The landscape of research in universities is changing. Among government funders, as well as other research agencies, there is a clear trend to seek interdisciplinary collaborations; there is a routine expectation to demonstrate impact and engagement; there is an emphasis on learning, experiencing and understanding work beyond disciplinary boundaries; organizations have set up collaborations with universities on a one-off or longer term basis; placement schemes exist to enable people to spend time working in other organizations and we see an increasing emphasis upon coproduction, working with communities and policy-related research.

Traditionally, academic research has involved bounded practices based on sets of justifications according to which the production of quality, as well as progress and recognition within a discipline, are based. These practices are important to protect the distinction of disciplines, the integrity of their practices and attraction to those who wish to be schooled in their ways of knowing. These are increasingly subject to factors such as funding criteria and pressures; variations in value attributed to different knowledge and methods; roles of consultancies and other knowledge producers and an increase in the existence of intermediary organisations, both inside and outside universities, who work to interpret and apply the results of research with consequences for the production-transmission-reception-application process.

Overall, we find a movement taking place from knowledge which is bounded by disciplines, to a process in which justification is shaped in different conditions of application. The implications of this vary across disciplines from physical to social sciences and the arts and humanities where ideas of evidence and insight vary. A greater understanding is needed concerning these variations and their implications for future practices. As a result, this research, involving interviews with those who have experience in the broad area of participative inquiry, focused upon the following questions:

  1. How are the boundaries between justification and application in different forms of practice negotiated and understood and what implications does this have for ideas of value?
  2. How does the context within which knowledge is produced relate to the content and potential consequence for action, particularly when it comes to recognition of different knowledges?
  3. What is the role of various forces in shaping the direction and process of knowledge production, reception and deployment?
  4. What issues inform effective knowledge exchange?

Findings should be reported in 2020. 

People involved

Tim May

Tim is Professor of Social Scientific Methodology at the Sheffield Methods Institute. During his time as international methodological advisor to the Sheffield-Manchester Local Interaction Platform (2016–2019), he has also been investigating the role of boundary agents and the circulation of knowledge and decision-making in research practice. His interests lie in interdisciplinary working; collaboration with non-academic partners; policy-related research; management and organizational change; methodological innovation; reflexivity in social research and social life; philosophy of social science and social and political theory. He has written widely in these areas and also worked with many organisations in the public and private sectors.

Email Tim

Beth Perry

Beth is a Professor of Urban Knowledge and Governance and Co-Director of the Urban Institute. Her research focuses on urban governance, transformation and the roles of universities, with an emphasis on socio-environmental and socio-cultural transitions.

Beth Perry joined the Urban Institute in September 2016 and is now Co-director and leads the Co-producing Urbanisms theme.  Following degrees in European Studies and Modern Languages (BA Hons, University of Manchester) and European Integration (MA, University of Bradford), she joined the Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF) at the University of Salford and became its director prior to moving to Sheffield.  During this time she completed her PhD which focused on the relationship between universities and the knowledge economy in the context of multi-level and multi-actor governance. From 2010 to 2019, Beth was the UK Programme Lead for the Mistra Urban Futures Centre, a research centre headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden and led the UK's Realising Just Cities programme. 

Email Beth

News, events and blog

Contested Knowledges for Just Urban Futures is a one-day seminar organised by Professors Tim May and Beth Perry at the University of Sheffield, which will take place on Tuesday 10th December at Channing Hall in Sheffield. The seminar is aimed at university academics engaged in urban reearch and practice and aims to explore the following question:

How does our commitment to just urban futures specifically manifest in practice, in the context of the wider co-productive turn and interest in different ideas about what it means to be an ‘engaged’ academic?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 - 10:00 to 17:00
Channing Hall, 45 Surrey Street, Sheffield S1 2LG

How does our commitment to just urban futures specifically manifest in practice, in the context of the wider co-productive turn and interest in different ideas about what it means to be an ‘engaged’ academic?

If you are a university academic undertaking urban research and engagement and would like to attend this free seminar, please RSVP to with name, university and a couple of lines on your urban research and engagement activity. 


Transdisciplinary projects using co-production (questionnaire dialogue box)

Do you have experience of co-production in partnership with a university? If so, we'd like to hear more about your notions of good leadership.

Who leads, for what purpose and how? The question of leadership in coproduction is often assumed or ignored. Jam and Justice researchers want to understand where people with experience of co-production agree and differ on what constitutes good leadership. To help us study this effectively, we've prepared a survey intended for those who have been part of co-production projects involving a university partner.

Those outside the confines of research communities and who are frequently marginalised from public consideration need to be more involved:” says Mistra Urban Futures’ Tim May, in an article recently published by the

Report from a Workshop with Early Career Researchers at University of Sheffield, 4-5 December 2018

--Tim May, Beth Perry and Charlotte Spring (with thanks to participants who gave their time).