In 2018, the British Science Association (BSA) committed to an action plan promoting and improving equality, diversity and inclusion in the science and science engagement sectors. So, three years later, how are we doing?

To coincide with our aim of transforming the diversity and inclusivity of science, in 2018 the British Science Association (BSA) began implementing a new Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) action plan.

Whilst we had been focussing on audiences underserved by and underrepresented in science since 2014, this was the first time we set out a dedicated strategy underlining our commitment to improving EDI. We decided to:

  • Develop our staff and internal systems to ensure the BSA reflects the society we want to see, and develop inclusive culture and policies;
  • Change our programmes to increase their relevance to audiences who are traditionally underrepresented in science engagement activities, and empower people to run science engagement activities for their own networks and communities;
  • Influence other organisations and individuals in the science engagement to sector to develop and improve their EDI practices in capability and audience development to reach new audiences.

What we’ve done so far

Staff and internal systems

We undertook a Diversity Audit and this helped identify which policies we could improve – one of the key areas was recruitment. We implemented changes from the start of the process (reviewing the language we use in job descriptions) right to the end (sending interview questions to candidates in advance).

In 2018, we started recruiting members for our EDI advisory group, a panel of paid experts from a variety of backgrounds whose role would be to consult on and hold us accountable for delivering the plan. We assembled a group of seven individuals ranging from the worlds of academia, policy and health amongst others, each of whom were in post for the duration of the EDI Action Plan. The members met regularly and contributed to programme design, implementation and strategic planning.

The members’ terms end in the new year but thereafter, the role of the EDI advisory group will form part of the BSA Council’s remit. We have really benefited from being able to draw from such expertise and, moving forward, we believe this should be embedded in our governance rather than sitting separately. We look forward to sharing more details in 2022.

We published our staff and trustees’ diversity data from 2020, another first for the BSA. By examining how representative our organisation is at all levels, we identify which communities are underrepresented and where in turn we need additional input to our programme design, development and implementation.

In 2021, we then rebranded our thought leadership programme to For Thought. Initially named after Thomas Huxley, the scientist who famously argued for Darwin’s theory of evolution, his abhorrent views on race and genetics came to light in the book, Superior, authored by one of our Honorary Fellows, Angela Saini.

Our programmes

We have been working, and continue to work, on creating more inclusive programmes for our audiences.

A big part of this meant championing missing voices. At For Thought events we invite a young person, for instance, to challenge senior leaders. Such discussions are too often dominated by experienced professionals and lack thinking from future generations. Future Forums is another programme which was developed to survey the opinion of 14-to-18-year-olds, providing insights into what they wish to hear from scientists, politicians and other influencers.

In 2020, we launched The Ideas Fund in partnership with Wellcome. This new programme  adopts a participatory and equitable approach to grant-giving, supporting projects that put communities in the driving seat. The projects themselves are carried out with local researchers to improve mental wellbeing in their surrounding areas.

The grants concentrated on regions previously overlooked by health research: the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Hull, North West Northern Ireland, and Oldham. Of 146 proposals, 42 received a total of £1.6 million towards activities including sport, nature and nutrition, supporting disabled, refugee and LGBTQ+ communities.

Additionally, in June 2021, we published an impact report showcasing community engagement work carried out over the past six years. This programme began as a pilot to enable more people to run events during British Science Week and has since, incredibly, grown into a unique, grassroots network supporting hundreds of community groups every year.

The Community Leader and Community Buddy programmes facilitate relationships between researchers and communities where there is less access to public engagement with science, giving rise to work that is truly led by the needs of people in the surrounding regions. The Community Leaders programme is specifically designed to empower those who aren’t professional scientists to take the lead on science engagement activities.

In 2021, the British Science Festival made its first sustainability pledge. Using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a basis for the this, the Festival team focused not just on environmental objectives but social too. Amongst these policies were championing local suppliers and residents in contracting and hiring processes, committing to no all-male panels and reducing plastic use and printing. Festival evaluation reports from 2021 and previous years give more detail on the progress made, and aims for coming years.

The Festival also continues to provide grants of £500 to community groups and organisations in the host festival city. This funding is given to those working directly with audiences traditionally underrepresented, and currently not engaged in, science activities, again putting the local area at the crux of the event's legacy.

It is our belief that those at the heart of the communities themselves should develop, design and drive the engagement activities. The BSA’s role is to ‘get out of the way’ and provide support where requested.

Influencing others

As secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, the BSA works alongside Parliamentarians, learned societies, large corporates and others to affect changes in relevant policies and systems. The Group wants to see a more broad-reaching science landscape which is inclusive and enables progression of people from diverse backgrounds.

The Group has published two reports since 2018, both of which were the culmination of inquiries investigating equity in STEM education and the STEM workforce respectively. The reports make practical recommendations to Government and the wider science sector, which could address disparities in these areas. Both have been referenced in national and trade media.

In November 2021, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee launched an inquiry into Diversity in STEM, citing the APPG’s workforce report in their rationale.

We have also sought to support other science engagement organisations to embed EDI in their work, though the Inclusive Science Engagement Network, and initiatives like the UK Science Festivals Network workforce survey.

Our 10-year strategy

These EDI principles have become embedded in the BSA’s work and are reflected in our new 10-year strategy and vision – a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society.

So, where are we three years on? We’ve made good progress and technically, have come to the ‘end’ of the plan. However, this is just the beginning, and we’ll continue on our EDI journey in a way that embeds these principles into the fabric of our organisation. We’re aiming for equality, diversity and inclusivity practises to form part of our purpose and values, rather than being an ‘added extra’.

We hope to maintain relationships, and develop new ones, with other like-minded individuals and organisations who shares these ideas.

To find out more about our community-focused programmes email [email protected]ion.org

The work underpinning the EDI action plan was made possible by the Sustaining Excellence grant from Wellcome to accelerate our progress in improving our diversity and inclusion.  

Since 2019, our community engagement programmes have been funded by UKRI.