Co-production in research

Research benefits from involving 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 community, such as public policymakers and business settings. Involving individuals with a stake in the project who are not researchers can enhance its impact both academically and in benefiting society.

Co-production can take place throughout the project. It may encompass 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 others affected by and interested in the proposed project. Public and participant involvement in designing and conducting research can confirm that the project best addresses the needs of individuals and communities.

Co-production may raise complex ethical considerations around responsibility and accountability 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.

Co-production often includes academic and non-academic partners. They may come from a variety of research disciplines, countries, industry, 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.

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.

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