Box 2.11 Facilitating supportive administrative relationships for co-production
Authors: Vicky Simpson and Sanna Isemo
2,5 min read
Depending on the size of the research group and scope of the collaboration, co-production research sometimes necessitates administrative brokers who work at the interface between different organizations to make sure that things run smoothly. This involves fostering meaningful contractual relations, funding arrangements, generating supportive documents of different sorts, and ensuring the mundane but important work gets done of making sure people are paid on time. The role of professional services within this process is to keep many plates spinning simultaneously, to ensure that relationships have a firm foundation, and that approaches are designed to support the research. This may involve institutional innovation, for instance, generating ‘boundary objects’ to constitute understanding (see Box 2.12), such as developing mini-project agreements ensuring that all participants know what they need to produce and by when, how and when they will get paid, and how this will be done.
As administrators who have supported co-production research in the Sheffield-Manchester region and Gothenburg, respectively, we have identified three key elements which have been essential to ensuring healthy relationships among the partners involved:
- Communication: Accurate, simple, and repetitive. In addition to the crucial competences of a professional service function within any organization – such as clear and simple communication, helpfulness, and accessibility – other skills are needed to support co-production. These include sensitivity, responsiveness, and mediation among different (or conflicting) needs, interests, and conditions. Ongoing, transparent communication with research participants is essential. Friendliness, being approachable, and giving accurate and clear information that is easy to understand are all important to ensure consistency of experience for multiple partners and support in navigating institutional barriers that could inhibit effective transdisciplinary work.
- Adaptation: No single model fits all. A co-production administrator needs to be creative. This includes negotiating, tailoring processes, and, when necessary, introducing new practices. This can also necessitate going the extra mile and understanding partners’ needs to ensure that all can easily engage with the research, regardless of their size, sector or organizational requirements. The administrator is expected, on the one hand, to ensure compliance with existing university norms, practices, and rules and acts as the day-to-day representative of the host organization. On the other hand, the co-production administrator needs to be flexible and responsive to differences in needs and prerequisites among the different stakeholders and their respective organizations. Questioning established rules of conduct may be needed to bring about necessary structural change. Examples include financial innovation and reform to develop light-touch and less bureaucratic processes for accessing resources to support smaller self-funding organizations, from the voluntary or charitable sectors.
- Trust: Respect, transparency, and patience. Trust must be earned from all participants. Trust is built by mediating among different needs, interests, expectations, and conditions and by contributing to a culture of openness, respect, and mutual understanding. Co-production research frequently involves interactions that are ‘outside the norm’ of established institutions. This can sometimes create unease. A pivotal role lies in understanding the needs of the research processes while, at the same time, ensuring that it complies with formal rules and requirements. Over time, the once unusual request becomes familiar. It is important to keep expectations transparent among participating institutions, be patient, and gradually support and embed new routines.