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Designing Knowledge Coproduction for Climate and Development

This paper explores the ways climate and development researchers are using knowledge co-production approaches and the extent to which the approaches are reaching their potential.
Multiple Authors
Urs Bloesch


It is increasingly recognized that addressing the challenges posed by climate change requires new approaches and modalities for research. One of the solutions proposed to address the need to produce research in transdisciplinary ways and at multiple scales is knowledge co-production. Coproduction is seen as a means to generate more inclusive and robust research results as well as to integrate key audiences, such as decision makers and impacted communities, into research design, implementation and analysis.

In this paper, we take a closer look at co-production processes in climate and development using a review of recent literature and a sample of case studies of self-identified “successful” co-production processes that engaged researchers, policy makers and practitioners to ask:

  1. What kinds of questions or problems are successful co-production approaches being used to answer or resolve in climate and development?
  2. In these successful cases, how does the co-production context and process influence its outputs and outcomes?
  3. How do success factors vary across different co-production approaches or problem types?

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In this report

In this CARIAA report we:

  • Contrast two different types of expected co-production outcomes,which we term ’emergent’ and ‘instrumental’, and two types of co-production processes, which we term ‘brokered’ and ‘agora’ approaches. We are concerned that confusion between these different ends and means of co-production reviewed above can lead to instances where co-production processes fail to deliver what they are seen to promise. We challenge that more work is needed to clarify the distinctions between these differing ends and means, and to better understand the opportunities and limitations of each in practice.
  • Review six different cases of successful co-production from the field of climate and development, identiying the approaches used, and the drivers and barriers to success. These are:

    • Climate Knowledge Brokers Group (CKB): Climate knowledge brokers’ manifesto
    • Red Cross Climate Centre Writeshop process
    • The CDKN and Fundacion Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA): Latin American & Caribbean Learning Exchange Workshops
    • Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN): ‘Climate Change and Food Security and Nutrition’ dialogue
    • CGIAR’s Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme: Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL) Sandbox
    • International Potato Center (CIP), Quechua-Aymara Association for Sustainable Communities (ANDES), and the Potato Park: Agreement for the Repatriation of Native Potatoes in Peru
  • Present a design heuristic that can helps programmes determine which co-production aims and approaches are most appropriate for their respective resources, timelines and objectives. This could support planning in co-production activities or larger climate and development programmes.

Enabling Factors

Looking across the six cases at the drivers and barriers that shaped their success, a number of common factors emerge, which confirm other recent research on co-production. Successful co-production involves:

  • Focusing on meaningful issues, which we describe as relevance and/or resonance of the themes;
  • Engaging representative stakeholders, which we termed participation;
  • Facilitating shared, iterative learning;
  • Using constructive decision-making and conflict resolution processes, which feature as facilitation and design factors; and
  • Producing a boundary object (often a co-produced knowledge product in the cases reviewed), which featured strongly as incentives.

The coherence of drivers and barriers across this sample suggests that many pre-conditions span approaches to co-production, regardless of whether they are instrumental or emergent, brokered or representative of ‘the agora’.

There were some criteria that differed across the sample, however:

  • Sustained investment: The role of sustained investment, both in terms of financing and commitment from organisational leadership, was highlighted in cases where co-production objectives were emergent. Emergent approaches that do not feature pre-defined outcomes may depend more on demonstrated organisational commitment to the value of the co-production process. In contexts where investment in a co-production process cannot be sustained, it may therefore be advisable to adopt more instrumental approaches, or to avoid using a co-production approach.
  • Collective ownership of the process: While ownership was highlighted across the set of cases, it varied from being a driver to a barrier, or, in the case of the Potato Park remained a key challenge that participants had to navigate by adjusting their approaches over time. The case evidence suggests that ownership of co-production may be more easily developed in instrumental approaches. This may be due to the more clearly-defined and time-bound nature of these activities, in contrast with the challenges confronted by emergent processes with less focus on specific outputs towards which all members were collectively working. Co-production process design should consider the competing demands that participants will face in determining what kinds of co-production processes are appropriate, indeed if any.


In addition to the enabling factors identified, our review consistently highlighted the particular influence that language barriers and time constraints can have on the success of co-production across the contexts we have studied. These new features may stand out particularly strongly within the sample of cases due to their international and programme-based nature.

Lessons Learnt

In reflecting on the results from this review, we revisit the three questions posed at the outset of this paper to structure our discussion:

  • What kinds of questions or problems are successful co-production approaches being used to answer or resolve in climate and development?

We propose that the aims of coproduction can be situated on a spectrum that range from more instrumental approaches aimed at improving the usability or relevance of particular knowledge sets, to more emergent aims related to changing the framing of problems, the nature of the questions, and the norms of knowledge production. The cases of successful co-production identified for this sample span this spectrum but tend to be more concentrated toward creating useable knowledge. Many of the cases here also have a clear emphasis on producing collectively-owned boundary objects as a central aspect of the co-production. This may make reaching a specific endpoint where success can be declared more feasible (e.g. a co-production event is concluded; a question answered; or a product finalised). Further study is needed to understand how perceptions of success vary across this spectrum of questions/aims and the extent to which that influences investment, engagement, or ownership of particular coproduction approaches.

  • In these successful cases, how does the co-production context and process influence its outputs and outcomes?

We characterise co-production processes in two broad categories: In the first, brokered approaches, engagement across different stakeholder groups is mediated, preserving groups’ respective epistemic cultures whilst enabling the production of new hybrid knowledge or boundary objects. Alternatively, through “agora” approaches interactions seek to minimize or disrupt these differences, yielding new perspectives on the collective nature of the challenge in question. While our sample of successful cases offered examples of both approaches, the use of brokered approaches was more prevalent, perhaps owing to their less disruptive and more easily structured nature. Across all process types the generation of outputs (or boundary objects) was seen to contribute to the success of the co-production. The centrality of these outputs to the overall aims of the co-production activity differed however, ranging from being the anticipated “end” of the co-production itself to being an incentive that catalyses and sustains participation in the process. These distinctions are significant in terms of shaping the design of co-production processes. When taken alongside the range of possible approaches we see the possibility of charting a “co-production pathway” that sets out the assumed relationship between processes, outputs and outcomes in ways that ensure coherence between means and ends, and that ensure the potentials of particular approaches to co-production are not overstated (on one hand), or under-equipped (on the other). In large, multi-actor collaborations there may well not be consensus on this relationship between process and outcomes, nor on which is more important. Thus, it seems important to define these, and ensure that such a “co-production pathway” enables a collaboration to address both ultimate and intermediate aims in ways that are clearly understood by those taking part.

  • How do success factors vary across different co-production approaches or problem types?

We found high degrees of similarity in factors, as well as a few key distinctions. The common factors confirm and build on features of co-production set out elsewhere in the literature. Sustained investment and ownership, as discussed above, highlight unique features and present important learning about what questions ought to be asked when considering co-production. Yet, questions remain as to whether the constraints/realities imposed by international development programming norms actually allow for the full harnessing of success factors that can enable and sustain co-production with agora-style approaches and emergent outcomes.

About the authors

  • Blane Harvey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and a Research Associate at the Overseas Development Institute in London, UK.
  • Logan Cochrane is a Banting Fellow at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
  • Marissa Van Epp is an independent consultant based in New York.
  • Pete Cranston is a Co-Director of Euforic Services based in the UK.
  • Pier Andrea Pirani is a Co-Director of Euforic Services based in the UK.

Suggested Citation

Harvey, B., Cochrane, L., Van Epp, M., Cranston, P., Pirani, P.A. 2017. Designing Knowledge Co-production for Climate and Development. CARIAA Working Paper no. 21. International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada and UK Aid, London, United Kingdom. Available online at: ISSN: 2292-6798

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