Box 2.9

Box 2.9 Flexible financing for transdisciplinary co-production

Authors: Ithra Najaar and Warren Smit

2 min read


Participation in research is normally associated with costs, for example, for travel and in-kind contributions of labour. For transdisciplinary co-production to take place, enough time, labour, and financial resources must be liberated and reserved to enable different individuals to participate. However, most research funding is fairly rigid in terms of specific budget lines and tight time frames. By contrast, co-production processes are often very flexible and open-ended. It is often not clear from the start what the time frames and activities will be and the process can also change over time. Co-production processes, therefore, ideally require fairly flexible funding that can be shifted between budget lines and, when necessary, extended in terms of time frames.

Co-production projects may involve complex flows of funds, as there may be other partners making financial and in-kind contributions to the project. In such cases, it is important that formal legal agreements exist between the relevant parties that set out the amounts to be transferred, the purpose of the funding, and how and by whom the expenditure will be monitored and reported on. International comparative co-production work, such as that of Mistra Urban Futures, also involves international transfers of funds. Large institutions are likely to have financial procedures that meet international standards, but smaller organisations may need to develop new systems and procedures. 

The main challenge in funding co-production processes still remains to secure long-term flexible funding. Fortunately, many funding agencies and government organizations are starting to recognize the importance of co-production, and there are increasing numbers of funding calls that accommodate co-production approaches.


Cape Town example of flexible funding 

When the African Centre for Cities set up its first knowledge co-production CityLab programme in Cape Town (see Chapter 3, ‘The CityLab programme in Cape Town’), funds from a range of sources (local government, provincial government, a parastatal, and the private sector) were pooled to form a flexible fund. The main item of expenditure was the salaries of the programme co-ordinators. These were full-time researchers recruited to facilitate, and be resource people for, the CityLabs. Other major items of expenditure were costs for seminars and field trips to introduce participants to a range of perspectives, and publication costs for co-produced written outputs. Some amounts were also set aside for contingencies, for example travel. 

Detailed analysis of expenditure was undertaken every four months. Being based at a university, as many co-production intermediary organisations are, many university-wide financial processes had to be complied with in terms of authorisation, procurement, and so on. Therefore, although flexibility is required in terms of funding, high levels of monitoring and control over expenditure are necessary. In the case of funding flows between the African Centre for Cities and the City of Cape Town, a committee consisting of equal numbers of members from both parties was set up to oversee the jointly funded projects.

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