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Embracing co-production – a punk attitude

Published: 07 July 2020

How are co-production and punk music similar? Gary Hickey, PPI Strategic Lead at the NIHR Research Design Service South East, writes about musical rebellion and how his team are embedding co-production principles in their work. His blog marks Co-Production Week.

As a passionate music lover and (extremely) amateur guitar player I often view the world through the prism of music. The genre of music that, in my opinion, most aptly fits with co-production is punk rock. Disrupting the status quo, embracing new ideas and a do-it-yourself approach describe both punk and co-production.

At the Research Design Service South East, the Patient and Public Involvement Team – both staff and public members – have made a decision to embrace the co-production principles outlined in the NIHR’s ‘Co-producing a Research Project’ guidance. These principles are:

  • Sharing power – research is jointly owned and people work together to achieve a joint understanding
  • Including all perspectives and skills – make sure the research team includes all those who can make a contribution
  • Respecting and valuing the knowledge of all those working together on the research – everyone is of equal importance
  • Reciprocity – everybody benefits from working together
  • Building and maintaining relationships – an emphasis on relationships is key to sharing power. There needs to be joint understanding and consensus and clarity over roles and responsibilities. It is also important to value people and unlock their potential.

The time was right

I only joined the team in late February of this year, just before the COVID-19 lockdown. My timing in starting this job was almost as bad as my timing with my guitar when I play with my band. The climate was right to embrace the co-production principles and we had strong foundations on which to build. Embracing the new doesn’t mean throwing out the old – The Sex Pistols used rock ‘n’ roll riffs, The Clash sometimes employed reggae beats and The Jam were influenced by the 60s mod scene. For example, public members already attended the patient and public involvement team meetings and the staff members are highly rated and committed to ensuring meaningful patient and public involvement in their work. We want to build on this strong legacy not throw it away.

The wider environment in which the Research Design Service works also contributes to the right climate for co-production. I have now met some great people from the Kent, Surrey, Sussex Applied Research Collaboration and they are determined to introduce co-production as a way of working – we are really looking forward to working with them.

Finally, at the Research Design Service, we have a Regional Patient and Public Involvement Forum that brings together organisations and public members from across the region and provides a great platform for debating issues, and sharing knowledge and resources. The disruption caused by COVID-19, although awful, has contributed to a sense that people and organisations are looking for new ways of working and providing services.

Putting co-production into action

So what are we doing? We – staff and public members on the Patient and Public Involvement Team – have co-produced a set of guidelines that set out a way of working together, engaging with and respecting each other. We will have a rotating chair at team meetings, helping to share power in the room. We are going to have a series of ‘co-production sessions’ led by a public member and a staff member in which we will explore what we mean by co-production and what it means for our work. We are going to provide a safe space to allow public members to meet on their own to reflect upon and feedback on how things are working. We are launching a podcast series, in partnership with the NIHR Centre for Engagement and Dissemination, ‘That Co-production Podcast!’ in which a staff member and public members will interview researchers and the public on their co-production work – a way of reaching those who cannot access journals or perhaps want an alternative to ‘heavy’ academic articles. And we will be working with various partners to deliver a co-production conference in 2021. All of this is in addition to our core work providing advice and guidance on research proposals.

As a team, staff and public members, we are in no doubt that working co-productively is very much an aspiration and one that is littered with challenges – not least how can we work co-productively and deliver our services on a small budget. We will have to work together, in innovative ways, to overcome and manage these issues. Some of the obstacles in our way may well be impossible to overcome. We are going to keep a record of our progress and report at the end of the year. In the meantime we’re going to rock on. Just don’t expect me to be sporting a Mohican any time soon.

Dr Gary Hickey, PPI Strategic Lead at the NIHR Research Design Service South East


If you’re feeling inspired check out our co-production guidance or our ‘Co-production in Action’ series.  Number three in the series will be released soon.


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