Stakeholder or participant involvement in research and innovation is an effective way to ensure research impact and provides an opportunity for researchers to engage with and learn from others affected by and interested in the proposed project. Wider involvement in designing and conducting research can confirm that the project best addresses the needs of individuals and communities. It can also ensure that different forms of knowledge, experience and expertise are valued and used throughout the research process from the earliest stages
Co-production may raise complex ethical considerations around responsibility, accountability and power since it can blur the lines between the researcher and the participant, or other stakeholders. All partners should consider such issues in advance and establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability. It is a good idea for each partner to discuss motivations and expectations about what they can bring to the project. Consider too at the outset how you intend to manage any tensions between competing accountabilities.
Researchers and innovators should be sensitive to actual or perceived differences in income, status or power. They should adhere to the principles of equitable partnerships to address inherent power imbalances when working with partners, particularly public and community partners where imbalances may be more prominent.
Co-production often includes academic and wider partners who may come from a variety of research organisations, countries, industry, charities, policymakers and groups of participants or sections of the general public. These all may have their own perspectives regarding issues of ethics around their joint research. These differences may be due to organisational culture, training, access to research resources and participant populations. It is worthwhile gauging public attitudes towards the project and any perceptions about conflicts of interest.
Research partners should agree to a progressive and shared process of ethical reflection and regular monitoring while the research is taking place. This will ensure that ethical issues are promptly reported to all organisations involved and appropriate advice sought from a research ethics committee. It can be helpful to include activities that encourage reflection and negotiation at key points. Learning events with research and innovation partners can be useful in that regard.
Equitable research and innovation partnerships
Partnerships must be transparent and based on mutual respect. They should aim to have a clearly articulated understanding of the equitable distribution of resources, responsibilities, efforts and benefits. Partnerships should recognise different inputs, interests and desired outcomes and ensure the ethical sharing and use of data.
The partners should agree a streamlined ethics review process. For example, they may choose to use the research ethics committee of the organisation where the principal investigator is based.
The ethics review should, as a minimum, satisfy the requirements of the ESRC Framework on Research Ethics review guidance or UK Policy Framework for Health and Social Care Research, depending on the type of research. Where research is to be conducted outside the UK or involves international partners, researchers must establish whether ethics review is required by non-UK ethics committees.