Welcome to the Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where in every episode we explore what is research culture and what should it be. You'll hear thoughts and opinions from a range of contributors to help you change research culture into what you want it to be.Ged:
Hi, this is Ged Hall, and for those of you who don't know me, I'm an Academic Development Consultant at the University of Leeds.
You are joining us in Season five of our Research Culture Uncovered podcast, where we're diving into the effects of research impact on research culture and focusing in on different topics to ensure those effects are positive. Today I am delighted to be talking to Professor Gehan Selim. Gehan is the Hoffman Wood Chair in Architecture in the School of Civil Engineering of the University of Leeds.eace, Security and Justice in:
She's leading several funded research projects with an extensive portfolio of empirical research in the global south. Gehan is the author of 'Unfinished Places' from Routledge in 2017, and 'Architecture Space and Memory of Resurrection in Northern Ireland', also from Routledge in 2019. Gehan, welcome to the podcast.Gehan:
Thank you, Ged. Thanks a lot for the introduction and for inviting me to the podcast.Ged:
You're absolutely welcome. You've just finished a project with other colleagues from the Leeds Social Sciences Institute to develop a co-production toolkit. Co-production is something I'm really fascinated by, but before we get into the detail, please could you tell our listeners the background to the toolkit project?
The discussions that led up to it and why you all wanted to do it in the first place.Gehan:
Yeah, sure. Uh, so let, let me start with a little bit of background about the co-production, uh, network at Leeds, uh, which was established originally by Adam Crawford in 2019. Adam was the previous director of, uh, Leeds Social Sciences Institute.hat happened? What started in:
Uh, and this is really how things started to evolve into a more of a formal network. I was part of the network when it was established and I, I took over the network leadership, uh, from Adam when he, uh, when he left and when I became the Deputy Director of, of LSSI. So, uh, the main aim of the network at that time was to value the multiple forms of knowledge and.
Believe in the importance of research co-production with individuals and groups. And by that I mean academics and non-academics equally. Um, and this was happening through engagement and mutual channels, uh, of communication. Um, so. We, we were trying to build the culture of collaboration and delivery impact through co-production.
And also a way to promote and share the values of its methodologies and approaches, um, in, in very challenged situation, challenging situation in order to learn from professional communities, engage with civil society organisations. So it's a way of. Taking researchers a little bit outside of their comfort zone of their research environment into working with, with other non-academic partnerships.
So one of the very significant outcomes that came out of Adam's work at that time was developing a manifesto for change, which was basically a statement for an institutional culture for co-production, not also in Leeds, but outside the institution as well. Um, A lot of challenges were presented in the document, confronting researchers engaged in co-production with diverse partners, and it also, uh, conveyed tangible learning and recommendations, um, to inform the essential institutional political, cultural shifts in understanding what are the conditions to employ a co-production, uh, and participatory research approaches as well.d a wider group discussion in:
Particularly we wanted to reach out to early career researchers interested in using co-production methods. Uh, or maybe if they haven't used it before, uh, and really interested to know more, but they don't know where to start from or what are the right teams to connect with. Uh, don't know what is the starting point.d Fund we received at LSSI in:
Uh, we wanted to increase academic capacity, uh, within and beyond the networks, existing networks at Leeds. Uh, we created an online interactive platform to showcase best practice methodologies and share knowledge. Uh, we also wanted to grow the network and grow its members, so that was really the kind of objectives and aims of how we utilised the funding from Research England to progress.
Uh, further progress with the network, um, uh, in Leeds and outside of the university as well. Um, the scoping activity was extremely useful. Uh, because it helped us to identify the breadth and diversity of ongoing research practices, knowing who is doing what, knowing what are the methods used, uh, and getting everybody engaged.
So we, we need to come together. We need to share our knowledge, we need to ex to, to share our successes, our failures as well, to know and learn from that. So, so that was the main idea of using the fund for from one aspect. But the second major aspect was developing the co-production research toolkit, uh, which was the first toolkit as part of a suite of resources for participatory research capacity, uh, to learn how co-production works and what does it mean.
Uh, so, so in the toolkit, we, we, we tried to reflect the diversity of researchers, the topics and users of co-production research, and to highlight four main pillars, uh, to highlight best practice. And we did that through providing case studies, uh, exploring research findings. We also wanted to identify common challenges.
And offer practical solutions in approaches and methodologies. Uh, we wanted also to highlight possible collaborations, uh, providing some tips and advices on how to approach working with communities and external stakeholders, identify opportunities for new partnerships and so on. Uh, and finally, for the toolkit to act and serve as a point of reference for researchers interested in co-production and help develop the new channels of networking knowledge exchange. So it's been, the toolkit was structured in that way to help academics understand what co-production means and. What are, what it looks like in different contexts.
And, and now we have completed building our external faces facing platform, the website on LSSI and all the resources are there. So in a nutshell, we just try to provide and to plan a toolkit that is simple, uh, meaningful, uh, and accessible. This is how we use the funding.Ged:
And, and listeners, we've put a link to the toolkit in the show notes.
So if you, if you're excited by that, please go and, and check it out. And, uh, and if you're, you know, if you want to engage, uh, I'm sure Gehan would love to hear from you. Um, just, just taking a step back from. Um, the toolkit for a second, but staying, staying in the, in the, in the realm of co-production, there's a lot of, of kind of co-terms, so collaboration, part participatory research practices, et cetera, that, that kind of spread across, um, across different research areas.
Um, can you give us your take on, on what co-production is? I know the toolkit goes into this in a lot more detail, so what co-production is and what it isn't.Gehan:
Yeah. Yeah, you're right, you're right, Ged. There's, there's a lot of interchanging concepts and terminologies used. Then if, if you look at the actual definition of co-production, which originally came as one of the key concept in understanding knowledge, knowledge, policy, interactions.
So it is actually, it is part of a, an evolving cluster of approaches and practices that describe collaborative processes and involving different types of expertise and knowledge and stakeholders to produce very context specific knowledges and pathways towards a sustainable future. So co-production is a very little bit of, I, what I call a customised methodology.
It we don't have one methodology, one rule that fits all. It doesn't work like that. So yes, uh, there are many forms of collaborative research practices and there are parallel terminologies that describe different practices that overlaps with co-production. Just naming some of that like co-design, co-creation, participatory research, uh, public engagement, integrated knowledge translation.
They all sit under the same umbrella of reflecting a very diverse set of activities, motivations, identities, and discourses about how research interacts with the rest of the community and the society. Um, so, co co-production actually is a way of approaching the generation, the, you know, generating knowledge and, and a way of addressing a question rather than focusing on answering the question itself.
It poses questions. It, it, it, it. Creates that kind of creative thinking at the start of of the research and the work and, and it's the dynamic methodology that opens up the research horizon to new questions in different way and provokes different answers to the research question itself. So there is no set guidelines for co-production and it's, it's, it's just a set of principle and could apply it in a number of ways and every discipline will will use and utilise co-production, uh, differently, but, You know, that said, co-production is, is, is really helpful, uh, as a possible way to, to implement a good way of involvement and engagement with the parameters that we are working within.
And it's just the way to try to achieve the right and the proper impact if we can, if we are able to do, but you know, on the other side, when we mix up co-production with participatory research, which is. Participatory research in its own, it's, it's, it's more of a theoretical and teleological tool for engaging different narratives and voices past and present, and also accounting for potential action and change.
So in participatory research, we identify critical thinking at the starting point of the research and the co-creation of that. It is known as a full circle of outcome of research. So, When we use it as a research methodology, it enables us to co-create the knowledge and positive partnerships, but co-production actually requires a different set of tools to what we call the traditional style of research.
So, just, just for example, co-production draws upon, we, we use visual and ver verbal creative methodologies to engage different stakeholders through the research problems, but actually this doesn't really happen in participatory research. So as researchers working with communities, and a lot of disciplines do engage a lot with communities outside of academia because, uh, we want to create the evidence and we want to create impact.
Which requires some sort of translation of knowledge beyond the standard academic outputs. You know, uh, the impact is not going to be through publications. It's not going to happen through published books, but we need to share this knowledge to the wider public in a way, and in a format which can be easily absorbed by communities, policy makers, uh, practitioners.
And we want to speak a common language that they, they are happy and, and they can understand as well. So, If we want to tackle societal challenges across the globe, we have to be creative and we have to be collaborative and flexible when designing research and co-production allows that kind of flexibility and creativity in some, in some way.
Um, so we might think that there is a good level of agreement about what co co-production is, but, and how it's, how it's implemented, uh, and what. How it's working and what are the set of tools and techniques to, to achieve the impact. But in reality, there is very limited evidence of how co-production works in practice or its impact on research and policy.
So just, just going back to your question about how do we understand co-production, um, I see co-production as a value, valuable chance for giving voices to those who may not have previously been included in knowledge production and decision making as well. So, so engaging. For example, uh, marginalized groups like, like women, youth, people with disabilities in their research process can be very empowering, empowering and leading to, to better outcomes.
Simply because, um, participation in theory gives choices and voices to marginalized communities. So also, let's not forget that co-production promotes and fosters interdisciplinarity, and that's a very, very important aspect when we conduct research. We are trying to bring different disciplines to work together, to be creative and to come up with new solution.
And co-production really helps a lot with facilitating that. We are facing poverty, inequality, and climate change problems. And all these demands require fostering critical global understanding of interdisciplinary networks. Um, and, and this is what we try to achieve in the toolkit actually, is to draw on the experiences of researchers across the arts and humanities, the social sciences and public health.
Uh, uh, policy, uh, uh, uh, business all across the University of Leeds to provide a really collective voice to the opportunities and the challenges that that confront researchers engaged in co-production with diverse partners. So we wanted to offer some kind of tangible learning to inform the essential institutional, political and cultural shift necessary to foster, uh, co-production.
And we wanted to learn more about that through the toolkit.Ged:
Thanks. That's really interesting and has really helped me kind of get a sense of the full scale of the spectrum, um, of, of different approaches that, that people can take, uh, in different situations. So my ne next question is kind of focusing in on that, um, thinking about.
Different applications of all these different practices, what types of situations would you choose to be fully co-productive? I guess, if that's, if that's an appropriate way of describing it compared to other forms of collaboration and engagement.Gehan:
Yeah, I like that terminology, you know, co-productive that, that's really good.
I need to think about that. But, um, but let, let me go back to reflect on what research and co-production entails, maybe, um, which as I said, it's a tool and a methodology that can potentially cross. You know, cut across many disciplines like humanities and social sciences. So, so co-production will help researchers to develop creative methods, um, share knowledge to address societal problems, and it'll also support their research to shift from revealing, or what I call describing problems, making it very descriptive, uh, to focus on producing genuine change and, and real impact. When we work with the communities, when we go out there to, to, to ask them, what are the problems you're facing? We are really talking to the real people, the actual people who are suffering from the problems.
So that's why it's co-production is going to really benefit the society and the sciences as well. Uh, we also assume that there's, through co-production, there's a kind of mutual respect. There's no kind of hierarchy of knowledge forms. It's easy. Uh, we're crossing the disciplines and the boundaries, and there's a norm.
Normal cons norm, normative concern with action. So we're not really simply focusing on, on systematic analysis and the way that we normally do the research. So, So the value of co-production will lie in the process more than the outcome. It's rather the result that we're not looking for, but we're trying to create a kind of trust to think differently in cur curating and developing new mutual, uh, beneficial in environments and understanding how do we need to drive the research.
And, and the key to that is engaging in co-production from the very beginning, uh, even before the research is designed, uh, because we want to ensure that we all start on the same page. Uh, and through having a shared understanding of the goals and the objectives, we need to co-produce that, that research from, from the very beginning.
Um, we also need to be careful, uh, that we are not imposing our own values on the participants, uh, and ensuring flexibility in the design of the research timeline. So a lot of expectations may shift. We are happy, we're flexible that we can cha change and revise our objectives, revise our questions once again.
But we're also driven by sometimes personal motivations of what drives certain elements of co-production is that people really want to, to see the change in the different perspective, uh, on the horizon. But if we cha can harness the commonality that motivates the change, even though the people may come at that change from different perspectives, but it itself very powerful in in moving forward.
So I think we should use co-production when we want to build relationships, for example, to foster, trust, respect, and openness. Uh, and to be mindful of different stakeholders and communities and what we, they expect from us and also what we expect from them. Um, we also look at co-production when we want to create.
Uh, partnerships, equal partnerships and for them to become inclusive through valuing all stakeholders equally and giving them a space to be open about their expectations, which, which in my view is, is a key to approaching co-production and a key for success of co-production as well. Um, when our research requires obtaining voices to be heard. Co-production is very essential to be in that kind of equation of methodologies, definitely because it recognises the expertise of everybody involved, uh, and provides safe space for stakeholders who are directly impacted by major problems and challenges to voice their opinions and experiences.
Um, and the, and, and, and these stories, we, we will never obtain them we'll, never, we're never gonna be able to Google them or find them in a, in a journal article. It will just come from, from the people who are suffering, from the people who are facing the problems. And actually those are the peoples who probably will have the solutions for the problems.
Um, we also use it if we're looking for better research outcomes for, from my experience, of employing co-production as well, because simply ensures that the values and needs of different stakeholders are accounted for. Uh, and also really taken into consideration, um, we, we do engage with a lot of people and communities deeply to understand the core of the problem and to have a better and clearer understanding of how that problem should be approached and by engaging with different sectors of the society. The co-production at that point will help to reduce the risks of what we call, uh, parachute science and eliminate this idea that researchers from wealthier countries come with the solutions ready made solutions, uh, to collect data and return and to go and publish the results and full stop. You know, we never go back again. We never communicate the impact. We never communicate. What are the solutions? We just disappear. And I'm talking about particularly if, if that's a funded project, once the funding stops, we, we, we literally disappear.
Unless that kind of sustainability of resources that will help us to go back and continue that kind of relationship, that trust that we have built over the years and over the time, um, sometimes we're, we're successful in doing that and sometimes we're not. And really someti, you know, for researchers, we are really held by the funding and, and where that goes.
So, A lot of challenges, but, you know, um, we need to understand what are the problems and we need to be, uh, very careful about how we address them from the start.Ged:
Yeah, that's, uh, that absolutely, you know, the, the people we work with are the most important people in this space, aren't they? Um,Gehan:
The, the toolkit, um, explores, uh, I think it's 16 different case studies, uh, including yours.
Um, can you tell us what you learned from other researchers' practice in, in, in leading this project?Gehan:
Um, The toolkit, the, you know, developing that toolkit and doing the, the scoping. And the mapping really was a very excellent eye opener to see the breadth of co-production, uh, across the institution and, uh, across Leeds and, you know, uh, To see different ways of how people understand it, how do they use it, how do they employ it?
And, and as I said at the start, you know, there is no one method that fits all. Uh, starting from framing the research questions to the development and dissemination of the recommendations, but, but also there are, we have seen some, some danger and risk that co-production can lead to conflict sometimes.
And, and, and we need to be really open to, to take the risks and, and to be open for that. And, and the very pur purpose of of, of setting the collaborations may not always be clear at the start, where this is where really conflict emerged and, and it drives the direction of the research project, which may not reflect the values and the priorities of the stakeholders.
So we have to be very careful when we start, uh, uh, uh, using co-production and we have heard during the, uh, co-production toolkit, LA launched last month, we have heard a lot of stories about. How it worked and how it did not work, and what were the challenges behind that. So beyond the life cycle of the research project, we've, we've seen that co-production research can also mean investing time and resources into relationships with no guaranteed concrete outputs.
We never know how this method, how, how co-production methods are going to end. We sometimes we have to be very careful of, as I said, taking the risk of not knowing is this gonna work or not. But you know, it's very experimental, so we have to go for it and we have to try and we have to learn from those failures.Ged:
And also having the capacity to manage sometimes very difficult and tense relationships because as I said, we have to build that phase of building the trust with partners and with communities who we never know. We just, we just go sometimes do research in places and contexts that we have never visited or have been before.
So how do we find that connection? How do we build that, that that kind of open relationship and to get the community to openly talk about what they feel. So maintaining the communication can be a way to overcome of some of that challenges, but, From the various and wide range of interviews of the case studies and the podcast presented in the toolkit, there is no fixed end to co-production relationship, but what we can see as a common denominator between all of them is the sustainability and ongoing relationship, which should be the really great ideal situation for us. So when we asked for example, historians and cultural researchers about co-production, uh, they said that, It allowed them to look at cultural material with new eyes, uh, and rethinking, uh, who the research is for actually who is going to benefit from that research.
So, and also something came up in the discussions about ownership. In the networks and others have more right to engage with collections, for example, and draw meaning out of them, uh, more than the academics. So, so when we, when we go to talk to communities and they tell us their stories, but at the end of the day, who owns that story?
Is it us as a researcher or the authentic and their original community who have been into that kind of created that kind of survival episodes from over years and years of time. So where does that ownership stop? Uh, so that was something really interesting that came, uh, outta, outta the toolkit discussions.
Um, another, another example, uh, was Adam Crawford's research on, uh, urban policing. Uh, looking at not just what the police do, but what public sector and voluntary and private organizations do around policing and how they interact together. That was really interesting. Um, because that work was a research-based collaboration between the N8 universities (see shownotes for explanation) and police forces, uh, Office of the Police and Crime Commissioners (the shownotes have a very brief explanation of how policing is organised in the UK) .
And the co-production approach that he adapted also involves stakeholders through the lifecycle of the research design by thinking through the nature of the problems and how to understand them and how to try to solve them as well. So, engaging both service providers and service user throughout the research was really crucial to co-produce the questions and the methodologies and, and managing the different values and, and the needs out of that.
Um, one, one other fascinating example that that really struck me was, was on the, uh, the example of the, uh, the gender and resistance to violent extremism. Uh, that was a project in Kenya that used body mapping as a form of embodied storytelling to, to understand how men and women perceive and resist violence, uh, in their everyday life.
Uh, that was a really exciting methodology where they used visual methods like participatory mapping, uh, photo voice or season calendars and day schedule challenges and diaries. Uh, with the community and giving them a voice to find how difficult it is to articulate verbally and support different ways of communicating, uh, their ideas and their thoughts that enable that conversation to happen.
So it's not easy just to go and talk to people and they will just come to be very open and talk about things but I think the, the, the visual methods they used was really exciting and interesting of, grasping the root causes of the problems and understanding what are the proper solutions for that. We also learned from, from Jen's work that creative research allowed her to, to produce research that has been accessible and lots of different people can input in different ways.
And this is where the voices of the community is, is very important. So, um, we, we, we found from, from some of the cases as well, uh, how co-production helped to break down the power of hierarchies if it was done in the right way. Uh, and that's by valuing the different forms of knowledge and experiences. Uh, but also it supported some of the researchers that lead to decolonise research, which is an also an very important keyword that we are really using now, um, to, to tell the other side of the story through problematizing how knowledge is produced and value.
So really these discussions about co-productions are happening at the same time as discussions about decolonism and how we decolonise the knowledge. And again, coming back to the idea of, of who owns the history and the ownership issues. But, but sometimes co-production puts us in a situation and a dangerous situation, uh, being very, uh, very optimistic and very ambitious about what co-production is and what it can do, but, actually, yes, there is an obsession with impact on the tendency that projects can change the world, but co-production can be seen as a realignment of all these challenges. And we need to go back to sector leadership, um, and, and say what is needed to do research effectively. And we need to challenge ourselves on what we can deliver best and reflect on our practices.
So that will be my intake and. On, on co-production and how we try to formalise that and put it in the toolkit in a very simple way.Ged:
Yeah. Thank you for that. I, I, I lose track of the number of times I get, uh, uh, I try to correct researchers when they say my impact and go, mm-hmm. No, the, the impact probably isn't owned by you.
It's probably owned by those people who've decided to make the change or, uh, take on the effect or apply the, the findings maybe that you've, that you've come up with, but it's their impact, not, not yours.Gehan:
The, we're, we're, we're fast running outta the, of our allotted time, unfortunately. And, and you mentioned in, in your previous answer, some of the, some of the challenges and things to take care of.
Um, When you're entering into a co-production project. So my kind of final question is really to try and distill some of that advice down for a researcher or, uh, and uh, an external partner who might be entering into a co-production project for the first time. So what would you say to them, um, in terms of here's how to set it up and, and here's the right way, you know, or some of the ways to think about some of the questions to, to think about, to, to make sure the relationship starts off well and continues.Gehan:
Yeah. Excellent. Tha thanks, Ged. That's a very important question, and I think that concludes the entire process of what we're trying to do and what is, what is the purpose of the co-production network, what do we want to achieve out of it? And, and as I said, we, we, we simply do not know which strategies are the most promising for collaborative research.
We, we, we don't have a formula for that, but you know, We need to, to know and to learn what are the best ways to keep stakeholders engaged with the process and under what circumstances should co-production should be, you know, sh wh when should we use it rather than, you know, we just embed it and force it on on our research work. So what are the type of types of infrastructure that needs to be in place? So there are two really important things to consider, whether co-production is likely to be useful in helping the research meet its aims and strategies and impact and objectives as well. And whether. If there's other approaches which are more likely to help achieve those aims.
So is really co-production needed, or it's just an imposed element. And, and I'm saying that because, you know, uh, we know co-production is becoming like a buzzword now. Oh, co-production, co-creation, participatory research, but. A lot of researchers, some, some researchers really don't understand what are the borderlines between each one and the other, and, and where this is going to, how this is going to help their research.
So we need to ask ourselves, you know, what is everyone bringing to the table when we have co-production part co-producing research with partners? You know, for example, policy makers and funders bring money. They bring knowledge to the, to the context. Um, There is, there is a lot of pressure for providing answers.
Uh, researchers bring topics and methodologies and expertise. Uh, but you know, how, how is this helping everybody to progress? And also under which circumstances are, are these needed as well? So at which stage of the research process should we engage the policy makers? For example, is it happening from the start or at a certain stage?
So, research organisations and funders need, need really to consider how to create and support leadership and, you know, infrastructure for co-production because, you know, um, you know, looking at funders, you know, like AHRC (explained in the shownotes) for example, sometimes there's li little appreciation of using co-production as a method because we don't know what the outcome is going to be.
So we are not able to set and predict the outcome because co-production doesn't support that. So in a nutshell, my advice for early career researchers, for example, of what we learned about co-production so far is first of all, look for alternative ways and approaches if things are not working as planned, because PO co-production is experimental, as I mentioned, be flexible that you need to change and adapt the research all the time until you write the find method and formula that works for you and for your project.
Um, test your approaches all the time through a variety of scales. And talk to the community, ask them about feedback, uh, because the toolkit reminds us that we are basically working with people and dealing with relationships so that, so they have to be at the core of that discussion all the time. Um, also, uh, The funders have not been looking at co-production as a strong tool for research methods and driving projects.
So the question is, how can we change that perception and how can we make that understanding shift, uh, in terms of its assessment and what works and what does not work? Um, so. How the action of change as well can, can provide the values that we are establishing at co-production because there's always an interesting aspect about methods, but we still need to explore how to give back to communities and use co-production to create positive, positive change for everybody involved.
So that, that will be my, my big advice to them.Ged:
Thank you so much, Gehan, for such an interesting conversation. I wish we, I wish we had more time, uh, to go into, uh, into lots more aspects of this. Um, so thank you for sharing your thoughts on co-production and actually not just your thoughts, but, uh, all of the researchers involved in, uh, in producing the, the toolkit.
Uh, and I'm sure it'll be a really valuable resource to people in the future. Um, and. I, I just, uh, I just wanted to thank you also for kind of making that final point about delivering impact that is equitable. You know, that it fully, fully built into the process, uh, that we're going through. So that, that for me was my kind of takeaway and one that I, uh, I, you know, really sits with, with my values.
So thanks very much for finishing on that.Gehan:
And thank you very much, Ged, for this conversation. It's, it's really good to talk about work and research and to, to, to bring all the people and the network and the researchers, uh, into that mix. And I think working on the toolkit and, and, and the co-production work has been a really, uh, exciting and a real pleasure for me as well.
So thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about it today.Ged:
You're absolutely welcome. And, uh, and. Thanks, listeners, and thank you for, for joining us today.Intro:
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