Box 2.4

Box 2.4 Co-production between PhD students and community members in an urban fishing village

Authors: Helena Kraff and Eva Maria Jernsand with Franklin Otiende and Patrick Hayombe

2 min read


To improve local livelihoods in the Dunga fishing village on the outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, a group of tour guides wanted the village to become a more attractive and sustainable ecotourism destination. The main problems addressed concerned the low ranked position of local guides in relation to larger private tour operators and a low diversity of tourism offerings. Furthermore, female community members were highly affected by the tourism business taking place in their village but over which they had little power or influence.


To develop the benefits of small-scale ecotourism in the area, a team of four Kenyan and Swedish doctoral students undertook transdisciplinary action research with local tour guides, a local NGO, the local beach management unit and residents in the community. Besides the academic output, the aim was to produce practically useful results that could be implemented in the local context.


The practical implementation included development of guided tours, infrastructural improvements regarding waste collection and signage, the design and execution of a cultural day, initiation of a county-wide association to strengthen the position of local guides and initiation of a female guide group, breaking into the male-dominated profession of tour guiding.


The methods and tools relied heavily on visualizations (e.g., sketches, drawings, photos) and tangible prototyping (e.g., small-scale models), thus making participation easier and aiding idea generation in group work. These methods were mixed with more business and management-oriented methods to develop the tour guiding business.


As a result of the collaborative work, evaluation and refinement, the guided tours expanded to include more storytelling and the cooking of food. The guides strengthened their confidence and skills. They were further asked by other tour guide groups to come and teach them how to develop their own sites. 


The duration of the process led to deeper collaborations and possibilities to plan subsequent steps together and a mutual trust developed. A communicative approach with open presentations, sharing of work, discussions, written reports, an available project space, and social media communication also contributed to knowledge co-production.


On the other hand, several challenges also emerged. Many of these were connected to the North–South collaboration and the power relations and inequalities between actors that this led to. 

The different university systems benefitted the Swedish PhD students, having more time to write their theses than their Kenyan colleagues. There was also unequal access to knowledge resources between the researchers and the community actors, which can become highly problematic in projects where the aim is to produce knowledge together. The claims for community empowerment frequently made in participatory projects provided a challenge because of diversity within the Dunga community. The participants often belonged to already strong groups within the community, while marginalized groups found it difficult to take part or to express themselves adequately if they did join in. 


Takeaways from the experienced co-production


  • A transdisciplinary and action-oriented approach served as an example of how it is possible to combine research and development practice. 
  • The use of multiple and visual methods and tools gave opportunities to involve a broad set of stakeholders.
  • Other development projects and disciplinary constellations could make use of the approach
  • The identified challenges can help others engaged in participatory forms of research to pinpoint issues of power and inequalities between actors. This includes for example discussions on how to build collaborative and respectful environments between academia and practice and exploring power and inequalities within transdisciplinary co-production. 

Suggested Readings:

  • Jernsand, E.M.(2016) Inclusive Place Branding: What it is and How to Progress Towards it [online], PhD dissertation, University of Gothenburg
    handle/2077/49535 [accessed 15 July 2020].
  • Jernsand, E.M. and Kraff, H. (2015) ‘Participatory place branding through design: the case of Dunga beach in Kisumu, Kenya’, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 11(3): 226–42 pb.2014.34
  • Kraff, H. (2018) Exploring Pitfalls of Participation and Ways Towards Just
    Practices Through a Participatory Design Process in Kisumu, Kenya, PhD dissertation, University of Gothenburg, ArtMonitor 66 [accessed 15 July 2020].
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