Academics, communities, and policymakers can produce research which is both academically excellent and has real public benefit by working together, according to a new report by the N8 Research Partnership launched at the University of Sheffield on May 4th.

Video courtesy of N8 Research Partnership

The Knowledge that Matters: Realising the Potential of Co-production program was designed to take a fresh look at the way research is generated with a particular focus on how better collaboration between academics and non-academics can generate research with academic rigor which can improve lives.

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The research program, which was funded by N8, a collaboration of the eight most research-intensive universities in the north of England, and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), provides one of the first fully-evidenced accounts of the benefits and opportunities as well as challenges of co-production.

The report draws on the insights from five pilot co-production projects run by N8 universities (the Universities of Leeds, York, Durham, and Manchester) and their partners, focusing on skills in the context of devolution, policing, and mental health, and community partnerships such as a city-lab and those across multi-faith communities.

Researchers found that co-production challenges the boundaries of what is considered research and that this has considerable implications for understanding the nature of research and the potential to deliver impact and transformative change.

Benefits of co-production include:

  • Achieving rigor and relevance
  • Academic excellence and new intellectual insights
  • Better and more appropriate research methods
  • Wider public benefit in terms of supporting innovation and change
  • Financial benefits through the capacity to leverage resources and creativity

However, the findings of the research program also suggest there are challenges in achieving the effective implementation of co-production. These challenges exist at a fundamental level, in terms of presumptions about academic knowledge, skills, and capabilities, as well as in a host of practical and organizational ways.

Professor Heather CampbellProfessor Heather Campbell, N8 lead for co-production.Photo courtesy of the University of SheffieldThe report, which was be introduced by University of Sheffield vice-chancellor professor Sir Keith Burnett at an event on May 4th, makes a series of recommendations for research funders, universities, non-academic organizations, researchers, and the N8 Research Partnership.

Heather Campbell, professor of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield and N8 lead for co-production, said: “By academics and non-academics working intensively together, we can produce research that is both academically excellent and also delivers public benefit, not one or the other.

“This is a hugely important message, more particularly for early career and new academics, that we can deliver academically excellent research that affects change on the ground, change that improves the lives of citizens, that develops our policymaking capacity, and enables businesses to be more innovative and creative. Co-production has the capacity to have a really major impact. However, co-production also challenges our current practices. Innovation and change will be necessary if the latent potential of co-production is to be realized.”

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Professor Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, a board member and former chair of the N8 Research Partnership, added: “I am delighted that ?the ?University of Sheffield is playing a vital role in work which brings together academics and the wider community to deliver positive change. Our university is committed to research which brings public benefit and this report shows the potential of working in this way. Co-production brings impact, connections, and greater insight, but it can also help deliver real change.”

Peter Simpson, director of the N8 Research Partnership, said: “The N8 Research Partnership is a collaboration body bringing together the expertise and capabilities of our universities to build collaborations—across the universities, businesses, and the public sector—with the clear goal of driving investment and benefiting the economy and society.

“This pioneering program shows that working together in the spirit of co-production can improve the quality of research as well as make a real difference to people’s lives.”