New forms of knowledge production that actively engage in different types of knowledge in participatory settings have emerged in the last two decades as ‘the right thing to do’. However, the role scientists play in facilitating these processes remains unclear. This article contributes to calls for more deliberate and critical engagement between scholarship and practice of the co-production of knowledge by constructing and testing a conceptual framework based on the literature outlining specific task for scientists in co-production processes. This framework is used to analyze the co-production of knowledge for local food security policy in South Africa, based on documentary analysis and in-depth interviews with scientists, policy makers and stakeholders. It shows that the tasks set out in the conceptual framework provide a useful lens for unpacking, and so better understanding, the role played by scientists in knowledge co-production. Applying the framework also helps to uncover insights into proximate outcomes of co-production, such as increased capacity and power redistribution, as well as critical contextual factors, such as the type of policy problem and the prevailing governance framing. The article concludes that more nuanced and critical understanding of the role of scientists in the co-production process will help over-come the apparent paradox that, although co-production is a ‘buzz word’, researchers often they still adhere to objective and linear knowledge production.