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Co-Production For Sustainability

Available Open Access under CC-BY-NC licence. Reporting on the innovative, transdisciplinary research on sustainable urbanisation undertaken by Mistra Urban Futures, a highly influential research centre based in Sweden (2010-19), this book builds on the Policy Press title Rethinking Sustainable Cities to make a significant contribution to evolving theory about comparative urban research.

Highlighting important methodological experiences from across a variety of diverse contexts in Africa and Europe, this book surveys key experiences and summarises lessons learned from the Mistra Urban Futures' global research platforms. It demonstrates best practice for developing and deploying different forms of transdisciplinary co-production, covering topics including neighbourhood transformation and housing justice, sustainable urban and transport development, urban food security and cultural heritage.

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Co-production of knowledge as an approach has evolved since the 1970s. The objective has been to bring different stakeholder groups together in an attempt to improve outcomes, whether of services or research, and their legitimacy and to overcome often longstanding antagonisms and wide asymmetries of power by working or researching together (Jasanoff, 2004; Joshi and Moore, 2004; Mitlin, 2008; Polk, 2015a).

Co-production is generally seen as good for society, at least in relevant fields of research, as co-production is more equitable and includes more diverse voices and perspectives than traditional research (Durose et al, 2018). In the particular context of sustainable urban development, the terms co-production, co-creation and co-design have emerged to inform new expectations of project design, where the beneficiaries or users of a given intervention also participate in its design, research and implementation. Co-creation and co-design are gaining currency because they draw attention to the joint definition of shared problems and the design of an appropriate methodology, as well as undertaking the actual research, whereas co-production is sometimes used to denote only the actual research being undertaken jointly, on a design and methodology formulated by one or two participants, usually academic researchers. In this book, for convenience, we use co-production as a shorthand term to embrace all these variants.

The co-production approach to both research and service provision is now widely used in diverse situations in both the global South and North. In development contexts, co-production is often presented as a means of identifying and incorporating local and/or traditional forms of knowledge into development, thus moving beyond the problematic a priori valorisation of either local/traditional or generally Western scientific knowledge.

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All international comparative urban research is complex and challenging. Hence, attempting to undertake it in countries situated in different regions, particularly bearing in mind the many structural differences and inequalities between the global North and South (as very loose and diverse categories), adds another challenge since relative priorities may differ considerably. For example, in relation to food supply and security, reducing obstacles for informal urban and peri-urban producers and retailers and dealing with the implications of supermarketisation are priority issues in the Southern countries where Mistra Urban Futures has city platforms, whereas the priority issues in the Northern countries centre on enhancing local production of healthy food and reducing the consumption of unhealthy foods, as well as cutting transportation distances and hence food miles and associated emissions.

The challenges are amplified when the global comparative research is undertaken using transdisciplinary co-production (used in this book as a short-hand term that includes co-design and co-creation) rather than conventional academic research teams that to a greater or lesser extent share epistemological and methodological understandings, despite often profound differences between disciplines and in institutional, resourcing and local contextual circumstances, practices and power relations. As reflected in the preceding chapters assessing the pioneering efforts in this regard, transdisciplinary co-production teams seeking to compare locally defined and appropriate projects and research processes within the same research theme in each participating Local Interaction Platform (LIP) face several additional internal and external challenges. Some of these reflect the locally specific nature of transdisciplinarity in each LIP, while others pertain to possible differences in the numbers of partners undertaking the co-production, the particular methods used, differences in the nature of the respective empirical projects, and both interpersonal and interinstitutional power differentials within and across the respective research teams.

Open access