PA Editorial

PA EDitorial
knowledge generation methodology

Mind-set or Mind-open: a shining light for research

It’s been with us for several years, yet more recently, co-production (as a knowledge generation methodology) has been shining its light even more so across academic research, as well as in the creation of public policy, service design and continuous improvement.

I’ve often tried to demystify co-production for people by describing it as a mindset rather than a set of tools and approaches. However, as I sat down to write this, I realised the irony in using the word ‘mindset’ when what I’ve been trying to convey is the definition of a mind open to a brave new world.

So, which is it – a mind-set or a mind-open? And what is this brave new world, I hear you ask, and why should I even be interested?

You may be wondering how co-production differs from engagement or participatory research and why it is creating such a stir. What’s so different about it?

Well, co-production isn’t just about moving the goalposts we are already familiar with; it’s about changing the lens we look through to make sense of the world.

Co-production is fundamentally different because it recognises that the involvement of non-academics in research has historically been limited to a subject that needs to be investigated or as a role for commissioners and recipients of research. What co-production does is challenge this dynamic. It sees learning as a collaborative process where learning is shared. This means that research is done with and not to people.

The National Institute of Health Research produced a clear definition to help us all appreciate what co-production is.

“Co-producing a research project is an approach in which researchers, practitioners and the public work together, sharing power and responsibility from the start to the end of the project, including the generation of knowledge” (INVOLVE 2018).

‘Okay, got that,’ I hear you say, ‘but why should I bother?’

The Why

The ‘why’ boils down to two things: effectiveness and ethics. So let’s explore effectiveness first.


If we engage with a wide range of stakeholders in all aspects of our research (we may even choose to co-design the research proposal), we can be assured that the impact of that research will be amplified.

An interesting BMJ article emphasises that the use of co-production in health research ‘has been embraced because of its potential to improve the quality and relevance of research and its effect on policy and practice’.

With ever-increasing scrutiny on the funding and effectiveness of research, it’s easy to see that it can only be a good thing to utilise co-production to maximise the impact of a project on policy and practice outside of academia.

In an article by UKRI, there is a more in-depth explanation of the benefits of using co-production in research and how it can increase the scope of research to achieve positive change for society.

I’ve touched on the effectiveness of co-production, so now let’s look at its ethics.


Some of you may be familiar with the ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ slogan and how it has encapsulated the concept that no policy, decision, or service should be created without the explicit involvement of the people who will be directly affected.

This translates directly into why ethical collaboration with those affected by any research should be collaborating as part of that work. Wikipedia gives us even more interesting context about the slogan, its use and its meaning.

Co-production is based on the belief that everyone is of equal value and can bring their unique expertise to a situation to contribute meaningfully. When put in those terms, it’s hard to disagree with this principle, especially when it values lived experiences as much as learned and professional ones. Furthermore, it allows the connection to be made between those experiencing the impact of a policy informed by academic research and those conducting the research. This can only increase the richness of any project’s results.

Biomed Central provides us with a more in-depth consideration of the ‘why’ for co-production while being open and honest about its challenges and limitations.

The How

The case for ‘why’ seems quite clear, doesn’t it? But what about the ‘how’?

Luckily, there are many sources of support and expertise to call upon if we are keen to utilise co-production in our research.

The Co-Production Collective at UCL has a very informative website. They are also a great bunch of people and would be more than happy to help and support us with our questions.

There are also several other organisations that offer us the support we may need.

· Cocreate is an independent consultancy with a wealth of co-production methods in a wide range of disciplines.

· The Social Care Institute for Excellence offers consultancy and support, mainly focusing on health and social care but also branching out into research and other disciplines.

· This link has some practical tools for facilitating workshops and working with various stakeholders.

· Nancy Klein also has a really useful book called Time to Think, which talks about creating the ideal environment to promote quality thinking and contribution.

These techniques can ensure any co-production activities are effective and foster the essential equality of contribution across all participants.

I hope this has given you food for thought and some pointers to develop your knowledge and enthusiasm to embrace a more inclusive and collaborative approach to research. But most of all, it’s good to be mindful of how co-production allows greater human interaction, which I think we can all agree is something we yearn for as we emerge from a period of restrictions on social contact and dialogue.

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