The University of Wollongong’s (UOW) current strategic plan outlines its commitment to research that will have a meaningful impact and make a productive difference to society. Recently, UOW released a white paper outlining its strategy in developing research that engages with individuals and the wider community, prioritising the value of their contribution and promoting the importance of this stakeholder engagement. Knowledge exchange between researchers and community members is particularly highlighted within the white paper. Moreover, the Faculty of Social Sciences places an emphasis in their research strategy on research that empowers people.
These statements and priorities underscore the value that UOW places on co-production of research and provide a framework from which researchers at the university have engaged in research co-production with autistic community members. Chief among these efforts is the launch of the Autism Community of Practice (CoP). The CoP brings together members of the autistic and autism community, alongside family members, services providers and educators to provide oversight and advice on research initiatives and to identify priorities for research and practice, leading to the promotion of self-determination, self-advocacy and empowerment of the autistic person.
Co-production in action
The UOW Autism Teaching and Research program, overseen by Dr. Amanda Webster, has established a commitment to engage in co-production of research and teaching initiatives. Through the establishment of the Master of Autism program, several autistic individuals have been engaged as leaders in developing teaching and research projects. Over the past two years, these individuals have sought to work with autistic community members to develop research initiatives that will empower autistic people to co-construct projects, having direct, meaningful impact to their community.
In one project, members of the autistic community were engaged as research assistants to co-construct principles for designing autistic-friendly businesses and community environments. In another initiative, Dr. Webster and Ms. Barb Cook, an autistic author established the Autism Community of Practice (CoP). Individuals in the CoP are now being engaged as paid researchers on several projects aiming to promote the self-determination of autistic people. These individuals are providing experiential data and feedback, helping to co-construct an environmental audit and self-determination assessment that is being trialled in school and post-secondary education programs. This group is also planning a workshop forum to communicate with and gather input and feedback from the wider community.