Global environmental challenges like climate change are likewise challenging our conceptions of science, and the role of science in society. Climate science is having a growing influence on our lives – in the media, government policy, our schools or corporate strategies – and presents alarming calls to action. This science asks us both to reconsider our long held representations of climate and how we live in nature; to rethink climate as driven by our actions, and how then we ought to act. Against this context, a lot of social science and humanities scholars have started looking at how climate change knowledge already is, and can be more relevantly and socially robustly, ‘co-produced’ with affected groups of people and institutions in society. But the growing popularity of this concept opens up ambiguity on what is meant by co-production. It is time to take stock of this expanding scholarship, and unpack the different ways that co-production concepts are being thought about and used.
Bremer and Meish conducted a comprehensive review, which recently published in WIREs Climate Change, of more than 130 peer-reviewed scientific articles that addressed both climate and co-production. Within this corpus it first mapped who the scholars are using co-production – relative to characteristics like their discipline, nationality and research themes – and secondly, how this diversity of scientific perspectives has opened up different meanings of co-production. The study described the co-production literature as a complex meeting place, where several different academic traditions and practices converge, overlap, affect each other, come into conflict or cooperate toward describing and effecting co-production. At this intersection, the study distinguished eight particular perspectives on co-production. Two of these perspectives focus on describing how climate science is already used in society, how it is at once shaped by and shaping social concerns and representations of climate. Six of these perspectives put forward reasons why we should deliberately build collaborative partnerships between the scientific community and other social groups; ranging from public education, to empowering marginalised groups, building adaptive institutions, delivering public services, producing more useable science, or even for more fundamental reorganisation of scientific enquiry.
There are two important implications of this work. On one hand, it urges transparency when scholars are using co-production concepts. The different meanings attached to co-production add richness to the concept and open it up to different uses, but it is important that scholars clearly communicate how they use the term and are mindful of what they ‘buy into’ by using it in certain ways. On the other hand, there are tensions between some of the different perspectives as well as opportunities for combining them into a compound concept of co-production. In this way, this research proposes re-conceptualising co-production as an eight-sided prism, where each aspect represents a different perspective and allows complimentary insights on the relationship between science, society and nature.
Text contributed by Scott Bremer & Simon Meisch