By Clio Heslop, Cultural Partnerships Manager at the British Science Association


In late 2018, the National Forum for Public Engagement with STEM conducted a survey aimed at professionals and volunteers who work in informal STEM engagement. The survey covered a wide range of topics including diversity and inclusion, audience engagement, approaches to evaluation and reflections on funding.

As a member of the Forum, the BSA were very supportive of this, having also conducted a consultation on the science communication sector back in 2015. As such, we worked with the NCCPE (secretariat to the Forum) to suggest questions for their survey, and to help analyse the results.

We were particularly keen to contribute questions on the topic of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) given its relevance to the BSA’s mission to transform the diversity and inclusivity of science. We really want to engage the science engagement sector with our mission and to inform this we need to understand the sector’s priorities around equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as the demographics of the science engagement workforce itself.

The National Forum have published their survey findings today, and a few key results stood out for me. The profile of the respondents showed that the sector is lacking diversity in several key areas, notably ethnicity, level of education, and disability. The group who answered were self-selecting, and therefore cannot be considered a representative sample. However, we compared the results to other surveys, such as our 2015 consultation, and a recent workforce survey conducted by the UK Science Festivals Network, and we did not see a dramatic difference in the responses.

Chart showing the differences between the 2015 and 2018 data sets

Figure 1: Table showing the respondent demographics of the 2015 BSA survey and the 2018 National Forum survey

Promisingly, most respondents rated ‘improving EDI’ as a top priority for their organisations, although improving the diversity of audiences (54%) was prioritised over improving the diversity of the workforce (39%). I’m not surprised by this finding, but I do think this offers an opportunity for us to reflect on how we will go about achieving our priorities. I think it is just as important to reflect on workforce diversity for several reasons:

  • Knowing which parts of society are less visible in our workforce, and therefore less likely to engage with us, can help inform our engagement strategy for audiences;
  • It points to the skills and experiences we might be lacking as a sector, which could help us engage a wider audience;
  • It shows where we might have inbuilt biases, blindspots, or inequalities that need addressing;
  • It shows who might have new ideas or perspectives to contribute to our sector and raise the quality of engagement.

Later in the survey, respondents were asked to reflect on their attitudes to EDI, and the factors that could drive or hinder progress. When asked about barriers to progress, the respondents tended to identify external factors, for example, societal inequalities, lack of funding, or perceptions that their organisation is just not of interest to a diverse group.

Graph showing barriers to EDI

Figure 2: Graph showing the respondents' views on what factors hinder their organisation's efforts to improve EDI

However, respondents were optimistic that they have the internal factors that would support inclusivity, such as organisational skills, culture, policies and strategies. I believe that the fact that our workforce has changed so little since 2015 indicates that this optimism is misplaced, and that our sector needs to be much more proactive in addressing EDI issues within our organisations.

Graph to show how well equipped organisations are to improve EDI

Figure 3: Graph showing how much the respondents agreed/disagreed with how well equipped their organisation is to improve EDI

Similarly, the most popular initiatives to improve EDI relied on external rather than internal action. Learning from best practice and prioritising research into underrepresented audiences were ranked higher than staff training and developing audits, charters or awards. In reality, a combination of all of these actions are probably needed to help us get to where we want to be, as well as some honest reflection on the internal processes that are likely to be part of the problem.

So, how can the BSA act on this information, to make our organisation and our sector more inclusive?

As a starting point, we are about to embark on a two-year learning and organisational development programme with a new training provider to improve and enhance our internal knowledge and skills around EDI. We hope that by addressing our own internal barriers head on, we can not only improve our own organisation, but also provide that learning to the wider sector.

We are building on our audience model by conducting research into the experiences of people who are less visible in science engagement audiences. You can read more about our research philosophy here. We are also starting to support people and organisations working on areas such as wellbeing, youth engagement, or community action, to have a say on our engagement work. 

From mid 2019, we will be providing more opportunities for science engagement professionals to learn and reflect around EDI priorities too, including: 

  • Tools, reports and resources to inform a more inclusive approach to science engagement;
  • Training and networking events for practitioners and professionals;
  • Better links between organisations who can share learning.

If you are involved in science engagement and would like to work with us on understanding and improving EDI in the sector, please get in touch with me – I’d love to hear from you.

The results of the National Forum’s survey were published today, and you can find the full report on their website.