Posted by on October 9, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Just before the start of the summer vacation, we held our second day for postgraduate students on collaboration and the co-production of research in (mainly) historically-focussed PhDs. As well as a number of people who attended the first event, which we called Finding Our Feet, we welcomed new participants. Jo Dyrlaga, Annie Hicks, Cate Benincasa-Sharman and Claire Allen came as well as Charlie Goldthorpe, Rob Ellis, Leonie Weiser, Milton Brown, Jodie Matthews, Paul Ward and Elizabeth Pente (for links to their research see Finding Our Feet 1)

A map of co-production with The Hepworth Wakefield. Liz Pente explores ways of working with students and an art gallery to understand culture and urban regeneration

A map of co-production with The Hepworth Wakefield. Liz Pente explores ways of working with students and an art gallery to understand culture and urban regeneration.

The afternoon began with a seminar by Suzanne Bardgett, Head of Research and Academic Partnerships at Imperial War Museums, who outlined the research activities of the Imperial War Museums as well as her own research on Alicia Melamed Adams and ‘Whose Remembrance? Communities and the Experiences of the Peoples of Britain’s Former Empire During the Two World Wars’.

Suzanne’s main message of the afternoon was that if academic historians and museum curators can overcome working separately, then they can come together to uncover hidden stories.

During the rest of the afternoon, we discussed our current research and its relationship to collaboration and co-production – so we heard about love and objects, male impersonation in the early-twentieth century, material objects of cultural heritage and the Festival of Britain, among other things.

The main themes of the afternoon were:

Finding community partners

Types of community partner

Ethics, including  lone scholars in the future using data/research that has been co-produced

Learning from each other’s disciplines

What was particularly noticeable about the day was the range of disciplines represented, and it as very useful to hear about ways in which disciplines other than History have a toolkits for working with people to develop user-inspired and shaped outputs. Examples include the IDEO Toolkit ( and the Royal College of Art Designing with People

As at the first workshop, we took some time to articulate some ideas in writing. We haven’t attributed authorship to any of the contribution here – we propose these ideas/reflections collectively but don’t necessarily individually agree with every point made.

Who do we (want to) work with?

I think we will need to discuss the ethical and political reasons for doing co-production: who are we doing this for? Who gains something (what?) from it? This will then impact on who we work with. I want to work with people outside academia to create new narratives to challenge established knowledge and stories. I also want to discuss with people outside academia how histories are made and their potential role in this process. How do we get people interested in this and how can we support them?


  1. Self vs others: winning the trust
  2. Anxiety vs fear
  3. Do we have enough courage to be
  4. How do you choose community partners?
  5. How do we own our own space?
  6. What can universities do? Get out more; turn themselves inside out
  7. PhD student vs university process




  1. Values and ethics – whose values? Whose ethics?
  2. False sense of independence
  3. Way forward: Taking control of how, when, where and who you learn with to produce sound based ethical productive and sustainable outcomes. Beneficial for “all communities”, i.e. public, private, voluntary and community scholars.


  1. How to have people represented in the research who are “hard to reach” or disengaged from external community.
  2. Is there an obligation to have people represented if they are unwilling or disinclined to do. Does “talking about the gaps” sum up?
  3. Do I have, as a researcher, a responsibility?
  4. When working with a project and coming in at the end of active cycle and dealing with the legacy, how to address gaps in that project’s representation.
  5. How to recruit new people to work with.


Creative Commons. Photo by Dan Mason

Creative Commons. Photo by Dan Mason

An agreement reached.

Being an ethical partner is an ongoing process of questioning your own processes. There is an element of surrender/trust – co-producing meanins surrendering something created together, be that an interview, an event (that the other party can interpret) etc A feeling that there is an ethical/moral obligation (if not a legal one) to partner.

Co-producing takes time (and money).


We don’t yet know what co-production is – because it is so many ways of working. So it remains an approach or ethos.

But it collapses disciplines. In Design, co-design is common because it affects people’s lives. History affects people’s lives so we should think about how what we research is designed and subject to people’s needs. So the starting point needs to be what is the purpose of historical knowledge creation? Knowledge is social but who owns it? Is it university knowledge for academics and students? Or does it have wider utility? If it does, should it be co-designed, so its use is apparent and responds to a need? Let’s collapse the boundaries between university and community and collapsing the boundaries of disciplines will help this.

Co-pro! A lot of questions

Does it lose spark when we have to make everything academic?

Interesting how cross-disciplines still face the same challenges in co-production and that we can learn from each other.

More cross discipline meetings needed!!

Where to find the groups … do you find them or do they find you?

What should you do with unused data or material? Should this still form some of the make-up of the final PhD?

It makes me happy to meet up and discuss ideas with this group and don’t feel that any of the questions are stupid ones.


Co-production leads to co-archiving: Who owns the final data and WHERE is it stored?

A lone scholar using the co-produced artefact or data: what is the outcome

We think (in other disciplines) that historians “proper” already have a lot of this already agreed – so enlightening to see that this is not the case and that other disciplines have a credible voice within Russell Group-type subject.

The wealth of different outcomes possible is really exciting and creative in its own right.

Our event was funded by the University of Huddersfield researcher development fund and is linked to Imagine: Connecting Communities Through Research, a project including Paul Ward, Liz Pente and Milton Brown. It runs from 2013 to 2017 and brings together a range of different research projects working across universities and their, mostly local, communities.  Using the new knowledge gathered, together we will imagine how communities might be different. We will experiment with different forms of community building that ignite imagination about the future and help to build resilience and a momentum for change – see

Imagine logo

Posted in Co-production of research Methodologies research degrees


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