It is recognised across many different spheres of public services, research, health and community work that working in co-production with stakeholders and the public can bring benefits to all, and produce more meaningful outcomes. While the concept of co-production is well evidenced, the difficulty lies in actually doing this work properly, as different actors bring to the table their own priorities, timelines, logics and ideologies.
Genuine co-production demands not only equality of decision-making, but equality of risk and ownership, and these are incredibly difficult to achieve. However, this does not mean we shouldn’t try. Over the last six years, myself and colleagues at Cardiff University have been doing exactly that, sometimes ending in chaos and sometimes in tears of joy.
Co-production in research can be problematic in a number of ways. For me, one of the key constraints is that for the most part, research projects are time-limited and funded discretely. This makes it very difficult for researchers going from project to project to develop long-term relationships with community members and other stakeholders, with whom they might equitably enter into co-production at some point further down the line.
Much of the relationship-building work is done by researchers in addition to their paid time, which is not a sustainable model. With this in mind, two years ago, myself and a colleague established a research network, in order that we might nurture relationships between academics, community organisations, representatives from the Arts, Culture and Heritage Sector, and other stakeholders.
As social scientists, our work had begun to cross over into the arts and humanities, and was firmly rooted in ideas of community development and asset-based approaches. We felt we needed a space in which we could bring together some of our key partners and others wanting to work in this way.
The Cultural Participation Research Network (CPRN) now has over 100 members and meets quarterly to discuss and share ideas in the field of cultural participation and social science, which has led to a number of collaborative proposals and projects. Our discussions span a wide range of topics including theatre for knowledge exchange; regional transport infrastructures; arts and health; national heritage and community engagement; and local history.
We believe that by bringing people together over time, co-production can emerge organically, as members identify opportunities and research ideas together. Some of these have been led by academics, and some by arts organisations or community groups. I would not go so far as to say it is true co-production, but it feels like we are going in the right direction.