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UCL Public Engagement Blog



Why I grappled with the word co-production and how I have come to love it!

By Niccola, on 19 March 2019

Today’s guest blogger for UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research is the lovely Trupti Patel, Centre collaborator and UCL researcher – welcome Trupti!

Photo of Trupti

The UCL Centre for Co-Production in Health Research came to my attention as I was looking through the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s website. I had recently joined the Science and Technology Studies Department as a researcher on the Horizon 2020 Society in Innovation and Science through CO-DEsign project (SISCODE). Co-production was new to me and I was grappling with the concept, trying to unpick the complexities of a fully democratic engagement process and using co-design / co-production as a method of doing research.

The Centre had released some blog posts written in a style very unlike many university websites. It seemed friendly, open and welcoming – it was colloquial, there were jokes (and most importantly events with sweets)! It certainly seemed like an initiative designed to involve the public as decision makers, not simply education receivers!

Line drawing illustrating the concept of co-design (Image Credit: UX Australia 2013, https://www.smallfire.co.nz)

Within my field Science and Technology Studies researchers have uncovered the flaws in the Deficit Model – the assumption the public simply do not understand research and we as researchers, must educate them further in order for them to accept recommendations resulting from research. Science and Technology Studies scholars have found that the public have their own expertise and knowledge within their personal context which may clash with recommendations provided by so called ‘scientific experts’. This scholarship is most often associated with the work of Brian Wynne on sheep farming. We may then begin to wrestle with the concept of and what constitutes ‘expertise’ and conversations around the links between power and knowledge. After seeing the communication style of the blog posts, I was secretly hoping the work of the Centre would truly be a giant leap forward for health researchers to begin engaging with the fields of the Public Understanding of Science as well as Expertise and Public Participation in order to generate more effective health outcomes, better designed with and for patients – a more holistic approach.

Red blob with lots of faces, arms and legs representing co-design (Image Credit: Sustain! https://sustainableproduct.wordpress.com/)

After an email to Niccola and a quick chat, I began engaging with the Centre – coming to their workshops and speaking to some of the people involved. After the first event I began to think – could it be that my initial hopes could possibly be met? There was something different here – people were engaged in novel ways, people with lived experience were invited and had an equal say in round table discussions. My hopes were finally confirmed after I attended the final event for the round 1 pilot projects where each project was asked to present their work. I was surprised to see that those with lived experience presented the findings and, In many cases, the researchers were not present. Initially I was worried that the researchers were not taking the projects seriously, but as I began to speak to and interview those involved – people with lived experience as well as researchers, I noticed a shift of power beginning to surface.

Group workshop photo – people are focussing on post it notes on the tables and chatting

I interviewed observers and attendees of the events who were not involved in a pilot project as well as those who were. From both the perspective of experts with lived experience as well as scientific experts, their experiences were generally extremely positive. Those directly involved in the pilot projects in particular, had begun to engage with a new way of working, uncovering the benefits as well as the difficulties of employing co-design. The researchers gained the knowledge of the intricacies of issues experienced by those with real world experience and those with lived experience felt like they had become a part of the research – offering their help in future bids and gaining knowledge of the research process.

The events themselves were extremely well thought through, with interactive sessions designed around effective engagement. I learnt a lot about new methods as well as the ambitions of those involved in co-design projects, the imperative behind the push towards democratic health research, and its value. Once I began interviewing other researchers outside of health, it became obvious that funders are increasingly calling for truly co-designed research – in some cases rejecting bids on the basis that no stakeholders were present on interview panels, ascertained from the feedback reports. The formation of the Centre itself is also telling – Wellcome Trust challenged UCL’s Public Engagement Team and the UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences to submit an ambitious, forward thinking proposal. Without this drive and support from funding bodies, institutional change often proves difficult.

As a part of the SISCODE project, we are planning on running a series of workshops for projects which exemplify co-design, charities, pressure groups, think tanks, funders, and others involved in policy development. We hope to have the Centre as an example project at a workshop focussed on Health. We are working alongside Polifactory at the Politecnico di Milano who have a large body of work on patient innovation in health research and hope to develop a link between the two institutes for future collaborations and knowledge exchange. As a part of the SISCODE project we have begun unpacking how co-produced research may be evaluated as well as accelerate new forms of engagement, and knowledge production combining expertise from the research community as well as those with lived experience. We will feed this back into the ongoing development of the UCL Centre for Co-production.

That’s all for now, thanks for having me!

Please feel free to have a read of my recent blog about the Centre written for the SISCODE website and to find out more about the SISCODE project please contact me, Trupti.

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