Workshop Demonstrates Support For Ground-Breaking Social Sciences Programme

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A new programme to explore the potential of knowledge ‘co-production’ between researchers and non-academics has got off to a highly successful start – thanks to a unique workshop held this month.

Academics, public and voluntary sector representatives and members of the policy and business communities attended the workshop on December 5 at the Ridge in Sheffield, which marked the first stage of The N8 Research Partnership’s ground-breaking Co-production Research Programme.

The N8 has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)  to work with industry partners, the policy community and the voluntary sector to examine how co-production can shape approaches to social sciences research. The co-production of research stresses the importance of collaboration between academics and research users, changing the way social science research is conducted and applied.

The workshop was attended by more than 50 people from a diverse range of backgrounds, and speakers included Professor John Forester from Cornell University and Martien Kuitenbrouwer, former District Mayor for West Amsterdam and Director of the Programme for Public Mediation at the University of Amsterdam.

Attendees explored how the potential of knowledge co-production could best be harnessed and thereby enhance the value of social science research to new and existing research users. The workshop also examined key opportunities and barriers associated with the co-production of knowledge, and identified issues and innovative practices which might be explored.

The N8 Co-production Research Programme is being co-ordinated on behalf of the N8 Research Partnership by the University of Sheffield and is drawing on the experience of the N8 Industry Innovation Forum, which connects leading businesses with research intensive universities and other organisations involved in innovation.

Professor Heather Campbell, Principal Investigator of the Co-production Research Programme (pictured), said: “We worked with non-academic partners to co-design a rather different approach for this workshop and I am delighted with the outcome.

“There was a real ‘buzz’ in the room, indicative of the rich and lively interactions which were taking place.

“Crucially, given the scale of the challenges facing practitioners and policy makers, there was a real sense of shared commitment to working together more effectively, and understanding that this would generate significant intellectual and practical benefits.

“The workshop has given real momentum to the important concerns underlying the N8 Co-production Research Programme.”

Inspector Bruce Prendergast, of North Yorkshire Police, who attended the workshop, added: “The workshop was excellent – it’s great to be collaborating with such an excellent group of universities that will start to make a real difference in how we deliver services to the public, in an evidence-based way.”

Professor Richard Jones, Member of the N8 Executive Management Group and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research & Innovation at the University of Sheffield, said: “It’s more important than ever that our research is collaborative.  Incorporating the different methods and approaches from different disciplines is important, but we can go much further when we listen to our partners outside academia.  This is what we mean by co-production of research, and we hope the outcome is research that is not only more relevant to the communities we serve but also better through the richness of the different insights it incorporates.

“I very much welcome our important collaborative programme on co-production across the N8 universities.”

The N8 already has a strong track record in creating pioneering research collaborations in science and engineering by forging strong links with industry and matching demand from the private sector with the world-class research carried out in the N8 universities.

However, this kind of collaboration is relatively under-developed in social sciences research. The ESRC funding is enabling a multi-disciplinary team from the N8 to work alongside non-academics and practitioners.

The outcomes of the research will be presented in a report examining the opportunities and challenges associated with co-production for academics and research users, and the results are expected to be published in 2015.