Exploring the frontiers of research co-production: the Integrated Knowledge Translation Research Network concept papers
Research co-production is about doing research with those who use it. This approach to research has been receiving increasing attention from research funders, academic institutions, researchers and even the public as a means of optimising the relevance, usefulness, usability and use of research findings, which together, the argument goes, produces greater and more timely impact. The papers in this cross BMC journal collection raise issues about research co-production that, to date, have not been fully considered and suggest areas for future research for advancing the science and practice of research co-production. These papers address some gaps in the literature, make connections between subfields and provide varied perspectives from researchers and knowledge users.
KeywordsIntegrated knowledge translation research co-production engaged scholarship participatory research collaborative research
integrated knowledge translation
Integrated Knowledge Translation Research Network
Research co-production, sometimes referred to by such terms as participatory research, engaged scholarship, Mode 2 of knowledge production, collaborative research or integrated knowledge translation (IKT), is about conducting research with those who use it. Research co-production is a model of collaborative research, where researchers work in partnership with knowledge users (comprising patients and caregivers, clinicians, policy-makers, health system leaders and others) who identify a problem and have the authority or ability to implement the research recommendations . As noted by Gagliardi et al. , IKT appears to increase researcher understanding of the research user context and needs, thereby enhancing the relevance of the generated research, and at the same time increase knowledge-user understanding of the research process, awareness of the research, and appreciation for how and when it can be applied.
Research co-production is promoted by funders and interested parties as a means of achieving research impact. The expectation is that the collaboration of researchers and knowledge users generates research that is particularly relevant, useful, useable and used. Research co-production is an appealing approach to addressing the ethical imperative of rapidly increasing the use of known effective healthcare innovations and decreasing over-use of ineffective ones. For others, it is about the democratisation of science and the right of citizens, who are taxed to pay for research, to participate in and influence the entire research process, not to just be considered for their role as passive research participants or subjects . Other motivations are the desire to improve the quality of research which is believed to happen with inclusion of knowledge users by increasing researcher understanding of the issue, solutions and context, and partnering with knowledge users for political or strategic reasons .
Research co-production is not a new concept. It could be argued that participatory research, as espoused first by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s [5, 6] and then by Paulo Freire in the 1970s , was one of the first research traditions to focus on co-production. In Canada, while representing a very small proportion of national health research funding, the concept has been officially part of the health research ecosystem since the late 1990s, when funding programmes requiring inclusion of knowledge users as co-applicants were first launched . Research co-production in health has been globally gaining interest. The funding of health research co-production is now taking place around the world. For example, in the United States, the Veteran Administration Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI)  and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)  encourage stakeholder engagement in research and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute  only funds research co-produced with patients and other stakeholders. The Australian Academic Health Centres [12, 13, 14], Dutch Academic Collaborative Centres , United Kingdom Academic Health Science Centres , United Kingdom Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC), now known as Applied Health Centres [17, 18], all promote greater knowledge user participation in research and are premised on the theory that partnerships between universities/researchers and healthcare entities will increase the relevance and impact of health research. More evidence of the recognition accorded to research co-production is the emergence of what is being called ‘engagement science’, a field that investigates the methods for, and practice of, engagement, the development of evidence-based approaches or guiding frameworks for engagement, and the application of these resources to guide meaningful engagement of non-traditional stakeholders in research . A recent series of papers on research co-production in the prestigious journal Nature further signals the growing attention this approach is receiving within the research community .
In 2015, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research approved funding for a 7-year foundation grant to contribute to building the science base for health research co-production or IKT, as it is referred to in Canada. This programme of research, known as the Integrated Knowledge Translation Research Network (IKTRN), comprises more than 30 knowledge-user experts (e.g. health research funders, health charities, regional health authorities and other organisations), over 40 IKT experts, a dozen knowledge translation/implementation science experts, and over 25 trainees from nearly 50 organisations in six countries (Canada, United States of America, England and Scotland, South Africa, Australia, Ireland) . Kothari et al.’s definition of IKT (or research co-production) is, “a model of collaborative research, where researchers work with knowledge users who identify a problem and have the authority to implement the research recommendations” is the one adopted by the IKTRN . The IKTRN also distinguishes between knowledge users (those who would make decisions or take actions based on study findings) and stakeholders (those with an interest in the research but who would not themselves directly act on the findings). While recognising that there are many research engagement frameworks that conceptualise a continuum of knowledge user engagement in research, typically ranging from more passive communication with knowledge users through to full partnership (researchers and knowledge users sharing power and decision-making), the IKTRN focuses on co-production in research collaborations where the researchers and the knowledge users aspire to regard themselves as equal partners. The goals, objectives and outputs of this research programme are described in the IKTRN’s research programme protocol, which is the first paper in this cross-journal collection .
A protocol for five scoping and systematic reviews on areas of research co-production 
A review of what research funders around the world do to support knowledge translation and research co-production 
A multiple case study of knowledge user participation in cancer health services research 
Many of these papers raise issues about research co-production that, to date, have not been fully considered and suggest areas for future research for advancing the science and practice of research co-production. These papers address some gaps in the literature, make connections between subfields, and provide varied perspectives from researchers and knowledge users.
In the Fall of 2018, the IKTRN brought together the authors of these papers to advance our thinking about these issues and to start charting what a research co-production research agenda might look like.
It is our hope that, collectively, these papers will inform, provoke thought and discussion, and generate interest in the concept and practice of research co-production.
IDG, CM and AK conceptualised the ideas for this Commentary. IDG wrote the initial draft. All authors participated in revising the initial draft and approved the final version.
The concept paper collection was initiated by the IKTRN, which is funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Foundation Grant (CIHR FDN #143237).
Ethics approval and consent to participate
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
- 5.Lewin K. Action research and minority problems. J Soc Issues. 1946;2(4):34–46. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1946.tb02295.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 6.Lewin K, Lewin GW. Resolving Social Conflicts. Selected Papers on Group Dynamics. New York: Harper & Row; 1948.Google Scholar
- 7.Freire P. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder; 1970.Google Scholar
- 8.Graham ID, Kothari A, McCutcheon C. Integrated Knowledge Translation Research Network Project Leads. Moving knowledge into action for more effective practice, programmes and policy: protocol for a research programme on integrated knowledge translation. Implement Sci. 2018;13(1):22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13012-017-0700-y.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- 9.US Department of Veterans Affairs. QUERI-Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; 2018. https://www.queri.research.va.gov/about/default.cfm. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.Google Scholar
- 10.Administration for Community Living. About the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR); 2019. https://acl.gov/about-acl/about-national-institute-disability-independent-living-and-rehabilitation-research. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.Google Scholar
- 12.Central Australia Academic Health Science Centre. About Us. https://centralaustraliaahsc.org/about-us/. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.
- 13.Fisk NM, Wesselingh SL, Beilby JJ, Glasgow NJ, Puddey IB, Robinson BG, Angus JA, Smith PJ. Academic health science centres in Australia: let's get competitive. Med J Aust. 2011;194(2):59–60. https://doi.org/10.5694/j.1326-5377.2011.tb04165.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- 15.ZonMw. Academic Collaborative Centres Public Health; 2019 https://www.zonmw.nl/en/research-and-results/prevention/programmas/programme-detail/academic-collaborative-centres-public-health/. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.Google Scholar
- 16.The AHSN Network. About Academic Health Science Networks. 2019 https://www.ahsnnetwork.com/about-academic-health-science-networks. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.Google Scholar
- 17.National Institute for Health Research. Collaborating in Applied Health Research. https://www.nihr.ac.uk/explore-nihr/support/collaborating-in-applied-health-research.htm. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.
- 19.Dungan R, Angove R, Cope E, Peay H. Engagement Science: Introducing Inclusive Research Practices & Potential Impacts. Academy Health; 2019. https://www.academyhealth.org/blog/2019-01/engagement-science-introducing-inclusive-research-practices-potential-impacts. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.
- 20.The Best Research is Produced When Researchers and Communities Work Together. Nature 2018;562(7725):7. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06855-7?sf199418394.
- 21.IKT Research Network. (n.d.). What We Do. https://iktrnohrica/. Accessed 26 Sept 2019.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.