Creative workshop participants sharing solutions to transport issues

Researching solutions – participants sharing knowledge of creative solutions to address transport issues in African cities. Photo: SEI.

The promise of co-production to address complex sustainability challenges is compelling. Yet, co-production, the collaborative weaving of research and practice, encompasses diverse aims, terminologies and practices, with poor clarity over their implications. To explore this diversity, the researchers systematically mapped differences in how 32 initiatives from six continents co-produce diverse outcomes for the sustainable development of ecosystems at local to global scales. They found variation in their purpose for utilizing co-production, understanding of power, approach to politics and pathways
to impact.

A cluster analysis identified six modes of co-production: (1) researching solutions; (2) empowering voices; (3) brokering power; (4) reframing power; (5) navigating differences and (6) reframing agency.

Figure depicting the 6 modes of co-production discussed in the paper

Figure from the paper showing how six different modes of co-production vary by purpose, power, politics and pathways. Source: Chambers / Wageningen University. Images adapted from the Noun Project under a Creative Commons License CC BY 3.0 : handshake by Chunk Icons, magnifying glass by kiddo, pyramid by IconPai, arrow by Alice Design and iceberg by Juan Pablo Bravo.

No mode is ideal; each holds unique potential to achieve particular outcomes, but also poses unique challenges and risks. The analysis provides a heuristic tool for researchers and societal actors to critically explore this diversity and effectively navigate trade-offs when co-producing sustainability.