Co-productive agility and four collaborative pathways to sustainability transformations

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


  • Josephine M. Chambers
  • Carina Wyborn
  • Nicole L. Klenk
  • Melanie Ryan
  • Anca Serban
  • Nathan J. Bennett
  • Ruth Brennan
  • Lakshmi Charli-Joseph
  • María E. Fernández-Giménez
  • Kathleen A. Galvin
  • Bruce E. Goldstein
  • Tobias Haller
  • Rosemary Hill
  • Claudia Munera
  • Jeanne L. Nel
  • Henrik Österblom
  • Robin S. Reid
  • Marja Spierenburg
  • Maria Tengö
  • Elena Bennett
  • Amos Brandeis
  • Paul Chatterton
  • Jessica J. Cockburn
  • Christopher Cvitanovic
  • Pongchai Dumrongrojwatthana
  • América Paz Durán
  • Jean David Gerber
  • Jonathan M.H. Green
  • Rebecca Gruby
  • Angela M. Guerrero
  • Andra Ioana Horcea-Milcu
  • Jasper Montana
  • Patrick Steyaert
  • Julie G. Zaehringer
  • Angela T. Bednarek
  • K. Curran
  • Salamatu J. Fada
  • Jon Hutton
  • Beria Leimona
  • Tomas Pickering
  • Renee Rondeau

Co-production, the collaborative weaving of research and practice by diverse societal actors, is argued to play an important role in sustainability transformations. Yet, there is still poor understanding of how to navigate the tensions that emerge in these processes. Through analyzing 32 initiatives worldwide that co-produced knowledge and action to foster sustainable social-ecological relations, we conceptualize ‘co-productive agility’ as an emergent feature vital for turning tensions into transformations. Co-productive agility refers to the willingness and ability of diverse actors to iteratively engage in reflexive dialogues to grow shared ideas and actions that would not have been possible from the outset. It relies on embedding knowledge production within processes of change to constantly recognize, reposition, and navigate tensions and opportunities. Co-productive agility opens up multiple pathways to transformation through: (1) elevating marginalized agendas in ways that maintain their integrity and broaden struggles for justice; (2) questioning dominant agendas by engaging with power in ways that challenge assumptions, (3) navigating conflicting agendas to actively transform interlinked paradigms, practices, and structures; (4) exploring diverse agendas to foster learning and mutual respect for a plurality of perspectives. We explore six process considerations that vary by these four pathways and provide a framework to enable agility in sustainability transformations. We argue that research and practice spend too much time closing down debate over different agendas for change – thereby avoiding, suppressing, or polarizing tensions, and call for more efforts to facilitate better interactions among different agendas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102422
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project and paper were supported by the Luc Hoffmann Institute and MAVA Foundation. We acknowledge the Center for Collaborative Conservation, the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS), the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI), and The Pew Charitable Trusts for hosting our workshops. J.M.C. received additional support from the Economic and Social Research Council (grant RG97777). J.J.C. was funded by a Rhodes University Postdoctoral Fellowship, and acknowledges the contributions of Preshnee Singh and Smiso Behngu to analysing the Durban Research Action Partnership case. H.Ö. was funded by the Walton Family Foundation (grant 2018-1371), The David and Lucile Packard Foundation (grant 2019-68336), and The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (grant GBMF5668.02). J.G. was supported by the UK Research and Innovation's Global Challenges Research Fund (UKRI GCRF) through the Trade, Development and the Environment Hub project (project ES/S008160/1). A.I.H.M. was supported from a Volkswagen Stiftung and the Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur grant (A112269) followed by a Marie Sklodowska–Curie grant (840207). A.I.H.M also acknowledges support from the Leverage Points project practice partners and all project team members. J.M. was supported by the Leverhulme Trust. J.G.Z. was funded by the r4d programme of the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (grant 400440 152167). Elements of this work were undertaken whilst J.G.Z. was a visiting scholar at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge (May 2018–April 2019), supported through Scientific Exchange funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant IZSEZ0_180391).

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