Towards a heart and soul for co-creative research and practice: a systemic approach

Graham Nicholas (Corresponding Author), Jeff Foote, Kirsten Kainz, Gerald Midgley, Katrin Prager, Christina Zurbriggen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


The language of co-creation has become popular with policy makers, researchers and consultants wanting to support evidence-based change. However, there is little agreement about what features a research or consultancy project must have for peers to recognise the project as co-creative, and therefore for it to contribute to the growing body of practice and theory under that heading. This means that scholars and practitioners do not have a shared basis for critical reflection, improving practice and debating ethics, legitimacy and quality. While seeking to avoid any premature defining of orthodoxy, this article offers a framework to support researchers and practitioners in discussing the boundaries and the features that are beginning to characterise a particular discourse, such as the one that is unfolding around the concept of co-creation. The paper is the outcome of an online and face-to-face dialogue among an international group of scholars. The dialogue draws on Critical Systems Heuristics’ (Ulrich, 1994) questions concerning motivation (revealing assumptions about its purpose and value), power (interrogating assumptions about who has control and is therefore able to define success), knowledge (surfacing assumptions about experience and expertise) and legitimacy (disclosing moral assumptions). The paper ends by suggesting important areas for further exploration to contribute to the emerging discourse of co-creation in ways that support critical reflection, improved practice, and provide a basis for debating ethics and quality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-370
Number of pages18
JournalEvidence & Policy
Issue number3
Early online date22 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

SESYNC (Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland) supported
the development and writing of this paper with funding from the National Science
We thank participants in the SESYNC Pursuit Group on Co-creative Capacity
for their interactions, ideas and review comments, and Dr Barbara Nicholas for
editorial assistance.


  • co-creation
  • participatory research
  • boundary critique
  • Critical Systems Heuristics
  • Co-creation
  • Participatory research
  • Boundary critique


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