The Ethics of Co-production Research

Tools for participatory and collaborative research with/in communities 

Course Description

The course introduces the ethical dilemma that emerges in the co-production approach to participatory or collaborative research and design processes with end users or communities (group of people that share a common interest). It provides knowledge and discussion on the practical matters of coproduction and research ethics, and how to integrate these considerations into the fieldwork and its techniques (such as interviews, field observation, focus groups, surveys, or ethnographic work). PhD candidates will have increased awareness of ethical, trust-building, and hierarchies issues that emerge in empirical research, and they will be able to reflect them in the development of their own field research plan. The course invites community leaders offering a unique opportunity to learn from the end-users. How do you approach the local community and what are the terms of the collaboration?, How do we engage with non-academic communities and how do we navigate through the politics of engagement? What does the community get once the research or the work was done? Do the communities have the same perspective on research ethics as do academics? What are the key elements to conduct a fieldwork that is ethically correct?

Course target group: As a discipline related course at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, the course contents (theories, tools and cases) are largely based on the studies on the built environment, but it is open to other faculties’ students to participate. The participants are expected to have a participatory or collaborative research plan before the course begins: the course includes discussions and feedback on the participants’ plan for field research.

Module themes: The course focuses on (i) understanding coproduction processes; (ii) dealing with the issues of trust-building and the politics of engagement; (iii) formulating plans for mainstreaming ethical concerns into the course attendees’ field research (iv) learning from the peers and guest experts : appraisals of the course attendees’ fieldwork plans.

Background of the course
In academic and practical research projects, participatory or collaborative research approach is frequently used for knowledge co-production to better integrate societal issues on the ground into research outcomes such as design products and policy development. Researchers and PhD candidates often consider this approach for their data collection, case studies or co-design project. However, the projects are often designed to research communities or a project for communities and end up with a simple invitation of communities to the designers’ or researchers’ initiative and agenda. This unequal relationship inevitably results in doubts of community people whether their cooperation for the projects would benefit them and whether it is worth spending their time on the projects.

In the participatory and collaborative research approach, PhD candidates often encounter critical questions about how to approach to communities—the research target groups to engage and collaborate—to build an equal and trustful relationship and how to facilitate an equal exchange between communities and researchers (or designers). The approach uses various techniques (such as interviews, field observation, focus groups, surveys, workshops or ethnographic work) that demand continuous interaction with community people and inevitably touch ethical issues through the whole project process. These subjects are crucial but not always thoroughly examined in the research planning phase or incorporated in the research outcome distribution phase.

The course “The ethics of coproduction” will provide understandings of the relationship between research ethics, coproduction and trust-building with communities. It will also be a platform where experienced researchers, practitioners and PhD candidates can debate the ethical concerns and tensions between researchers and the society/end-users. The course consists of four modules that address the topics from a theoretical and empirical perspective.

The course comprises:
1. Module 1. Understanding coproduction processes: the module focuses on concepts, theories and approaches of co-production, and key ethical issues emerging from the different wants/expectations of academics, professionals and communities. We will discuss the reasons and drivers of a participatory research, the way how the process of coproduction is carried out, and how the outcomes are delivered and communicated. Examples provided by the lecturers will focus on the Built Environment, however, participants are welcome to bring examples and discuss these perspectives from their own disciplines. In the second part of the module, PhDs will share their fieldwork plan and expectations.
• Contact-time: 4 hours
• Self-study: 2 hours

2. Module 2. Trust building and the politics of engagement: the module focuses on the challenges of engagement with non-academic communities and the issues to consider in trust building and equal relationships (e.g., underlying perceptions of each other's, power discrepancies, different expectations and embedded hierarchical positions). The module will discuss different ways to navigate through the politics of engagement, understanding multiple entities around communities, and learning from example cases and experiences. The second part of the module considers a mock focus group session using stakeholders’ role play.
• Contact-time: 4 hours
• Self-study: 2 hours

3. Module 3. Formulating fieldwork plans by integrating ethical concerns: this module focuses on ethics considerations and dilemmas that can emerge in the course attendees’ fieldwork. We will discuss how these considerations impact on the way we do and disseminate research, the different perspectives on research ethics, and the key elements that are relevant to consider for an ethically correct fieldwork. The second part of the module is a workshop focused on how to deal with ethical dilemmas and how to consider them when planning the fieldwork.
• Contact-time: 4 hours

4. Assignment: students revise their fieldwork plan by reflecting on ethical concerns, trust-building and equal collaborative relationships; peer-review assessment.
• Self-study: 4 hours

5. Module 4. Learning from the peer: this session focused on the assessment and discussion of the students’ fieldwork plan. During the session, PhD candidates will present their fieldwork plan, followed by feedback and comments from the course team, invited guest and peers. The session ends with the mapping of key lessons and observations from the peer-review process.
• Contact-time: 4 hours 

Learning objectives

At the end of this course, PhD candidates are expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of research ethics in co-production processes when researchers involve communities in their project. After completing this course, PhD candidates will be able to:
1. do critical thinking about research and professional ethics, and underlying perspectives of the co-production approaches and practices.
2. be sensitive and aware of the challenges regarding trust-building and embedded hierarchies in coproduction
3. develop proper ways to cope with the ethical challenges and reflect them in their fieldwork plan.

Teaching method

The course consists of four half-day sessions. The sessions are divided into theoretical discussion and practical activities. The sessions consider short introductory lectures from the course team, interviews with guest experts and workshops to apply the knowledge in the fieldwork planning. The guest lecturers are representatives of the academic community and the civil society with rich experience in coproduction approaches and practices.

Sessions 1,2 and 3 will introduce the main topics of the course: coproduction, trust building & engagement, and ethical concerns. The second part of sessions 2 and 3 considers workshops for identifying potential challenges from different stakeholders in coproduction process and mapping out conflicting ethical issues in their research and fieldwork planning.

The assignment is to integrate the lessons learned from the course into the students’ fieldwork plan, which will be presented in the fourth session for peer-reviews and feedback from guest experts.

* Note: the course structure and teaching methods are also applicable for online teaching.

About the Lecturer(s)/Coach(es)

Luz María Vergara is Postdoctoral Researcher, MBE Department, Faculty of Architecture, TU Delft
Boram Kimhur is PhD candidate, MBE Department, Faculty of Architecture, TU Delft
Igor Pessoa is Postdoctoral Researcher, Centre for Urban Studies, UvA
Paul Chan is Professor, MBE Department, Faculty of Architecture, TU Delft 


Session 1: 30 September, 14:00-18:00 hrs
Session 2: 14 October, 14:00-18:00 hrs
Session 3: 28 October, 14:00-18:00 hrs
Session 4: 18 November, 14:00-18:00 hrs 

How to enroll
Please send an email with your name, mail address, start date, research group and title of your research to ABE@tudelft.nl

Course code
ABE 024

Course type
Discipline related

Number of participants

Name of lecturer(s)/coach(es)
Luz María Vergara, Boram KimhurIgor Pessoa, Paul Chan

Credits and course load 
3 GS credits distributed in 4 sessions

Once a year