Co-Design Approach Bridging Science-Policy-Society Gaps

At the heart of the MeerWissen initiative has always been a focus on “partnerships of equals” based on the idea of a co-design process. The strong partnership and co-design approach ensures that priorities are jointly set, results meet local needs and are usable by both partners and decision-makers. MeerWissen supports this co-design approach by funding a dedicated co-design phase prior to the implementation phase of the funding program of 2 years.

What is Co-Design? Inclusive Methodology for Effective Project Collaboration

The co-design process is an instrument of transformation; it not only changes the research projects envisioned but it also changes the people involved, while inviting critical reflection of the role of science in society (Moser 2016). The term ‘co-design’ can be defined as an “iterative and collaborative process involving diverse types of expertise, knowledge and actors to produce context-specific knowledge” (Norström et al. 2020:183).

A co-design process aims to ensure that the perspectives and priorities of all partners and relevant stakeholders are reflected and considered in a project idea. Such an inclusive approach increases the projects local relevance and adaptation to its context. It also helps to build trust between partners and create a basis for collaboration based on shared responsibility and ownership, while increasing the chances that research will be useful to all parties, aligned with political systems and priorities, fit the local context, and respond to real needs.

“During the co-design phase stakeholders and academic participants work in a coordinated, integrated way to best establish a common understanding of the research goals, to identify the relevant disciplines, participants and the scientific integration steps necessary to approach the topic, and to agree on the roles the different groups have in advancing towards the research”

Mauser et al. 2013

With the intention of linking research and sustainable development, an increasing number of funding programmes and global initiatives such as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Ocean Decade) are supporting transformative processes and placing emphasis on the elements of co-design. Motivations for co-design include the prospect of scientifically-sound, societally relevant information and thus to improved policy decisions (e.g. by drawing on more diverse sources of knowledge and targeted, co-developed lines of inquiry). In addition, the logic of co-design assumes lasting impacts of a project, including durability of developed structures beyond the funding period of a single project. Furthermore, it aims to increase equity in the research process, avoiding “parachute” science and strengthening local ownership. Local stakeholders are involved and informed throughout a transparent process, which builds trust across stakeholder groups, leading to a sense of ownership of and ideally support for the outcome. Co-design thus aims to bridge science-society-policy gaps and to provide targeted and effective sustainability solutions.

Meerwissen and Co-Design Supporting Partnerships of Equals

A central objective of the MeerWissen initiative is to find solutions to societal problems and to support partnerships of equals. This means that activities and measures are developed together by all partners, responsibilities are shared in decision-making, project management and implementation, and the distribution of the budget reflects that partnership of equals.

Within MeerWissen, and throughout our funding calls, we have learned that the co-design process is most effective when realised from the very beginning of a project, as a leitmotif guiding the entire process including the planning stage. Therefore, MeerWissen supports co-design by funding a dedicated pre-project phase, giving time and resources to adjust and re-adjust the project proposal prior to implementation.

While the term co-design is often used analogously to co-creation and can comprise all three stages of a project (co-design, co-production, co-dissemination), MeerWissen focuses on the initial phase of a project or knowledge co-production process, where a research project is jointly developed and a research question defined that meets collective interests and needs – but particularly local and adjusted for the context. At the same time, we call attention to the iterative and ongoing nature of the co-design process. With this collaborative approach, MeerWissen seeks to set new standards for research collaborations and knowledge exchange (in a sense of multi-directional transfer) in the field of marine sciences.

Find out more in our co-design guidance.

Planning and conducting co-design

“The co-design phase for the MeerWissen projects has two dimensions: it aims to build/support a partnership (of equals) among researchers for the implementation of a project, and orient the project towards the needs of local actors by engaging them. Researchers and non-academic stakeholders jointly develop a ‘partnership project’.”