Leading co-production in five UK collaborative research partnerships (2008-2018): responses to four tensions from senior leaders using auto-ethnography

Peter Van der Graaf*, Roman Kislov, Helen Smith, Joe Langley, Natalie Hamer, Mandy Cheetham, Daniel Wolstenholme, Jo Cooke, Sue Mawson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Despite growing enthusiasm for co-production in healthcare services and research, research on co-production practices is lacking. Multiple frameworks, guidelines and principles are available but little empirical research is conducted on ‘how to do’ co-production of research to improve healthcare services. This paper brings together insights from UK-based collaborative research partnerships on leading co-production. Its aim is to inform practical guidance for new partnerships planning to facilitate the co-production of applied health research in the future.
Using an auto-ethnographic approach, experiential evidence was elicited through collective sense making from recorded conversations between the research team and senior leaders of five UK-based collaborative research partnerships. This approach applies a cultural analysis and interpretation of the leaders’ behaviours, thoughts, and experiences of co-production taking place in 2008-2018 and involving academics, health practitioners, policy makers, and representatives of third sector organisations.
The findings highlight a variety of practices across CLAHRCs, whereby the intersection between the senior leaders’ vision and local organisational context in which co-production occurs largely determines the nature of co-production process and outcomes. We identified four tensions in doing co-production: 1) idealistic, tokenistic vs realistic narratives, 2) power differences and (lack of) reciprocity, 3) excluding vs including language and communication, 4) individual motivation vs structural issues.
The tensions were productive in helping collaborative research partnerships to tailor co-production practices to their local needs and opportunities. Resulting variation in co-production practices across partnerships can therefore be seen as highly advantageous creative adaptation, which makes us question the utility of seeking a unified ‘gold standard’ of co-production. Strategic leadership is an important starting point for finding context-tailored solutions; however, development of more distributed forms of leadership over time is needed to facilitate co-production practices between partners. Facilitating structures for co-production can enable power sharing and boost capacity and capability building, resulting in more inclusive language and communication and, ultimately, more credible practices of co-production in research. We provide recommendations for creating more realistic narratives around co-production and facilitating power sharing between partners.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalImplementation Science Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2023


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