Co-designing A Research Programme for Impact: Lessons Learned from Practice by Aotearoa New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho

Duncan, R. & Robson-Williams, M. (2023): Co-designing a research programme for impact: lessons learned from practice by Aotearoa New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho. Kotuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online.


Doing co-design and co-production is challenging, resource intensive, and outcomes do not always translate into action. Evaluations of processes are needed to identify what enables and constrains ‘co’ efforts. This paper draws on the findings of an evaluation of a co-design process undertaken by Aotearoa New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho (BHNSC) in 2019. The independent evaluation, commissioned by the BHNSC, draws on process observations and 25 semi-structured interviews with BHNSC leaders and process participants. In this paper, we present key insights from the evaluation through the application of co-production quality assessment principles and a knowledge governance conceptual framework. Our analysis identifies the BHNSC’s values as a critical factor in its journey to conduct a process that would foster collaboration between mātauranga Māori and Western science knowledge systems and deliver impact-focused biodiversity and biosecurity research. We propose an additional principle for assessing the quality of co-production processes: values-inspired.

This article is about designing funding programs to focus on impact. It describes a co-produced design led intervention to design funding programs that integrate Māori and western knowledge systems. The problem this process is trying to disrupt is stated near the end of the article

Māori communities have been unable to participate in science and policy-making in culturally safe ways as Western science and policy approaches have mostly failed to recognise the full inter-relatedness of te ao Māori.

The authors spend a lot of time on concepts including 1.5 pages on definition of “co-everything” (production, design, creation). Readers will know I respect the need for definitional clarity, and I resist definitional dystopia. Bottom line for this article is coproduction is used by these authors as an umbrella term to encompass the other aspects of co-everything. Having established the definitions, the authors use “four principles for assessing the quality of co-production processes: context-based, pluralistic, goals-oriented, and interactive.” Not surprising the authors return to these four in the discussion illustrating that their processes had elements of all four, but during the results section the authors only illustrated goal oriented and interactive.

There is also a conceptual framework for knowledge governance including: civic epistemology, knowledge systems, and interventions.

There is a very interesting perspective for someone not from Aotearoa New Zealand: “It should be noted that in ANZ, Māori are recognised as partners with the Crown not stakeholders.” Canada has many treaties with Indigenous people but there is no single Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi (te Tiriti) as there is between the New Zealand Crown and the Māori people. Something to think about for other research systems based in colonial contexts.

Read the article for details but the evaluation of the workshops showed that researchers (presumed to be non-Māori) felt tension about giving up the privilege and primacy of peer reviewed science as the main driver for decision making by research funders. Research programs focused on impact (ie making a difference) will use expert science as only one input into deciding what proposals get funded. “The nervousness also showed the extent to which researchers were in uncharted waters, not only in terms of the presentation (as funding bids are usually submitted online) but also the content. The focus of the investment prospectus and presentation was on impact and how to get there, which meant the science had become a smaller part of the story. This was not conventional practice in bidding for research funds and was, again, somewhat unsettling according to evaluation participants.”

Researchers were nervous about losing power. The authors summarize this change in power dynamics, “a new approach to funding was needed if it was to make a tangible difference. To this end, the intervention focused on developing goals and impact pathways for overarching research programmes of work focused on delivering impact rather than unaligned research projects focused on publications.”

Some additional ways the funder is supporting co-production:

  • The funder is led by Māori and non-Māori co-directors.
  • Each scoping group is similarly co-led.
  • The funder developed guidance and tools for operating principles, a code of conduct, policies on equity, diversity, access and inclusion, as well as a range of guidance documents on how to conduct culturally safe research with Māori.

Funders can do this. It can’t be left to researchers and academic institutions.

Questions for brokers:

  1. Four principles and three elements of a conceptual framework. Did this effort really need both?
  2. What benefits accrue to Indigenous participants if they are considered partners and not stakeholders in research?
  3. Funders can do this. It can’t be left to researchers and academic institutions. Why?

Research Impact Canada is producing this journal club series to make evidence on knowledge mobilization more accessible to knowledge brokers and to facilitate discussion about research on knowledge mobilization. It is designed for knowledge brokers and other parties interested in knowledge mobilization.