Developing new understandings of co-creation approaches in learning programmes with marginalised populations in development and humanitarian settings: a case study approach

ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) collaborative doctoral studentship.
The School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University, with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).



Dr Rebecca L. Jones, Lead supervisor, The Open University.



The ESRC Grand Union DTP is awarding a collaborative doctoral studentship based at The Open University in Milton Keynes. It is being offered in conjunction with the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a federation of national organisations delivering sexual and reproductive health services in over 160 countries.

The student will be part of ACCESS (Approaches in Complex and Challenging Environments for Sustainable SRHR [sexual and reproductive health rights]), a large multi-agency project funded by UKAid (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office). The ACCESS consortium is led by IPPF and consists of three further global NGOs and two academic partners. ACCESS uses a participatory, people-centred approach to respond to international SRHR priorities across the humanitarian-development nexus. It focuses on the needs of the most marginalised groups, including LGBT+ populations, people living with HIV, sex workers, and people with disabilities. The Open University’s main role within ACCESS is to develop learning resources to support these marginalised groups and those providing services to them.

The literature on SRHR education in humanitarian and development contexts identifies recurrent problems with implementation and acceptability – co-creation of resources with a diverse group of local stakeholders is suggested as a possible solution to these difficulties. However, this is a far from straightforward task, due to ongoing power inequalities between local actors and global Northern donors, the legacies of colonialism, and sometimes differing values, assumptions and cultural norms. This studentship project will explore some of the tensions and affordances of co-creating learning in these contexts, adding to our understanding of how best to undertake this work.

Possible Research Questions include:

-              What are the different ways in which ‘co-creation’ is conceptualised, measured and evaluated with different groups and in different settings?

-              What are the participants’ experiences in co-creation processes and what capabilities do they develop through these interactions?

-              What processes and practices are most helpful in developing co-creative methodologies for learning design?

The student will focus on a small number of learning resources throughout their co-creation journey, from as early as possible in inception to the end of ACCESS. These resources will be developed in one or more of the four countries in which ACCESS is working – Mozambique, Lebanon, Uganda and Nepal – but may then be translated into a new context and eventually scaled up for wider use.

Methods and design are likely to be predominantly qualitative and iterative, in order to capture experiential and processual aspects of co-creation. The topic of co-creation is likely to make reflexive or auto-ethnographic methods particularly appropriate. Other methods are likely to include interviews, focus groups and ethnographic observation.



IPPF delivers sexual and reproductive health services in over 160 countries, including supplies, clinics, peer educators, volunteers and staff, training, comprehensive sexuality education, and policy and advocacy work. IPPF’s approach is to ‘lead a locally owned, globally connected civil society movement that provides and enables services and champions sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, especially the under-served’. IPPF is a highly research-literate organisation, placing research evidence at the centre of its programming and is a key contributor to sector-wide summaries of research evidence produced by organisations such as UNESCO and UNFPA, and is a member of the UNDP-UNFPA-UNICEF-WHO-World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP). As well as providing one Supervisor, IPPF will play a key role in the student’s induction and ongoing support, including access to training, networking and dissemination opportunities within IPPF. They will also provide space for the student to work in their Member Associations offices in any of the four focus countries or the London Office. Member associations in the focus countries will support the student with access to groups and services, orientation and practicalities. ACCESS also has research partners in each focus country, who will support the student with in-country ethics applications.



The PhD studentship will be funded by the Grand Union DTP for an expected 3 years from October 2021. The award length offered may differ depending on the candidate’s prior training and how they meet ESRC training requirements. The project is more suited to full-time study, but applications will be considered from part-time candidates where proposed arrangements would be a good fit for the project.

Information about Grand Union DTP ESRC studentships and eligibility can be found on the Grand Union DTP website.



Tuesday 26th January 2021 midday GMT.

Interviews Wednesday 10th February or Friday 12th February 2021.



To apply for the studentship, you must submit:

  • A cover letter outlining why the proposed project is an important area of study, how your background relates to the selected research topic and why you wish to study at The Open University.
  • An outline research proposal of no more than 2,000 words, including background to the research topic, proposed research questions, methodology and methods. Your proposal can draw on the description of the research detailed above.
  • An academic CV that includes contact details of three academics.
  • An Open University application form, downloadable from:
  • A Grand Union DTP Application form, downloadable from:
  • Your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s)

Applications should be sent to with the subject header Health and Wellbeing ESRC DTP Collaborative Studentship application by midday 26th January 2021.

The admissions process is in two parts: applications will be assessed by the institution and the selected candidate will then be assessed as part of the applicant pool for ESRC Grand Union DTP funding.



Queries about the research project and collaboration between The Open University and IPPF should be directed to . Queries about ESRC studentships or the application process should be directed to