownership of key decisions differentiates co-producing from collaborating. Not everyone needs to be involved in every decision or every aspect of a piece of research. The group should decide and agree who should be involved and when, in terms of the management, governance and undertaking of the research.
  • A commitment to relationship building
    Addressing power differences and developing relationships requires the development of open, honest, trusting and reciprocal relationships. Organisations and researchers need to be proactive in encouraging and facilitating public involvement and developing relationships beyond the research community.
  • Opportunities for personal growth and development
    Project leads need to facilitate the involvement of the public effectively and manage the flexibility and uncertainty that are often involved in co-produced research projects. Members of the research team need to be willing to relinquish power and accept reciprocity of experience and expertise. This may require a cultural change in the research team and/or the organisation hosting the team.
  • Flexibility
    A co-produced research project should provide opportunities for an iterative, fluid, open ended, experimental and interactive process; there should be opportunity for solutions and innovations to emerge from the relationships developed.
  • Valuing and evaluating the impact of co-producing research
    Research findings or outputs, from working co-productively, will produce knowledge and end results which may be different from those produced by a conventional academic process. These include new relationships, expanded social networks and increased confidence of members of the public.
  • Continuous reflection
    The process of continuous reflection gives the research team opportunities to look at how they are working together, how they might be using their particular expertise and perspective in the project and how this might impact on the research process and findings/outcomes. Creating safe and supportive spaces which enable team members to openly and honestly reflect on challenging issues such as power dynamics and inequalities is an integral part of co-producing research.