Knowledge Matters: The Potential Contribution of the Coproduction of Research


The purpose of this paper is to share our experiences—as academics and professionals—in coproducing knowledge to improve urban development outcomes in the global South. The focus of the paper is on urban research and practice, a field in which academic work influences policy and programming, and professional knowledge (validated and certified by academic institutions) forms the basis for urban planning and management. Collaborative research coproduced with social movement activities highlights that four issues need to be addressed to establish more equitable relations. First, alternative theories of change about how research leads to social transformation must be recognised, even if they cannot be reconciled. Second, the contribution of social movement leaders to university teaching needs to be institutionalised. Third, the relative status of academics vis-à-vis non-academics must be interrogated and better understood. Fourth, the accountabilities of the researchers to the marginalised need to be established. We argue that academics are insufficiently self-critical about the power dynamics involved in knowledge production with social movements. And that long-term relations enable understandings to be built and some of these tensions to be alleviated. Our conclusion highlights the unequal power relations that under-pin these challenges and suggests some steps to address these inequalities and their negative consequences.


Le but de cet article est de partager nos expériences - en tant qu'universitaires et professionnels - dans la coproduction de savoirs pour améliorer les résultats du développement urbain dans les pays du Sud. L'article se concentre sur la recherche et la pratique urbaines, un domaine dans lequel le travail académique influence les politiques publiques et la programmation, et dans lequel les connaissances professionnelles (validées et certifiées par les institutions universitaires) constituent le fondement de la planification et de la gestion urbaines. La recherche collaborative coproduite avec des activités de mouvement social met en exergue quatre questions qui doivent être abordées pour établir des relations plus équitables. Premièrement, il faut reconnaître les théories alternatives du changement sur la façon dont la recherche mène à la transformation sociale, même si ces théories ne peuvent être conciliées. Deuxièmement, la contribution des leaders de mouvements sociaux à l'enseignement universitaire doit être institutionnalisée. Troisièmement, le statut relatif des universitaires par rapport aux non-universitaires doit être remis en question et mieux compris. Quatrièmement, la redevabilité des chercheurs envers les personnes marginalisées doit être établie. Nous soutenons que les universitaires ne sont pas suffisamment autocritiques sur les dynamiques de pouvoir à l’oeuvre dans la production de savoirs avec les mouvements sociaux. Nous soutenons également que les relations à long terme permettent d’améliorer la compréhension mutuelle et d'atténuer certaines de ces tensions. Notre conclusion met en évidence les relations de pouvoir inégales qui sous-tendent ces défis et suggère quelques mesures pour remédier à ces inégalités et à leurs conséquences négatives

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    The SDI co-authors are working within the professional support agencies. We also quote leaders of grassroots federations to acknowledge the contribution that they have made.

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    In relation to this text, we have published a working paper ( and blog in addition this journal article.

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    While most interviewees have been federation leaders, we have also drawn on the experiences of a small number of local government officials.

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    Group discussion Nairobi March 2018.

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    Team group discussion, Nairobi, March 2018.

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    Sazini Ndlovu Team group discussion, Johannesburg March 2017.

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    Group discussion, Nairobi, March 2018.

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This paper was prepared as part of a Leverhulme Trust funded research network to understand how participatory planning in African cities can be scaled. Refining the coproduction of knowledge is an essential component of the work.

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Mitlin, D., Bennett, J., Horn, P. et al. Knowledge Matters: The Potential Contribution of the Coproduction of Research. Eur J Dev Res 32, 544–559 (2020).

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  • North-South research
  • Collaboration
  • Power dynamics
  • Urban social movements
  • Epistemology