Co-Production: It’s all about relationships

By Kirsten Kainz

Kirsten Kainz (biography)

Relationships are the underpinnings of the co-production process. The quality of knowledge gained and the solutions produced are a function of the quality of relationships among the participants.

In a recent paper, Lorrae van Kerkhoff and Louis Lebel (2015) also made strong claims about the relevance, salience, and potential impacts of relationships in the co-production of science and governance needed for sustainable improvements responding to global environmental change.

One important clarification raised by van Kerkhoff and Lebel (2015) is that relationships exist not only among individuals, but also among institutions.  These relationships among individuals and institutions exist in historical contexts that are interpreted differently by diverse members.  Individual and institutional interpretations affect action and meaning-making in co-production settings.

For co-productive capacity to be enacted and its value to be enhanced, the co-production effort must create opportunities for stakeholders to cultivate a willingness to participate despite reservations based on interpretations of history.  This requires funding, time, and resources to foster trust and commitment within the co-production team.

Productive relationships, when supported, become a powerful group capacity for overcoming known barriers such as embedded power and political interests. They also help deal with practical issues, such as those encountered when moving across systems of different scale within the problem space, for example from local farming community to government agency.

van Kerkhoff and Lebel  (2015) conclude their framing with a reminder that co-production stands out as a promising response to the urgent and complex problem of global environmental  change.  They call for better guidance for co-production to ensure that the early promise associated with the method translates into better outcomes for society.  In the absence of such guidance to drive quality co-production, they predict that traditional science-based approaches to environmental change will dominate, where scientific knowledge is privileged and other sources of knowledge remain separated from proposed solutions.

Intuitively these claims seem irrefutable, but is there any evidence to support them? What guidance is available about building relationships and dealing with institutional and individual histories? What do we know about how relationships can combat embedded power and political interests? What can co-production accomplish if these deep questions about relationships are not addressed?

Van Kerkhoff, L. E. and Lebel, L. (2015). Coproductive capacities: Rethinking science-governance relations in a diverse world. Ecology and Society, 20, 1: 14.
DOI: 10.5751/ES-07188-200114

Biography: Kirsten Kainz, PhD, is Director of Statistics at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, Clinical Associate Professor of Social Work, and Research Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Additionally, she serves as an Education Partnership Consultant for the Strategic Education Research Partnership Institute in Washington, DC. Kainz uses research to design, examine, and evaluate effective education practices for students historically under-represented in education success, especially economically disadvantaged students. She is a member of the Co-Creative Capacity Pursuit funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

This blog post is one of a series resulting from the first meeting in April 2016 of the Co-Creative Capacity Pursuit. This pursuit is part of the theme Building Resources for Complex Action-Oriented Team Science funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

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