How AHRC’s updated action plan underlines our EDI ambitions

Close-up of a loom weaving colourful fabric

Our plan outlines how we will uphold principles of inclusivity as a funder and employer to foster a research and innovation system for everyone, by everyone.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) published its first equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) action plan in April 2021. It stated that ‘arts and humanities disciplines depend on a diverse range of methods, viewpoints, subjects and approaches in order to continue to thrive and develop’.

EDI integral to UKRI’s mission

Two years on this message is more relevant than ever and has since been reinforced by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) EDI strategy. The strategy outlines how integral EDI is to UKRI’s mission, and to unlocking the full potential of research and innovation, ensuring that as broad a range of people as possible can participate in and benefit from research. To achieve this, UKRI must be a learning organisation, addressing the challenges of structural inequality collectively and with a shared approach to our work.

Our updated EDI action plan positions itself within UKRI’s strategic framework and vision that we must foster a research and innovation system for everyone by everyone. This cross-UKRI commitment is underlined by the recent announcement of the EDI Caucus, funded by:

  • Economic and Social Research Council
  • AHRC
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Innovate UK
  • British Academy

The EDI Caucus will help us to mature our EDI practice and policy, drawing on robust evidence to ensure that our work supports the research and innovation ecosystem to be more equitable, diverse and inclusive.

Embedding EDI

Our EDI action plan demonstrates our commitment to embed EDI across the council.

By this we mean that every member of AHRC is committed to embedding good EDI practice within their work and that we are seeking ourselves to diversify our own workforce. This will ensure we are an inclusive and attractive employer to the widest possible range of candidates, advisers and networks.

How we take action to improve inclusivity should be foregrounded in all of our approaches, whether it is when a member of staff:

  • develops a new funding opportunity
  • oversees the grant management of an award
  • works in partnership with community partners
  • develops a panel to assess applications

Equality impact assessments

Equality impact assessments (EIAs) are directly linked to our commitment to addressing barriers to inclusion on an investment-by-investment basis.

A maturing approach to completing EIAs when developing new funding opportunities will play a key role in integrating EDI considerations into our decision making processes. EIAs should be a key tool in encouraging us to consider and address barriers to engagement with our funding opportunities. EIAs help us reach the widest audience possible and enables us to scrutinise our grant award and management processes to enable us to make changes to processes where we can.

For example, in our recent ‘research partnerships with indigenous researchers’ funding opportunity we wanted to support research that addressed questions surrounding inequalities and rights, through the lens of indigenous knowledge, recognising the need to avoid homogenising indigenous communities. We removed the requirement for co-investigators to be based at an established research organisation to reduce barriers to engagement with this funding opportunity and to widen access to funding for underrepresented institutions. Members of indigenous communities were invited to join the assessment panel to contribute their views on an equal footing in the assessment processes.

In the ‘international networks for disability-inclusive global development’ scheme, to empower more equitable partnerships we increased the amount available to pay international co-investigators’ costs. We also stated that networks should take positive action to involve people with disabilities in the leadership and governance of networking activities, as well as in networking activities themselves.

We want our challenge-led funding to respond to the lived and felt experiences of those who stand to benefit from the outcomes of the research. The work of the Modern Slavery Policy and Evidence Centre has directly involved survivor groups and people with lived experience who co-delivered the ‘modern slavery: widening participation in laws and policies’ funding opportunity by assessing applications. We have built on this as best practice as part of our assessment process for the ‘mobilising cultural assets to address health inequalities’ funding opportunity. The programme enables a lived experience coordinator role and lived experience reviewers are integral to the review of proposals received.

Removing barriers

Major changes to our responsive mode funding opportunities are designed to remove barriers to funding for applicants early on in their research careers, widening our eligibility requirements to be more inclusive to diverse career pathways. It will also allow our community to try out more discovery-based research before applying for larger sums of funding and extending our upper funding limit.

In this and all activities we are working across UKRI to share good EDI practice and to further develop policy and practice in terms of ensuring our award and grant making processes are as inclusive as they can be. UKRI’s Simpler and Better Funding programme includes the development of the Funding Service which will replace the current funding portal the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. The Funding Service is designed according to government digital standards and should offer a more streamlined and intuitive portal for submitting applications to ensure the process of applying for UKRI funding is as simple as possible.

Inclusive research and innovation system

We know that fostering an inclusive research and innovation system means we must address the importance of developing diversity within the talent pipeline. The future doctoral provision programme will explore how we can further develop the work that is already taking place in this space.

All of our Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) have been asked to complete and share with us their EDI action plans outlining how they will ensure diversity within their cohorts. We have made additional funding available for DTPs to further develop their EDI ambitions as set out in these plans and we are actively looking to support and enable best practice through our future doctoral offer.

The Collaborative Doctoral Partnership four funding opportunity took this a step further and asked applicants to submit EDI action plans as part of the application process. Assessment of the action plans was embedded in the assessment criteria of this funding opportunity and the moderating panel were given training on how to assess the plans.

Diverse decision making bodies

We will also continue to diversify decision making bodies such as our Peer Review College and will carefully consider the importance of lived experience within panels.

Last year we removed the requirement for new Peer Review College members to be peer-nominated and welcomed a new cohort of 425. This cohort represents an improvement in the diversity of our members with regards to the EDI data we collect regarding ethnicity, gender, and disability. We also increased the proportion of early-career researchers, members with industry experience, and members with expertise in EDI.

Over the next three years we’ll be working towards further improving representation.

EDI and the AHRC workforce

Our role as an employer in establishing a diverse and inclusive work environment is a key component of our action plan. How can we be an inclusive funder, if we don’t demonstrate a commitment to equity and inclusivity in the recruitment, support, and wellbeing of our staff?

UKRI’s EDI workforce plan sets out our shared ambitions for diversifying our workforce and launching an EDI curriculum for UKRI staff to develop the workforce’s EDI knowledge, understanding and confidence. This is further supported by AHRC’s values and behaviours framework which have been formed as part of our People Plan programme. The plan is a framework which sets out our intentions for developing an inclusive and diverse workforce, and our commitment for every member of staff to establish an EDI objective as part of their annual appraisal.

A learning council

It’s important for us continuously to evolve to meet the needs of our changing community. In our action plan we state we are an EDI learning council. Our plan is intended to be a living document which we will continuously seek feedback, review and update.

AHRC has established an EDI project group made up of members of all teams across AHRC. The group will take collective responsibility for delivery of our actions and provide quarterly reports to AHRC’s senior management team and our advisory board EDI sub-group. We are developing a monitoring, evaluation and learning plan which will provide oversight on where we are doing well, where we may need to rethink our approach and where we need to concentrate our efforts.

We are also committed to sharing this learning with our communities and stakeholders. It’s important for us continuously to evolve to meet the needs of our community. We believe that we can only make meaningful progress in partnership with the sector and community we serve. Through equitable partnerships we can work together to generate the systematic evidence required to make significant and lasting change and hold each other to account.

Top image:  Credit: toos, E+ via Getty Images

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