What are the steps involved in co-producing knowledge in transdisciplinary research? What tools are available to help knowledge co-production and for what purpose should they be used?
Based on our experiences with the td-net (Network for Transdisciplinary Research) toolbox, we discuss how knowledge co-production can be organized along an ideal type of a transdisciplinary research process.
Phases and key issues of co-production
In developing the td-net toolbox, we used the following four phases of knowledge co-production, which require an iterative, rather than linear, approach:
By Oghenekaro N. Odume, Akosua B. K. Amaka-Otchere, Blessing N. Onyima, Fati Aziz, Sandra B. Kushitor and Sokhna Thiam
Why is transdisciplinary research that aims to co-produce knowledge across academic disciplines, policy contexts and societal domains often so difficult? What are the key challenges that need to be overcome?
We identified five key challenges when we analysed five projects implemented in nine African cities which were part of the Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030 in Africa (LIRA) program (Odume et al., 2021).
Challenge #1: Conceptual threshold crossing
Science-policy-society interactions require active engagement of diverse actors, often with different discursive language and epistemic backgrounds. Translating academic discourse into accessible everyday language can be challenging. In the same vein, policy and societal actors use discourse unfamiliar to academic actors.
Conceptual threshold crossing in terms of intellectual, ontological, and cognitive transformation is particularly challenging when projects are not just about understanding problems or raising awareness, but about true co-production of knowledge and co-ownership of the resulting outcomes.
How can I ensure that marginalized voices are heard in this project? Whom do I call on to offer the next perspective in this workshop and why? How can I intervene in this particular disagreement in a productive way? These are typical questions that researchers and practitioners involved in knowledge co-production processes ask themselves. They express deep ethical concerns, which also have epistemological and political implications, as they address the question: What should I do in this situation? What is right and wrong for me to do here?
We suggest that a perspective based on the ancient virtue of practical wisdom may help researchers and practitioners alike working in knowledge co-production to navigate the complexities of these questions.
Practical wisdom: An ancient virtue for wise navigation
Our answers to the deep ethical questions that emerge in collaborative and participatory research will vary depending on the specifics of the situation we are in, who is involved, as well as our own positionality and role in research projects or academic institutions. There is no formula to follow.
How are interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity faring in India and Brazil? How do they differ from interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in the Global North? Are there particular lessons to be drawn from India and Brazil for the global interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary communities?
India and Brazil are among the most prominent countries of the Global South in the worldwide academic scene. Both have problems in common, but they have also singularities.
The focus in both countries at the institutional level tends to be on what is referred to as interdisciplinarity. The emergence of a new generation of liberal universities and other academic institutions open to interdisciplinary scholarship has allowed a small cohort of interdisciplinary scholars to emerge.
How can knowledge brokers facilitate transdisciplinary knowledge co-production and mobilisation? How can a narrative approach contribute to the knowledge co-creation process?
A knowledge broker often sits between different stakeholders (researchers, end-users, policymakers) to facilitate knowledge co-creation and knowledge mobilisation. Their main role is to make evidence accessible, understandable and useful for knowledge users. As knowledge mobilisation is usually experienced by participants as a personal and social activity, a key starting point for facilitating knowledge co-production with different stakeholders is to develop a narrative approach.
By Catherine Durose, Beth Perry, Liz Richardson and Rikki Dean
What are the hidden politics of seeking to co-produce research with stakeholders? What kinds of leadership are common in co-produced research? What trade-offs does each kind of leadership make in addressing issues such as being directive, inclusive, innovative, accountable, open to what emerges and sharing power?
The hidden politics of co-production in research
The hidden politics of co-production in research involves tensions and debates about:
1. The purposes of scientific work.
Co-production brings together people, not only with different expertise, but also with different purposes for being involved, which can range from achieving more effective policy and practice outcomes to delivering social justice and empowering those experiencing disadvantage.
What options are available to researchers for including stakeholders in a research project in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the problem, provide ideas about addressing it and help the research to support policy or practice change? Can different stakeholders be included in different ways? Can the same group of stakeholders participate in different ways in various aspects of the research? What obligations do researchers have to participating stakeholders over the course of that project?
It can be useful to consider 5 ways in which researchers can include stakeholders in a project:
Researchers provide stakeholders with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the research.
How can tasks and goals among partners in a collaboration be effectively negotiated, especially when one party is dependent on the deliverables of another party? How does knowledge asymmetry affect such negotiations? What is knowledge asymmetry anyway and how can it be dealt with?
What is knowledge asymmetry?
My PhD research involves historians who are dependent on computational experts to develop an algorithm or user interface for historical research. They therefore needed to be aware of what the computational experts were doing.
How can we improve knowledge exchange among scientists and decision-makers to facilitate evidence informed decision-making? Of course there is no one size fits all approach, but here I outline four strategies that could be adapted and implemented across different contexts: (i) knowledge co-production, (ii) embedding, (iii) knowledge brokers, and (iv) boundary organisations. These are illustrated in the figure below.
It’s often said that knowledge to tackle big problems in the world – food, water, climate, energy, biodiversity, disease and war – has to be ‘co-produced’. Tackling these problems is not just about solving ‘grand challenges’ with big solutions, it’s also about grappling with the underlying causal social and political drivers. But what does co-production actually mean, and how can it help to create knowledge that leads to real transformation?
Here’s how we at the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre approach this challenge of co-production.
The co-production or co-creation of research is not new – action based research traditions can lay claim to a long history, but are those of us involved in co-production doing enough to understand what it means?
In their work on public involvement, Antoine Boivin and colleagues (2014) note there is such widespread support for the rhetoric of co-production that we may dismiss (I would add not even acknowledge) the tensions that arise when professionals and lay people work together. Co-production in health research is similar. We need to work harder to say what we mean, mean what we say, and learn as we go.