Exploring Elinor Ostrom's principles for collaborative group working within a user-led project: lessons from a collaboration between researchers and a user-led organisation

Bella Wheeler, Oli Williams, Becki Meakin, Eleni Chambers, Peter Beresford, Sarah O'Brien, Glenn Robert*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Some research has been undertaken into the mechanisms that shape successful participatory approaches in the context of efforts to improve health and social care. However, greater attention needs to be directed to how partnerships between researchers and user-led organisations (ULOs) might best be formed, practiced, managed, and assessed. We explored whether political economist Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize winning analysis of common pool resource management—specifically eight principles to enhance collaborative group working as derived from her empirical research—could be usefully applied within a user-led project aiming to co-design new services to support more inclusive involvement of Disabled people in decision-making processes in policy and practice. Methods: Participant observation and participatory methods over a 16-month period comprising observational notes of online user-led meetings (26 h), online study team meetings (20 h), online Joint Interpretive Forum meetings (8 h), and semi-structured one-to-one interviews with project participants (44 h) at two time points (months 6 and 10). Results: Initially it proved difficult to establish working practices informed by Ostrom’s principles for collaborative group working within the user-led project. Several attempts were made to put a structure in place that met the needs of both the research study and the aims of the user-led project, but this was not straightforward. An important shift saw a move away from directly applying the principles to the working practices of the group and instead applying them to specific tasks the group were undertaking. This was a helpful realisation which enabled the principles to become—for most but not all participants—a useful facilitation device in the latter stages of the project. Eventually we applied the principles in a way that was useful and enabled collaboration between researchers and a ULO (albeit in unexpected ways). Conclusions: Our joint reflections emphasise the importance of being reflexive and responsive when seeking to apply theories of collaboration (the principles) within user-led work. At an early stage, it is important to agree shared definitions and understanding of what ‘user-led’ means in practice. It is crucial to actively adapt and translate the principles in ways that make them more accessible and applicable within groups where prior knowledge of their origins is both unlikely and unnecessary.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15
Number of pages43
JournalResearch involvement and engagement
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Jan 2024


  • Co-production
  • Elinor Ostrom
  • User-led research
  • Collaborative group working


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