Co-Production and Creativity: ethos, typologies and innovation in public engagement practice

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences


(A) The enrichment of institutional PER culture.

Public engagement is fundamentally necessary to the mission of the twenty-first century university. A great deal of public money is devoted to high-quality research so it is important that the benefits and innovations delivered by higher education research are shared with the public in order to promote trust and transparency. Keele University values public engagement as a central part of its high-quality research mission -- a measure of which is to be funded by research councils (RCUK). Keele is committed to working closely with and learning from the public, an approach that is known as 'co-production'. Co-production as an ethos is central to some of Keele's most innovative social research -- in particular, the creative solutions generated by its Community and Social Innovation Centre (CASIC); and Live Age, which aims to inspire creativity among older people. While both of these socially-focused projects originated in RCUK funding, so does much of our high-quality research into science and medicine: that research, in being explicitly based on esoteric specialist expertise, is often not so accessible or amenable to co-production. At the same time, much of Keele's medical research has an excellent patient participation and engagement infrastructure to support it. In the natural sciences, on the other hand, public engagement with research works more readily through an 'outreach' model which works through different structures of support. In another context, our research into policing has to engage with a practice that directly impacts on the public, with public interest at its heart, but which is operated by professional specialists, governed by law and regulation. As a University committed to public engagement, our varied spheres of research necessarily present a varied picture of our public engagement practices which it is a challenge to cohere.

In working with the National Centre for the Coordination of Public Engagement, we have become convinced that co-production represents one of the most inclusive and democratic ethics of public engagement to bring together our varied practices. However, the aim of embedding co-production as a creative and innovative mode presents real challenges and our approach to catalyse change involves four phases.
1. First, the research team will map the different typologies of public engagement most commonly associated with our most successful PE research practices: in this phase of our research, we will theorise these typologies, their varied 'orientations', and the challenges of deploying them in different contexts of public engagement.
2. Secondly, we will design work streams/packages, associated with key areas of RCUK funded research. Our practice here will be to assess the most creative ways to introduce and orientate co-production, to be phased and introduced by working through, but going beyond, approaches to public engagement that are dominant in the research habits of a given discipline or field.
3. Having arrived at new and workable orientations of co-production in our 6 work streams, we will roll these out through training workshops that will include researchers, but also middle managers. We will catalyse change by embedding these approaches in public engagement work through a team of public engagement specialists that our research project will have trained.
4. We will roll this work to other universities who collaborate in the business of co-produced PER in order to share best practice.

We will measure and evaluate success by working with Theory of Change tools, designed in the early phases of the project; as well as with NCCPE's EDGE tool for assessing the degree to which PER has become an embedded and successful part of everyday research life at Keele.

Planned Impact

(A) The enrichment of institutional PER culture.

Who might benefit from this research?

1. Other leadership teams in HEIs, who will need to cohere their own PER mission around the challenge of disciplinary diversity.
2. Other PER practitioners in HEIs, and relevant partners and collaborators, who will benefit from the advanced, research-generated guidance on the principles of co-producing in diverse contexts.
3. Other PER practitioners in HEIs, and relevant partners and collaborators, who will benefit from the advanced, research-generated guidance on the relationship between innovative research and creative forms of public engagement.
4. PER partners, collaborators, members of different publics who engage with, learn about, and co-produce HEI research through cultural conferences, festivals of ideas.

How might they benefit from this research?
1. By participating in training programmes that we will roll out.
2. Attend advanced workshops run for external institutions and their partners, and through NCCPE-sponsored conference and workshop activity.
3. Collaboratively organised cultural conferences, festivals of ideas etc., developed through research-generated best practice, in Keele's locale (North Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent); but also through national and international contexts and opportunities (Stoke-on-Trent's bid to be UK City of Culture 2021 is of potential significance here).


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