What do we mean by co-labouring? What practices does it involve? How can it enhance interactions among researchers and key stakeholders in transdisciplinary research?
Choosing the notion of ‘co-labouring’ in our transdisciplinary project stems from an awareness that creating alternative perspectives, eg., on sustainable futures for mining, is a complex endeavor. Ideas of researchers wanting to give voice to unheard groups at the margin are too often based on simple models of translation. These assumptions underestimate what gets lost in translation, or the gaps in understandings between different groups of stakeholders.
How can academic researchers working in transdisciplinary teams establish genuine collaborations with people who do not work in academia? How can they overcome the limitations of their discipline-based training, especially assigning value and hierarchy to specialized forms of knowledge production that privileges certain methodologies and epistemologies over others?
We argue that to truly engage in collaborative work, academics need to participate in deliberate processes of critical unlearning that enable the decentering of academia in the processes and politics of transdisciplinary knowledge production and knowledge translation. What we mean by this is that academics have to be willing to acknowledge, reflect upon, and intentionally discard conventional avenues of designing and conducting research activities in order to be authentically open to other ways of exploring questions about the world in collaboration with diverse groups of social actors.
Can even the most well-designed participatory research really level the power relations between researchers and the relevant community? The key issues are who sets the research agenda, who drives the research process and governs it, and who interprets information. In all these aspects of research, the aim is for the community to no longer be ‘subjects’ but equal partners.
In this blog post, I outline challenges to achieving this mission, so that we can be realistic about what’s involved in trying to achieve equal partnerships. The difficulties identified are not proposed as tensions to be ‘solved’ but as dilemmas that can be articulated so as better to facilitate good practice, not reach an unattainable perfect state.
This is part of a series of occasional “synthesis blog posts” drawing together insights across blog posts on related topics.
What is required for effective co-creation, especially between researchers and stakeholders? In particular, what contributes to a productive environment for co-creation? And what considerations are relevant for deciding who to involve?
Twelve blog posts which have addressed these issues are discussed. Bringing those insights together provides a richer picture of how to achieve effective co-creation.
What makes a productive environment for co-creation?
A good starting point is to be working in an environment and organizational culture that support co-creation and to have sufficient financial, personnel and other resources, as pointed out by Kit Macleod and Arnim Wiek.
Dialogue-based processes are often an important part of co-creation and they need to be established as a generative space, focused on synergy, not conflict.
Why should transdisciplinarians, in particular, care about multilingualism and what can be done to embrace it?
From a linguist’s point of view, I suggest that, in a globalized world, a one language policy is not only problematic from the point of view of fair power relations and equal participation opportunities, but it also weakens science as a whole by excluding ideas, perspectives, and arguments from being voiced and heard.
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.
Outcome measures in research about treatment and service provision may not seem a particularly controversial or even exciting domain for citizen involvement. Although the research landscape is changing – partly as a result of engaging stakeholders in knowledge production and its effects – the design of outcome measures has been largely immune to these developments.
The standard way of constructing such measures – for evaluating treatment outcomes and services – has serious flaws and requires an alternative that grounds them firmly in the experiences and situations of the people whose views are being solicited.
How does the mismatch between policy and research processes and timelines stymie co-creation? I describe an example from a project in Sachsen-Anhalt state in Germany, along with lessons learnt.
The project, initiated by researchers, aimed to use a more participatory approach to developing agri-environmental schemes, in order to improve their effectiveness. Officers from the Agricultural Payments department of the Sachsen-Anhalt Ministry for Agriculture were invited to participate in an action research project that was originally conceived to also involve officers from the Conservation department of the same ministry, farmer representatives and conservation groups.
Should implementation science make more room for consultation, collaboration and co-creation with stakeholders? Would finding more active roles for stakeholders in implementation science be a promising approach to increasing the use of research evidence for improvements in policy and services?
The goal of implementation science is to promote the sustainable implementation of research evidence at scale to improve population outcomes, especially in health and human services. Nevertheless, the mobilization of research evidence on the frontlines of health and human services has been quite limited, especially in public agencies serving the vast majority of consumers.
Co-creation, and related terms like co-design, co-production, co-construction and co-innovation, are becoming increasingly popular. Upon closer scrutiny they share many characteristics with participatory processes. Is there a difference between the two – co-creation and participation – and if yes, what is it?
Let us first look at participation. Not all participatory processes are the same. They differ with regard to who is involved, who initiated the process and for what reason, the anticipated outcomes, the duration, the context in which it takes place, and who has control over the process and outcomes.