Impact Practitioners

How to co-produce a research project

By 30/05/2024

This 11-page guidance document by Tina Coldham and published by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) sets out the key principles and features of co-producing a research project and how to implement them.

Co-production involves researchers, practitioners and the public working together and sharing power all the way through a research project. It is all about improving public involvement in research. Here are the key principles outlined in the guidance:

Sharing of power. Co-producing research means aiming for shared ownership and equitable decision-making throughout the project, with defined roles for all team members.

Including all aspects and skills. In co-production, it’s crucial to embrace a diverse research team that includes individuals with various perspectives, skills, and expertise.

Respecting and valuing the knowledge of all. Every individual involved and their unique perspectives should be equally valued. Ensure that all voices have the opportunity to be heard and respected.

Reciprocity. Everybody working together on a research project should get something back from their contribution. Apart from a financial reward, this could be gaining confidence, new knowledge and skills.

Building and maintaining relationships. For instance, trust-building through evolving relationships is key, and requires regular reflection on personal biases and power dynamics.

As well as these, the NIHR guidance document outlines some key features of successfully co-produced research:

Establishing ground rules. This helps create an environment that treats all voices with equal respect.

Continuing dialogue. This helps identify different types of knowledge, responsibilities and expectations, and to establish relationships. 

Joint ownership of key decisions. This involves making key decisions collaboratively; such as who should be involved and when.

A commitment to relationship  building. Building open, trusting relationships helps address power imbalances.

Opportunities for personal growth and development. There should be an emphasis on helping individuals unlock their potential to contribute to the project.

Flexibility. Co-produced research should create opportunities for an open-ended and interactive process. 

Valuing and evaluating the impact. It is important to value the impacts of co-production.

Continuous reflection. Research team members should reflect on how they are working together, and how they are contributing their particular perspective to the project. 

Overall, this guidance document by NIHR is useful for thinking about how to implement a co-production approach to research.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.