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Leadership in Transdisciplinary Knowledge Co-production

How can we broaden the range of actors involved in solving complex problem of generating sustainable urban communities? A new, open access book on Transdisciplinary Knowledge Co-production gives a detailed account of the methods, with a contribution from Catherine Durose, Beth Perry, Liz Richardson and I on leadership in co-production.

Interest in co-production reflects a growing demand and interest for a more socially accountable form of knowledge production. Yet the challenges presented by co-production are often underplayed in comparison to its potential, and the question of leadership in co-production is often marginalized as a ‘second order’ question. It is critical to ask: who leads, for what purpose, and how? Where leadership is discussed, particular leadership strategies for co-production are often assumed or extolled. Critical perspectives about power and positionality in co-production – and what this means for leadership – are rarely reflected upon.

We undertook a Q-method study with a range of key informants involved in knowledge co-production projects, which asked what does ‘good’ leadership in co-production look like?

We found that people had strong agreement on characteristics of ‘bad’ leadership. They also agreed that leadership needs to take questions of power seriously. But there were different views on what ‘good’ leadership looks like; for instance, in terms of what power differentials actually mean or how much direction people need. We identified four viewpoints: creative leadership, outcomes-focused leadership, visionary leadership, and egalitarian leadership. •

  • Creative leadership should be flexible and focused on group dynamics and relationships in order to support people’s creativity.
  • Outcomes-focused leadership is about having clear structures and finding the best person for the job at hand in order to deliver outcomes.
  • Visionary leadership is about having the discretion to support people in following their passions in order to achieve a vision.
  • Egalitarian leadership is about finding consensus and sharing power within the group in order to reach towards equity.

Each viewpoint gives an alternative account of the purpose, practice, power, structure, and decision-making in co-production leadership. You can find a more detailed account in the book (which is free to download), as well as a discussion of a range of other topics that key to urban knowledge co-production.

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