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Researcher blog: Sources of inspiration for creative practices in co-production

27 Sep 2022

In this blog, researcher Joe Langley highlights the work of some key thinkers that have influenced his work exploring the role of creative practices in production.

Joe recently led in developing a journal special issue, for Evidence & Policy which was guest edited by a multidisciplinary editorial group.

In a previous post, he outlined the development of the Evidence & Policy special issue and its theme of Creativity in Co-production, with key insights into his experiences of pulling it together during COVID. In this blog post Joe describes some of the sources of inspiration which underpinned its early thinking.

About the author: Joe Langley is Principal Research Fellow in and founder member of Lab4Living where he applies, facilitates and supports co-design in health research.

Project page >> Creative Practices & Coproduction: a Special Issue for Evidence & Policy


I have been thinking about creative practices in co-design and co-production for many years. I was lucky enough to be awarded an NIHR Knowledge Mobilisation Research Fellowship a few years ago that gave me the time and space to really immerse myself in the world of co-design and production in health research. But my thinking on this topic was still not fully resolved. It felt slippery and I was articulating it poorly. A recent experience of co-editing a Special Issue for Evidence and Policy, that focused on Creativity and Coproduction, enabled me to resolve this more fully. I write about this in a few other posts and articles elsewhere. Here I want to selectively share a few of my key sources of inspiration.


I apply, facilitate and support co-design and co-production in health research and innovation. I have been super interested for some time, in variations of the way these are viewed, written about and practiced by people from Design/Arts backgrounds and people from Health Sciences backgrounds.

Sources of Inspiration

Understanding Co-production

Our central argument for co-production is that the problems we are struggling to address within our societies are becoming increasingly complex, often with no single ‘right’ answer. Science and the evidence of research can help to indicate idealised or theoretical ‘best’ outcomes. Yet the direction a society takes is underpinned by not just research evidence but other (often competing) factors such as cost, ethics, technology, values, practical limitations and constraints … all of which require different kinds of knowledge. This diversity of knowledge needs to be collectively deliberated over and combined with imagination to envisage new possibilities; new ways of working that are acceptable, feasible, affordable and sustainable. This collective deliberation and shaping of new possibilities *is* co-production.

Our additional thesis is that Creative Practices offer a way of engaging people in such processes, facilitating the collective deliberation and envisaging of new futures, and activating the changes required to move from an existing position to a more desirable one.


Unflattening (Nick Sounsis) is an inspiring read. Sounsis tells us that different perspectives are not the problem – in fact they are a strength. The challenge is (and always has been) the process of negotiating and merging different perspectives. In human terms this is nearly always done in reductive processes that loses any content from different perspectives that do not ‘match’ or ‘agree’. This is the ultimate danger of consensus building and can often lead to ‘design-by-committee’ in which anything remotely ‘contentious’ is chucked out. In design and creative disciplines, we actively seek out these contentions; they become points of focus and opportunity.

Our own bodies (e.g. vision) also reject such reductive approaches; the different view of each eye is combined in such a way to add depth, texture and richness to our view of each other and the world. In Physics, difference is often described as having ‘potential’; a difference in height gives us “Potential Energy”; a difference in energy of charge carriers between points on a circuit is described as a “Potential Difference”. Difference is good, useful, valuable, dynamic, catalytic …

How differences are brought together in non-reductive ways is where we believe Creative Practices play a hugely valuable role.

Rebel Ideas

Rebel Ideas (Matthew Syed) is another compelling read that articulates many of these thoughts very eloquently. Syed talks about the need for cognitive diversity to tackle the shared challenges of our time. He shares tips on developing an ‘outsider mindset’ and overall, he challenges hierarchies, encourages constructive dissent and the benefits of engaging varied perspectives. The headline message is the importance of bringing together people who think differently.

Transactive Rationality

The work of Kuruvilla and Dorstewitz (2010) describes a model of transactive rationality (Fig 1 below) that could provide a useful theoretical frame for these ideas and I invite others to consider this and explore it. One of the things I like about this is that it is grounded on Deweyan Pragmatism theory, which has a strong alignment with design practices and co-design practices, and integrates concepts of ‘transaction’, ‘relationships’, ‘deliberation’ and ‘dynamic equilibrium’.

the image shows a schematic representation of the Transactive Rationality Model. It shows an axis of Time moving from left to right to illustrate a process that is broadly made of three phases; Phase 1 on the left is called the ‘Habitual Equilibrium’. We interpret this as the current situation; the status quo. It is made up of current policy situations, knowledge and activity. At some point, this shifts into Phase 2, in the middle which is called the ‘Indeterminate or Problematic Situation; some challenge to be solved. This (hopefully) eventually moves into Phase 3 called the ‘New Equilibrium’ and is a transactive change, accountability and learning. Going back to Phase 2 in the middle, the Transactive Rationality Model, tells us that this Problematic Situation requires a Community of Inquiry to solve it, where the community is based on participation, pluralism, and power. At the heart of this Inquiry is a central need to Deliberate, address conflicts, challenge norms and use moral imagination. Around and through this central deliberation, is an iterative process of Define, Realise and Design.
Figure: The transactive rationality model (Kuruvilla and Dorstewitz 2010)

Making is Connecting

Another source of inspiration for our focus in this area is the work of David Gauntlett (Making is Connecting, 2011), who argues that through making things, people engage with the world and each other; connecting with the world and each other. The making of ‘stuff’, artefacts, culture, etc. throughout the previous century was confined to the professional elite producers.

Ivan Illich pointed out the limitations of this as far back as 1977 in his essay Disabling Professions where he suggests that technological progress ought to be reserved for new tools that expand the capacity and the effectiveness of a wider range of people, rather than tools that continue to be the sole preserve of a select few so called ‘experts’.

The 21st century has seen an explosion of platforms and tools that do exactly this, enabling almost anyone to create and share digital and physical stuff. From FabLabs, WordPress and No-Code as maker platforms for creation, the prevalence of online tutorials in how to do almost anything, to digital cameras and 3D printers as tools for creation, to Etsy and Art Curations (an online platform developed by Art UK that enables anyone to curate an online exhibition) as platforms for sharing. Gauntlett goes on to argue that this shift (from being given or told things, to engaging, making and doing) is essential for the happiness and survival of modern societies.

Concluding thoughts

There are many inspiring authors and practitioners in this field; KA McKercher. Emma Blomkamp. Trish Greenhalgh. Sarah Knowles. Vicky Ward. Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Miranda Fricker. Those I highlight above are just a few of those I have been reading recently.

I am a firm believer in the value of different forms of knowledge, methods and approaches coming together; in inter-disciplinarity and trans-disciplinarity. I have come to believe that in these circumstances Creative Practices offer ways to mediate, negotiate, exchange, converse, share, synthesis… across multiple boundaries, in ways that science cannot. Science must be a part of these processes but perhaps not in control…?

For me, it is Creative Practices in coproduction that liberates science and research evidence and enables it to be more useful and usable for society.


  • Gauntlett, D. (2011). Making is Connecting; The social meaning of creativity from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0, 2011, Polity Press
  • Kuruvilla, S., Dorstewitz, P. (2010). There is no “point” in decision-making: a model of transactive rationality for public policy and administration. Policy Sci 43, 263–287.
  • Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening Harvard University Press. ISBN: 978-0-674-74443-1
  • Syed, M. (2019). Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking. John Murray Press. ISBN 978-1-529-34840-8

Author details

Joe Langley is a Design Engineer and Academic Researcher at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, working in the Lab4Living research centre. He explores various forms of participatory research and innovation using design practices and co-design approaches, with a focus on Knowledge Mobilisation and the use of evidence in shaping and informing innovations.

You can get in touch with Joe via email ( and Twitter (@JoeLangley_).

Follow us on Twitter: @Lab4Living