The Best Research Is Produced When Researchers and Communities Work Together

The best research is produced when researchers and communities work together. (2018). Nature, 562, 7

Durose, C., Richardson, L. & Perry, B. (2018). Craft metrics to value co-production. Nature, 562, 32-33

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This month’s journal club will make most readers go “well…duh”. Two editorials in Nature about co-production. Regular readers of this journal club will learn little about co-production that they didn’t already know apart from a few nice case studies reported in this special issue of Nature. But that’s exactly why I chose these articles this month. Because they are in Nature.

Nature. Among the leading scientific journals in the world is now reporting on co-production in a special edition. In Nature.

There is nothing revolutionary in the articles but the audience that normally reads Nature is not the usual audience for anything co-production. The first editorial makes the case for, essentially, “nothing about us without us”. The second speaks to the limited ability of citations/bibliometrics to assess the impact of co-production. Few solutions are offered by Nature as a leading scientific publisher except their authorship guidelines that “state that anyone who had a sufficient role in the work can be included as an author”.

Wow Nature…way to step up and support co-production (he says sarcastically). Nothing about collecting evidence of impact as opposed to just publishing research outputs. Nothing about helping balance the power differentials between well resourced academic institutions and marginalized populations like the “women of Miono in west Tanzania [who] make up the ensemble cast of non-actors, 65% of whom are HIV positive; their real stories provide the basis for the film”. Nothing about building capacity for co-production. But it’s likely that Nature doesn’t see how it needs to shift its model if it is really wanting to support co-production rather than just publish the results of co-produced research.

The only solutions these editorials point to has already been covered in this journal club. The Research Quality Plus tool by Canada’s International Development Research Centre incorporates the views of stakeholders, users and non-scientific beneficiaries in communities in research project assessment.

If you want to see a publisher seriously responding to the limitations of bibliometrics/citations and take on the globally emerging “impact agenda” check out Emerald Publishing’s Real World Impact brand. The Emerald Real Impact Manifesto states:

“We are committed to supporting meaningful, real world impact.

Emerald will now lead the publishing charge towards meaningful impact.

For over 50 years, research impact has sat at the heart of Emerald’s business. Emerald’s core ethos is making a difference through research, and we are proud of our heritage supporting the communication of research for policy and practice.

With a sector increasingly full of pressure and expectation, we recognise the challenges faced by colleagues in connecting research to impact. We also recognise that traditional markers of influence, such as citations, are not sufficient to tell the story of impact.

Emerald feels strongly that we have a key role and responsibility in not only supporting the impact agenda, but also in challenging outdated approaches to measuring e­ffects.

Emerald will now lead the publishing charge towards meaningful impact. We will continue to work with our global author network to publish research which makes a difference and invest further in the research community to support real world change.”

If research needs to change as the Nature editorials point out, then doesn’t this also demand that research publishing needs to change? Nature’s authorship guidelines don’t cut it. Emerald’s Real World Impact is a more promising approach.

We will be watching.

Questions for brokers:

  1. What needs to change in the scholarly publishing industry to enable more knowledge mobilization and research impact?
  2. What needs to change beyond the scholarly publishing industry to enable more knowledge mobilization and research impact?
  3. What publishers/journals other than Emerald are doing this work?


Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on Knowledge Mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to create on line discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other knowledge mobilization stakeholders. Read this open access article. Then come back to this post and join the journal club by posting your comments.