HDRUK Wales blog – The importance, challenges and benefits of co-production work

In this blog, we spoke to Jack Palmer, Co-Production Officer at HDRUK Wales, who explains his co-production work, highlighting its importance, challenges, and public benefit. 

 What is co-production? 

Co-production is an approach in which people (researchers, patients, practitioners and the public) work together in equal partnership, sharing power and responsibility. Co-production is part of what health researchers call ‘Patient and Public Involvement’ (PPI), but not all PPI activities are co-production, which goes further than engaging or consulting with the people relevant to a project in a limited way, with limited influence over decision-making. Instead, patients and the public are partners in decision-making, can be involved throughout the research lifecycle, and have an active role in prioritising, delivering, analysing and publicising research.

Why is co-production so important to HDR UK Wales? (and the wider research community).

More broadly, co-production and Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) is vital to the work of HDRUK Wales as we’re working with the personal data of millions of people in sensitive research areas, which can have real-world implications on people’s lives. Working alongside the communities and groups which may benefit from research can enhance the value of the questions, the quality of the findings, and their relevance to society and policymakers. Doing this isn’t just the right thing to do ethically; it also improves the efficacy of research and can help build the knowledge and capacity of the people or organisations we are trying to help, making research more sustainable.

What are the challenges? 

One challenge is that there isn’t a clear definition of the standards or expectations of what co-production should look like. This can vary between organisations and funders, which may confuse researchers or lead to the mislabelling of engagement activities as co-production. Doing co-production isn’t easy. It takes a lot of time and flexibility for the researcher to build authentic, trusting relationships with the people or groups they need to work with, and it can require extra thought and resources to make participation accessible and empowering. Most importantly, researchers must be genuinely willing to share control with others and listen to their priorities. This may feel scary at first, but doing so can make research significantly more impactful and relevant.

What are the benefits for the public, and how can they get involved?

Getting involved in research can be really empowering. Whether someone is living with a health condition or simply feels they have something to offer, they are an expert in their lived experience, and their perspective can significantly enhance the ability of health research to make positive change. Taking part in research can give people new knowledge and skills and introduce them to a community with similar experiences or interests. People can learn about opportunities through local clinics, patient groups and charities, and national PPI networks such as HDR UK Voices.

What projects/areas are you currently working on?  

Since joining HDR UK Wales, I’ve been building relationships with colleagues in Wales and across the UK who have an interest in Patient and Public Involvement. Something I’m excited about is looking with colleagues based with me at Swansea University to develop a co-production unit to review definitions of co-production and work on developing standards that can be applied to research and improve the quality of co-production. I’m interested in active travel and how crowd-sourced data from wearables could contribute to health research. I have also been working to establish community networks which researchers can work with to identify and co-produce research priorities.

What is your ambition for HDR UK Wales co-production work?

I would like HDR UK Wales to become well known for how we work in partnership with people to design and deliver health research. There are some incredible researchers here who already deliver quality co-production with patients and the public in their projects. I’m keen to explore with them, colleagues from across the UK and other organisations how we can work together to embed great PPI and co-production in more areas of research in a way which enables and empowers the intended beneficiaries of our work to shape what we do.

Interested in finding out more about HDR UK Wales’s Co-production work?  Then contact Jack at j.r.palmer@swansea.ac.uk