Four questions relating to creativity and co-production

Joe Langley, Nicola Kayes, Ian Gwilt, Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, Sarah Smith and Claire Craig

Reflections arising from an Evidence & Policy Special Issue exploring the role and value of Creative Practices in Co-production. This blog post is based on the Editorial to the Special Issue, ‘Exploring the value and role of creative practices in research co-production‘.

Our Evidence & Policy Special Issue, exploring the value and role of creativity and co-production in research, highlights four key questions:

  1. What constitutes research? And who decides?
  2. What constitutes legitimate knowledge?
  3. What constitutes creativity and co-production in research?
  4. To what extent are we constrained in the opportunities to undertake ‘creative’ research?

1. What constitutes ‘research’ and who decides?

The initial paper filtering process opened debate about what is defined as research, and who decides this. We contrasted reviews of several papers revealing tensions between ‘science’ reviewers, ‘creative’ and ‘lay’ or ‘patient’ reviewers. A focus of this debate is evident in the paper by Thom et al. and their account of Kaupapa Māori led co-production, wherein the use of Kaupapa Māori methods are seen to be not routinely referenced or well understood in Western academic literature.

2. What constitutes legitimate ‘knowledge?

For several papers, including those by Adelle et al. and Thom et al., the subject of debate was the peer review process and the extent to which research was situated in the context of existing theory, models, methods and practices. While this discourse in not unusual in a peer review process, acknowledgment exists where there needs to be a sensitivity to the context of research work that used ‘non-standard’ epistemologies such as creative methods or indigenous ways of knowing. We recognize that if the only way of validating knowledge produced is through reference to a pre-existing knowledge base, we risk recolonising knowledge through our peer review processes.

3. What constitutes co-production and creativity in research?

We had debated, as an editorial group and amongst the authors, about what constitutes co-production and creativity in research. Ultimately, we concluded that it may be problematic to have a fixed, or bounded, definition of either and that doing so may be counter to their essence. Rather, we acknowledged them to be inherently plural and contextually dependent. In our editorial we discuss this further, but draw some highlights below.

From a co-production point of view, a small number of papers detail the involvement of service users in the ‘foreword’ stages of their research (e.g., proposal writing and methodological design), or the ‘governance’ levels of their research (e.g., advisory boards, management groups), focusing instead on the practical activities of research that people partner to collect, analyse, develop, etc . One exception to this was Potts et al. who specified their engagement with co-production partners across multiple levels and activities.

Most authors were explicit about the creative practices used in their research (e.g. Phillips et al. and Webber et al.). The inherent nature of creative activities within (for example) a design process were often debated and recommendations presented that researchers should make clear when they have used creative practices – and be explicit as to how and what that means in their specific research. The following two criteria, as fundamental to creative practice in the context of co-production and research, were suggested:

  • Creativity should engage the imagination, manifested through a variety of forms of expression; performance, imagery, artifacts or words formed through a creative process.
  • Creativity should involve a generative process of making or crafting. Simply watching does not provide the same conditions to enable a person or group of people to reflect, ponder, consider, and weigh-up.

4. To what extent are we constrained in the opportunities to undertake ‘creative’ research?

The irony of using conventional methods for research reporting to demonstrate the role and nature of co-production and creativity as a mechanism for addressing the evidence-practice-policy gap, is not lost on us. We debated the limits of peer-reviewed publications for this purpose. We attempted to ‘walk the walk’ by engaging our authors in co-producing the special issue alongside us. Some of our authors also attempted to take their readers beyond the page and invite engagement in their findings in other ways. For example Beckett et al.’s use of sound cloud links which, in the author’s own words, emphasises “…storytelling and social means of communication…”.

Parting thoughts

Diversity of genres, culture, ideas and knowledge makes humans and our societies stronger and richer in multiple ways. Co-production and creativity in the service of research are essential tools to engage with human diversity and with a complex range of societal challenges. There remains another underlying challenge in how co-production and creative practices can be carried out within academic research domains where there is still a tendency to give preference to the ‘traditional’ academic voice and forms of research.  

We suggest that co-production and creative practices enable a blending of perspectives in a way that puts research equally alongside other ways of valuing research practices and processes. This blending does not diminish research integrity. In fact, blending allows researchers to see themselves and their own knowledge in completely different ways and consequently catalyses, multiples or amplifies the ways in which knowledge can be used and made sense of.


Joe Langley is a Design Engineer and Academic Researcher at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, working in the Lab4Living research centre. He explores various forms of participatory research and innovation using design practices and co-design approaches, with a focus on Knowledge Mobilisation and the use of evidence in shaping and informing innovations. You can get in touch with Joe via email (j.langley@shu.ac.uk) and Twitter (@JoeLangley_).

Nicola Kayes has a background in health psychology and is based in the Centre for Person Centred Research at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. Her work aims to challenge conventional rehabilitation practice through rethinking ways of working to improve outcomes that matter to people. This has led to collaborative work with design colleagues exploring the potential of creative and participatory practices in rethinking rehabilitation. You can get in touch with Nicola via email (nicola.kayes@aut.ac.nz) and Twitter (@nickayes4).

Ian Gwilt is a Design Researcher & Design Practice Academic at University of South Australia in a unit called UniSA:Creative. His current areas of research include practice and theory in visual communication design in the context of healthcare and wellbeing, and in how we can incorporate visual communication design practices into interdisciplinary research teams. You can get in touch with Ian via email (ian.gwilt@unisa.edu.au) and Twitter (@iangwilt).

Erna Snelgrove-Clarke is a Nurse specialising in maternal and new-born health with career in both clinical work and research. She is based in Queen’s University, Faculty of Health Sciences, Canada as Vice-Dean (Health Sciecne) and Director, School of Nursing. Her research and clinical work focuses on implementing evidence for compassionate, person-centre care. You can get in touch with Erna via email (erna.snelgroveclarke@queensu.ca) and Twitter (@KTerna).

Sarah Smith is a local Councillor for the people of Ardwick and Carcroft ward of Doncaster. She is also an international renowned Artist, a Radiographer and researcher with Lab4Living. She has won innovation awards for her patient centred and co-designed resources to better support patients in her Radiography clinic. She using drawing as method in her research work. You can get in touch with Sarah via email (Sarah.Smith3@doncaster.gov.uk) and Twitter (@smizz).

Claire Craig is a Historian, Occupational Therapist and Design Researcher at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, working in the Lab4Living research centre. She focuses on end-of-life and on Dementia. You can get in touch with Claire via email (c.craig@shu.ac.uk).


You can read the Editorial in Evidence & Policy:

Langley, J. Kayes, N. Gwilt, I. Snelgrove-Clarke, E. Smith, S. and Craig, C. (2022) Exploring the value and role of creative practices in research co-production. Evidence & Policy, DOI: 10.1332/174426421X16478821515272.


Image credit: Policy Press.


If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Using Forum Theatre to mobilise knowledge and improve NHS care: the Enhancing Post-injury Psychological Intervention and Care (EPPIC) study OPEN ACCESS

Engaging refugee women and girls as experts: co-creating evidence on sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises using creative, participatory methods OPEN ACCESS

Digital storytelling for policy impact: perspectives from co-producing knowledge for food system governance in South Africa OPEN ACCESS


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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