Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee 

The EDI Subcommittee's aim is to understand and address systemic challenges relating to intersectional equity, equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in UK academic-policy engagement. The Sub-Committees most recent work was the 'Surfacing EDI' Report, which outlined findings and thoughts from institutions across the UK. The EDI Sub-Committee have just responded alongside SPRE (Scottish Policy and Research Exchange) to the UKRI EDI Consultation as a collective. 

Please see below a summary of the points made in the submission, or you can read the full submission here.

Key points made in our final submission
What we liked about the draft UKRI EDI strategy:
  • The opportunity to engage: That this draft strategy exists and was put out to open consultation.
  • People-centred transformative change: The long-term and transformative level of the ambitions, and that they were people-centred (couched in terms of how people feel, are valued, are supported and encouraged, and that participation should carry benefits to participants).
  • Collaborative learning journey: That systemic collaboration and learning are emphasised as being fundamental to achieving the ambitions.
  • Responsibility and accountability for enabling conditions: That UKRI clearly articulates its unique level of responsibility, which includes taking a leading role to integrate and coordinate action in order to create enabling conditions for transformative change – and the importance of transparency, openness and accountability in delivery.
  • Embedding inclusion: That this was a major focus.
  • Monitoring, measuring and evaluating change – for the purpose of learning: That this was a major focus.
Points we made on how the draft UKRI EDI strategy could be improved:
  • What is the purpose of addressing EDI? In our view, he strategy predominantly represented the ‘problem’ of EDI as one that limits ‘excellence’. We asked for the relationship between EDI and excellence to be addressed, and suggested that in order for them to relate synergistically, ‘excellence’ would need to be defined and operationalised in a more plural and conditional way.
  • Ground the strategy in history and context. This came from calls to ’name the problem’ and for specificity on who or what counts as ‘different’. The strategy currently has no reference to how inequalities, a lack of diversity and exclusionary processes are currently present in the UK research and innovation system, nor the dynamics that (re)produce them. We pointed out that failing to do this, and to acknowledge UKRI’s role(s) in producing the current system, prevents trusted relationships to be established with UKRI.
  • Facilitate a deeper shared understanding of EDI. A large part of this point was in relation to the inconsistent and poorly defined use of EDI-related language. We suggested that UKRI should dedicate resources (e.g. via a coordinating body) to co-develop a shared framework for understanding these concepts, how they relate, and how they can be operationalised, drawing on intersectional and decolonial theory and practice. We also suggested that a coordinating body could lead on the co-development of a Theory of Change with a clear vision for the UK R&I system, lead on facilitating periodic learning and review cycles to adapt the strategy in response to ongoing learning and shifting contexts, and to equitably engage with experts with lived experience (e.g. intersectional equality NGOs) in all these processes. We also outlined a number of ways in which it would be important for UKRI to work with universities to understand how inequalities are produced within and between them, and how UKRI can support addressing them.
  • Acknowledge and address politics. This point related to the use of generic language (e.g. “by everyone, for everyone”), the lack of acknowledging what the current state of inequities is and how it has been/is produced, the lack of acknowledgment of how power shapes the production and use of evidence, and the lack of details of what/whose values, worldviews and priorities etc. will shape the governance of inherent/ever-present trade-offs and contestations. These points ran throughout the sections we responded to.
  • Collective accountability for learning. This point related to concerns over potential ’top-down’ approaches to learning and accountability. We suggested a shift from questions such as “are we on track and what have people done to make progress?” (i.e. focused on top-down accountability for results) – towards questions such as “are there other tracks and how have we changed each other?” (i.e. focused on collective accountability for learning). We also noted the importance of defining value-for-money in collaborative, theory of change-based ways, focused primarily on the qualities of equity and effectiveness (e.g. rather than efficiency and economy).
  • How will inclusion be embedded? This was a request for further clarity on this crucial work: how inclusive will UKRI be in embedding inclusion? We made points on this related to governance, accountability, funding (and other resourcing), training, framing (particularly shifting from a “learning about EDI interventions” framing to a “learning about EDI in all interventions” framing). With regards to funding, we elaborated further on how this can support greater EDI in career development, and the inclusion of intersectional equality NGOs as fully-funded Co-Is plus remuneration for any that are engaged with after project teams are formed.
Points we left out or didn’t elaborate much on
Note that we left these out primarily due to time pressures – synthesising the range of inputs into a coherent response that wasn’t unwieldy was tricky… There was much less strategic or tactical thinking about which points to include/exclude then we’d hoped to do. This will be a focus of our learning about this consultation: how can we improve our inclusive practice in the face of such ever-present time/capacity pressures.
  • The inclusivity of UKRI’s engagement on inclusivity. We didn’t address the problems with the consultation itself (e.g. See Addy Adelaine’s important comments on Twitter and a recent BBC interview). We also didn’t really question or address who UKRI typically seeks advice from, who was leading the consultation etc.
  • How EDI monitoring typically works in practice. We could have drawn more on UPEN's Surfacing EDI report, Kathryn Watson’s comments during the UPEN EDI panel discussion, and other inputs during workshops/meetings e.g. that it often takes place in informal and time-short settings, and that gender and career stage are the most common characteristics collected. This is an important area for further attention both in terms of developing and sharing good practice amongst academic and professional policy-engagement practitioners, and to keep in dialogue with UKRI over this to ensure learning and alignment between data collection efforts. For example, another comment that came from the workshops, but was left out of the final response, related to the importance of thinking systemically about data collection e.g. building in passive data collection within UKRI’s systems, to reduce the need to repeatedly ask people for the same information. We also didn’t include some comments relating to the common (false) binary of people with protected characteristics vs those with ’none’.
  • EDI issues with the new narrative CV.  We made only brief reference to the new narrative CVs. Important points that we left out related to how a narrative approach will differently benefit/disadvantage people across genders, cultures, languages, ages and universities (given their different capacities to support people in writing effective narrative CVs).
  • Pathways to impact. We left out reference to the impacts of removing the ‘pathways to impact’ statement. Some of those we engaged with highlighted that they have seen a reduction in the number of academics asking for support, and that this likely has important EDI implications. It also is a problematic example of removing an incentive under the (presumed) assumption that ‘impact’ has been embedded.
  • Problems with competitive funding models. We didn’t include points made on this, and the example of the Research Excellent Grants in Scotland that demonstrate a successful non-competitive approach.
  • Differences across UKRI’s research councils. We didn’t elaborate much on the need to coordinate learning and account for differences across research councils in terms of their different starting points and contexts.
  • Focus on place. We implicitly addressed the need to account for the particularities of place (e.g. through discussion of inequalities between universities, the importance of context, a suggestion to devolve decision-making and accountability, and importance of address differences within the categories of difference they name, which includes place). But we did not elaborate on place specifically, nor the importance of local knowledge.
  • Culture. While mentioning it several times, we didn’t elaborate on it. In particular, we didn’t address the importance of embedding a ‘diversity mindset’, nor the implications of how institutional culture is embedded within wider society.
  • Moving beyond a top-down vs bottom-up binary. We alluded to this through a focus on the ‘how’ of inclusive decision making, but didn’t name it or expand on it specifically. (I’d be particularly interested in exploring this point more in the future!)
  • Challenging ‘championing’. UKRI “championing and supporting inclusion for all” was raised as being problematic in that it didn’t come with concomitant recognition of the complexities and politics of addressing inclusion, and especially of the history and context of the current situation and UKRI’s complicity in it.  
  • Emotional and cultural intelligence. As important dimensions of training – and not just for leaders.
  • Anonymous Peer Review. Several people brought up both positives and negatives with this.
  • Age requirements in early career funding/job posts. This important point was raised as an example of intersecting exclusions e.g. whereby people’s age at the point of being 'early career’ and experiencing severe job precarity is significantly influenced by factors such as cultural background, class and caring responsibilities, and the competitive early career landscape often coincides with maternity leave. We left this out primarily as we couldn’t find a direct example of UKRI employing age limitations