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What is the Co-Creation of New Knowledge?

Tania Pearce from The School of Health at the University of New England
Tania Pearce

For the past several years, there has been increased interest in the concept of the co-creation of new knowledge as an approach to more effectively operationalising models of research translation. Co-creation of new knowledge has the potential to combat research waste, increase the research capacity of service providers and improve service delivery.

But what is the co-creation of new knowledge?

Currently, no standardised definition exists for the term “co-creation of new knowledge” in the evaluation of health interventions.  Instead, over time, there has been a proliferation in the use of co-creation related terms by stakeholders in the health sector, many of which originated from non-health related industries. We are all familiar with a range of descriptive terms for a set of collaborative practices, such as co-design, co-evaluation, co-planning, co-production and co-implementation.

On closer examination, however, some of these co-creation-related terms lack consistency, consensus and clarity on how they are being defined and the context in which they are being used. This lack of definitional clarity creates ambiguity and confusion which, in turn, inhibits the efficiency with which co-creation practices are able to be integrated into health-related research, policy and service delivery.

Therefore, the aim of our new paper, ‘What is the Co-Creation of New Knowledge? A Content Analysis and Proposed Definition for Health Interventions’, was to conduct a content analysis of the co-creation literature, and then use the results to construct a standardised definition for the concept of the co-creation of new knowledge. The key idea was that a standardised definition would emerge from what is the first systematic attempt by researchers to reconcile the variable terms used to describe co-creation. If we can reach consensus on a definition, then we will have a standardised and objective basis on which to determine the extent to which new knowledge about health interventions is co-created, and to improve the quality of future co-created research.

To construct a definition of co-creation, we applied content analysis to the 42 papers we identified in our systematic search of the literature. This analysis discovered that researchers from a range of disciplines had used 22 unique co-creation terms to define co-creation related processes. Through content analysis we were able to demonstrate how those 22 variable terms could be reduced to four standard collaborative processes: co-ideation, co-design, co-implementation and co-evaluation. Independent reviewers tested the categorisation of papers. Based on these findings we were able to construct a definition of co-creation of new knowledge that represents a synthesis of the current use of co-creation related terms.

The definitional clarity that this paper proposes would allow researchers, practitioners and policy makes to unambiguously differentiate the research that represents high quality co-creation from the research that does not. Standardising the concept of co-creation will also help facilitate the conduct of a greater proportion of research that is either directly transferable to, or already embedded into, the provision of a wide range of health interventions delivered by a wide range of service providers.

Tania Pearce is a PHD student at the School of Health at The University of New England, and undertook this research in collaboration with Professor Anthony Shakeshaft at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), UNSW Sydney.