Coproduction, a collaborative model of research that includes stakeholders in the research process, has been widely advocated as a means of facilitating research use and impact. We summarise the arguments in favour of coproduction, the different approaches to establishing coproductive work and their costs, and offer some advice as to when and how to consider coproduction.
Despite the multiplicity of reasons and incentives to coproduce, there is little consensus about what coproduction is, why we do it, what effects we are trying to achieve, or the best coproduction techniques to achieve policy, practice or population health change. Furthermore, coproduction is not free risk or cost. Tensions can arise throughout coproduced research processes between the different interests involved. We identify five types of costs associated with coproduced research affecting the research itself, the research process, professional risks for researchers and stakeholders, personal risks for researchers and stakeholders, and risks to the wider cause of scholarship. Yet, these costs are rarely referred to in the literature, which generally calls for greater inclusion of stakeholders in research processes, focusing exclusively on potential positives. There are few tools to help researchers avoid or alleviate risks to themselves and their stakeholders.
First, we recommend identifying specific motivations for coproduction and clarifying exactly which outcomes are required for whom for any particular piece of research. Second, we suggest selecting strategies specifically designed to enable these outcomes to be achieved, and properly evaluated. Finally, in the absence of strong evidence about the impact and process of coproduction, we advise a cautious approach to coproduction. This would involve conscious and reflective research practice, evaluation of how coproduced research practices change outcomes, and exploration of the costs and benefits of coproduction. We propose some preliminary advice to help decide when coproduction is likely to be more or less useful.