Co-production in research

Research benefits from including people from outside the research community in a process of shared learning. This may be described in a variety of ways: co-production, collaboration or participant and public involvement.

It can include working with participants in a project, patients, carers and service users, as well as people from the wider society, such as public policymakers, community groups, third sector organisations and businesses. Involving individuals with a stake in the project who are not researchers can enhance the quality of the research and help it to bring about positive change for society and the economy.

Co-production can take place throughout the project. It may encompass identifying research questions, design and priority setting, governance, co-delivery of research activities, communication of key findings and involvement in knowledge exchange.

Key principles

Successful co-production

Stakeholder or participant involvement in research and innovation is an effective way to ensure research impact and provides an opportunity for researchers to engage with and learn from others affected by and interested in the proposed project.

Wider involvement in designing and conducting research can confirm that the project best addresses the needs of individuals and communities. It can also ensure that different forms of knowledge, experience and expertise are valued and used throughout the research process from the earliest stages.

Accountability and power

Co-production may raise complex ethical considerations around responsibility, accountability and power since it can blur the lines between the researcher and the participant, or other stakeholders. All partners should consider such issues in advance and establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability.

It is a good idea for each partner to discuss motivations and expectations about what they can bring to the project. Consider too at the outset how you intend to manage any tensions between competing accountabilities.

Researchers and innovators should be sensitive to actual or perceived differences in income, status or power. They should follow the principles of equitable partnerships to address inherent power imbalances when working with partners, particularly public and community partners where imbalances may be more prominent.

Organisational culture

Co-production often includes academic and wider partners who may come from a variety of research organisations, countries, industry, charities, policymakers and groups of participants or sections of the general public.

These all may have their own perspectives regarding issues of ethics around their joint research. These differences may be due to organisational culture, training, access to research resources and participant populations. It is worthwhile gauging public attitudes towards the project and any perceptions about conflicts of interest.

Ongoing monitoring

Research partners should agree to a progressive and shared process of ethical reflection and regular monitoring while the research is taking place. This will ensure that ethical issues are promptly reported to all organisations involved and appropriate advice sought from a research ethics committee.

It can be helpful to include activities that encourage reflection and negotiation at key points. Learning events with research and innovation partners can be useful in that regard.

Equitable research and innovation partnerships

Partnerships must be transparent and based on mutual respect. They should aim to have a clearly articulated understanding of the equitable distribution of resources, responsibilities, efforts and benefits. Partnerships should recognise different inputs, interests and desired outcomes and ensure the ethical sharing and use of data.

Ethics review

The partners should agree a streamlined ethics review process. For example, they may choose to use the research ethics committee of the organisation where the principal investigator is based.

The ethics review should, as a minimum, satisfy the requirements of the ESRC Framework on Research Ethics review guidance or UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research, depending on the type of research. Where research is to be conducted outside the UK or involves international partners, researchers must establish whether ethics review is required by non-UK ethics committees.

Concordats UKRI has signed

Shared commitment to improve public involvement in research

Alongside the Health Research Authority, National Institute for Health Research and a host of organisations across the UK, UKRI is a signatory of a shared commitment to improve public involvement in health and social care research.

External guidance

The guidance below has not been developed directly by UKRI, but may be a useful resource. Where this advice conflicts with UKRI-produced policies and guidance, UKRI policies and guidance should be followed.

Co-production – knowledge that matters

Findings from an ESRC-funded project to explore new models of co-production.

Lessons for collaborative research from Connected Communities programme

Guidance on setting up research partnerships between universities and communities.

10 principles for community-university partnerships

10 principles for conducting fair and mutual research partnerships between Universities and Black and Minority Ethnic communities from the AHRC-funded Common Cause project.

Health Research Authority: public involvement

Guidance from the Health Research Authority on undertaking public involvement activities to inform and support health and social care research.

Patient and public involvement (PPI) resources for researchers

Resources and guidance from NIHR on standards, design, payment and evaluation of PPI projects.

Guidance on co-producing a research project

Key principles for co-producing a research project, ways to realise these and to negotiate some of the challenges.

National Co-production Advisory Group

Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) are a national partnership of more than 50 organisations committed to transforming health and care. The National Co-production Advisory Group supports organisations to co-produce their work.

Community-based participatory research: a guide to ethical principles and practice (PDF, 2.4MB)

Guidance developed by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement.

Examples of good practice for researchers

Ethical challenges of co-production: Imagine project

An ethnographic exploration of different ways to achieve community engagement in research.

Participatory methods: Social networks and infant mortality project

Using participatory research methods to enable women from different social class and ethnic groups to influence mother and infant health and social care services.

Co-producing a film with Nairobi sex-workers: Maisha Fiti project

A short film developed by the researchers and participants involved in the Maisha Fiti study of Nairobi sex-workers.

Last updated: 20 June 2022

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