Six modes of co-production for sustainability

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


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

The promise of co-production to address complex sustainability challenges is compelling. Yet, co-production, the collaborative weaving of research and practice, encompasses diverse aims, terminologies and practices, with poor clarity over their implications. To explore this diversity, we systematically mapped differences in how 32 initiatives from 6 continents co-produce diverse outcomes for the sustainable development of ecosystems at local to global scales. We found variation in their purpose for utilizing co-production, understanding of power, approach to politics and pathways to impact. A cluster analysis identified six modes of co-production: (1) researching solutions; (2) empowering voices; (3) brokering power; (4) reframing power; (5) navigating differences and (6) reframing agency. No mode is ideal; each holds unique potential to achieve particular outcomes, but also poses unique challenges and risks. Our analysis provides a heuristic tool for researchers and societal actors to critically explore this diversity and effectively navigate trade-offs when co-producing sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)983-996
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 11.2021

Bibliographical note

This project and paper were supported by the Luc Hoffmann Institute and MAVA
Foundation. We acknowledge the Center for Collaborative Conservation, PECS, the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and The Pew Charitable Trusts for hosting our workshops. We thank J. Lokrantz at Azote for improving the graphics design. J.M.C. received 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 P. Singh and S. 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.M.H.G. was supported by the UK Research
and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund 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 while 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)