Leapfrog was invited to present at the third major conference on “Challenges and Best Practices in Co-​Production”, organised by the Faculty of Social Science, University of Sheffield and the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council). The conference explored many different methods and practices of co-​production to understand how research can be relevant to a variety of non-​academic partners. Bringing together academics, policy makers, practitioners and other experts, the conference explored a number of issues, including:

Why is co-​production important and what does it involve?

What does ‘good practice’ in a co-​production project look like?

Valuing knowledge across disciplines and across domains of practice: who uses co-production?

The conference also looked at challenges and barriers that can prevent people from using co-​production, and led to considerations of how co-​production can support relationship building. In line with this, the keynote speaker, Professor James Wilsdon – Professor of Research Policy and Director of Impact and Engagement at the University of Sheffield, stated that “co-​production is about a less deterministic view of education. Co-​production means re-​thinking knowledge production. Working with, engaging, listening to are all integral ingredients of ethical co-production.”

Leapfrog’s paper on “Co-​Designing Creative Evaluation Approaches” was presented in the Theory section of the conference along side Dr. Sarah Morton from The University of Edinburgh, who spoke about knowledge exchange and how research partnerships can be extended for maximum impact; and Dr. Ruth Garbutt from The University of Huddersfield, who shared her experiences of working with non-​academic partners as an academic researcher. There was in-​depth discussion with the panel on the impact of research through peer reviewed publications such as journal papers and engagement activities focused on problem solving without a well defined body of peers. The discussion echoed Professor Wilsdon’s assertion that “Impact is here to stay and the REF case studies that use co-​production from the outset will stand in good stead”.

The attendees agreed that co-​production must be embedded in the research design right from the start; but at the same time, we must aware that this will require resources. The conference profiled examples of co-​production that focus on partnerships and not just projects, which in turn, can help to build trust and yield valuable interactions over the long term. Such conversations reinforced that as academic researchers, we need to think beyond REF.