Entering the Co-production world is harder than it looks

May 15, 2024
Leah Madison

When we first started the Natural Resources Workforce Development Fellowship, I thought “I got this, this will be easy.” I have 5 years of grant writing under my belt, my day job at the Desert Research Institute has me translating science into educational material for broader impacts AND my graduate work at the University of Nevada Reno is looking specifically at drought information needs for target groups. I have been reading about the scholarship of science communication, co-production methods and use-inspired actionable research for three years, I can do this! I was so excited to join an interdisciplinary team and get a chance to practice engaged research with like-minded professionals. 

The reality is that this is hard. Now I know why I didn’t see these methods in my work at DRI. We are at the halfway point in the fellowship, and it has taken us this entire time to really refine our project, what we are going to do, and how we want to do it. We needed all this time to build a foundation of how to communicate, what platforms work best for us, what doesn’t, where our strengths are, where we need to ask for help, and to reach an agreement in understanding of our goals. Our team has been working hard, but we all want to be respectful, careful and professional. We HAVE to take our time to ensure that all members are heard, ideas are considered, and we can still create a finished product in the timeline that we have. There is a huge vulnerability in having to trust your teammates. We are all specialists with very different backgrounds, and when a question arises, you must trust that the right person is going to step in and direct the project in a way that will be successful. There is a balanced art in moving the project forward together, instead of having one lead project manager, as I have experienced in other projects.

The need for interdisciplinary projects and teams seems to be increasing, and there is a ton of research saying that it is effective and worthwhile. However, I recognize now that saying engaged scholarship is a LITTLE intimidating is an understatement. It’s not the traditional idea of how science is conducted, and it takes time. I hope to bring the skills and experience I have gained from this fellowship to other projects and researchers, to encourage their pursual of these methods, and make it a LITTLE less intimidating.

I will end this by stating – engaged research with an interdisciplinary team is absolutely worth the investment.