What does it mean to co-produce?

By Jessica Bradley 

Our project has been funded as a co-production through the Connected Communities Utopias Festival for 2016. The complexity of what we are trying to achieve and in such a short time frame has become very clear, especially right now when we are in the thick of it.

But what exactly do we mean by co-production? How do we co-produce? What’s different?

And how does this work in our current project, with its different stages, different communities, and different organisations?

This blog post by Professor Kate Pahl is a useful summary of what co-production can be, and how it changes the balance between researcher and researched. She describes it as process and learning. She explains that co-production is different to ‘standard’ or more traditional academic research, in that it involves collaboration, working together, partnership. The research process as important as the outputs. The learning. Through co-production, the notion of the academic as being the one who knows is changed around- with research ‘built from the ground’ rather than the other way round.

It also takes academic research outside the university, quite literally, according to Pahl. It takes educational research into the outdoors, into streets, cafes, youth groups, portacabins (in the way that our research has for the TLANG project). Through this change in epistemology, alternative kinds of educational settings can be considered – as sites of learning. There is also a co-learning process (see Saturday’s blog post on translanguaging), in which translanguaging pedagogies enable the teacher to be positioned as a co-learner. Learning alongside each other.

This co-learning is embedded in the project we are carrying out. My background is in higher education. I’d worked in educational engagement for almost a decade before starting my PhD, which I’ve now been doing for just over 18 months. What this experience has taught me, is how different a co-created, co-produced research project is to an outreach project or engagement project. We’re framing this as a research project, in that it is, undoubtedly, research. Yet, unlike a research project that leads solely to academic outputs – publications, presentations, conferences, book chapters (etc) – this research project must also have a tangible outcome. That is, a contribution to the Utopias Fair at Somerset House. It has multiple outputs. And our project is pretty complex and complicated  – we squeezed a lot into our bid document. Over the weekend I went back to the expression of interest that we put together in December to consider our progress. We’re working well and within our allocated timings. The local festival activities are almost finished, or at least the first stage is – the silk painting.

Pahl describes it further:

Co-production here involves entwining knowledge created in community contexts and knowledge created in university contexts to produce something a bit different — knowledge that crosses and is useful in both contexts. Methodologies for making sense of this process include sensory and embodied forms of knowledge production that are attentive to the feelings and sensations of being with people in everyday contexts

So, the research that takes place, the process, is in fact an entwining of knowledge. An entwining of that which is created in universities and that which is created outside universities. Ethnography, therefore, is in some ways well-suited to this kind of knowledge production. Perhaps, all those involved in a research project that is co-produced are ethnographers. Certainly it’s something I want to explore and to write about. Is co-production as kind of ‘generous attentiveness’? (Ingold, 2014: http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.1.021/665)

During our workshops so far, we’ve had a number of different people involved. The artists leading the workshops. The participants. The student volunteers. The community volunteers. The PhD researcher. The community organisations. Me (researcher, but also project coordinator). But we’ve all been taking part, done some painting, some drawing, some sketching. The setting, the activity, the process is co-produced and co-constructed.

There is a lot that goes into this behind the scenes to co-create these workshops and these activities. And for me, as researcher but also in my role of coordinating the project, it is complex. It’s not always easy. Co-production is, like the project we are working on together, reasonably utopian. We produce something together, of course, but we all come into it (and out of it) with some merging objectives, but some which diverge. How to manage this among multiple project partners from across different ecologies: university research, the arts sector, the third sector, undergraduate students, other people who have moved towards the project as it gradually becomes a hub? And how do we ‘co-produce’ and manage when one party holds the funding? And when that party is a large institution with complex administrative structures? What happens then?

Something that we are working on at the moment is how we can produce a film that brings together the theme of our research project (welcome in utopia) and also allows one of our partner organisations to benefit from the film. To produce something that works for all parties, for their intersecting but also divergent needs.

I’m reading and reading around this at the moment, making sense of the project as it unfolds and also starting to work out new and emerging frameworks to enable us to manage this project well, to work together, to co-produce.



Marshall, B. and Pahl, K. 2015.Who owns educational research? Disciplinary conundrums and considerations: A challenge to the funding councils and to education departments, Qualitative Research Journal, (15) 4, pp.472 – 488.

McMillan, A. and Pahl, K. 2015. Writing Out The Loss: Intersections and Conversations Between Poetry and Ethnography.Argument and Critique April 2015.

Pahl, K. Steadman-Jones, R. and Pool, S. (2013) Dividing the DrawersCreative Approaches to Research (6) 1, pp.71 – 88.


The following document has information about co-production and collaborative projects with museums, galleries and oral histories: https://partnershipandparticipation.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/earninglegipicjuly2012.pdf

This report from the N8 partnership is particularly useful and explains some of the benefits and challenges of co-produced research: http://www.n8research.org.uk/view/5163/Final-Report-Co-Production-2016-01-20.pdf

This from Connected Communities (which I’ve mentioned before): https://connected-communities.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Creating-Living-Knowledge.Final_.pdf

Blog posts

This blog post by Kate Pahl (cited earlier in the text) https://medium.com/@SheffSocScience/making-meaning-together-co-producing-knowledge-across-universities-and-communities-92fe4bd75026#.am1q95a6e

This blog post by Keri Facer on engaged research: https://nccpe.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/whose-public-good-does-engaged-research-serve/

This blog post from LSE Impact Blog on the impact of co-produced research: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/01/28/a-soup-of-different-inspirations-impact-and-co-produced-research/


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