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    Leading co-production in five UK collaborative research partnerships (2008–2018): responses to four tensions from senior leaders using auto-ethnography

    van der Graaf, Peter, Kislov, Roman ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2525-7673, Smith, Helen, Langley, Joe, Hamer, Natalie, Cheetham, Mandy, Wolstenholme, Daniel, Cooke, Jo and Mawson, Sue (2023) Leading co-production in five UK collaborative research partnerships (2008–2018): responses to four tensions from senior leaders using auto-ethnography. Implementation Science Communications, 4 (1). p. 12. ISSN 2662-2211

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    Background: Despite growing enthusiasm for co-production in healthcare services and research, research on co-production practices is lacking. Multiple frameworks, guidelines and principles are available but little empirical research is conducted on ‘how to do’ co-production of research to improve healthcare services. This paper brings together insights from UK-based collaborative research partnerships on leading co-production. Its aim is to inform practical guidance for new partnerships planning to facilitate the co-production of applied health research in the future. Methods: Using an auto-ethnographic approach, experiential evidence was elicited through collective sense making from recorded conversations between the research team and senior leaders of five UK-based collaborative research partnerships. This approach applies a cultural analysis and interpretation of the leaders’ behaviours, thoughts and experiences of co-production taking place in 2008–2018 and involving academics, health practitioners, policy makers and representatives of third sector organisations. Results: The findings highlight a variety of practices across CLAHRCs, whereby the intersection between the senior leaders’ vision and local organisational context in which co-production occurs largely determines the nature of co-production process and outcomes. We identified four tensions in doing co-production: (1) idealistic, tokenistic vs realistic narratives, (2) power differences and (lack of) reciprocity, (3) excluding vs including language and communication, (4) individual motivation vs structural issues. Conclusions: The tensions were productive in helping collaborative research partnerships to tailor co-production practices to their local needs and opportunities. Resulting variation in co-production practices across partnerships can therefore be seen as highly advantageous creative adaptation, which makes us question the utility of seeking a unified ‘gold standard’ of co-production. Strategic leadership is an important starting point for finding context-tailored solutions; however, development of more distributed forms of leadership over time is needed to facilitate co-production practices between partners. Facilitating structures for co-production can enable power sharing and boost capacity and capability building, resulting in more inclusive language and communication and, ultimately, more credible practices of co-production in research. We provide recommendations for creating more realistic narratives around co-production and facilitating power sharing between partners.

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