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Funders start matching words with actions on research culture


Arma 2021: Wellcome, the British Academy and UKRI outline moves to enhance inclusivity

Research funders in the UK are making moves to improve culture and create more inclusive funding programmes, the 2021 conference of the Association of Research Managers and Administrators has heard.

Research culture has been a major theme of the conference, with the chief executive of UK Research and Innovation calling for academia to “widen the doors” to encourage more diverse talent into the sector.

At a session on 7 October, the head of research and funding equity at Wellcome, Diego Baptista, said the biomedical funder is “just before or at the point of putting actions in place, and this is something that you have to do thoughtfully, and you have to have patience with”.

As part of its strategic overhaul, Wellcome has both restructured its culture, equity, diversity and inclusion team, in which Baptista sits, and changed the application processes for its discovery research schemes.

Baptista said Wellcome is “expanding what we’re going to ask for in these award applications” relating to equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as increasing support on awards—such as continuing professional development for both the grant holder and staff in their research group, and providing flexibility for disabled grant holders.

“We’re tinkering on almost every stage of the application pipeline,” Baptista added, such as developing mandatory anti-racism training for external grant review committee members and looking at pre-application advice for groups who are disproportionately unsuccessful in winning funding.

Widespread change

Other funders are also looking at changing their processes.

Director of research at the British Academy, Vanessa Cuthill, said the funder’s actions are around “avoiding self-disqualification before people even think of applying to us”. These actions include looking at terminology, with the academy now considering replacing ‘excellence’ with terms like ‘achievement’ or ‘potential’.

Cuthill also said that while the British Academy has generally not put a cap on the number of applications from institutions, some do submit huge numbers, “which can almost swamp the fields” and lead to imbalances. “We’d want to work with institutions to ensure they’re behaving respectfully to everyone across the sector,” she added.

Jo O’Leary, head of equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI, said her team’s priorities include developing an EDI strategy, and she highlighted the rollout of the ‘resume for researchers’, a narrative CV format where applicants can include a wider range of activities and contributions than a traditional CV.

O’Leary also said that UKRI has recently published disaggregated data by ethnicity and that the funder is continuing to enhance its data sharing “so that it can be used by the sector to not only hold us to account but hold the whole sector to account”.

“We’ve also done some piloting of anonymised assessment processes, and this continues to be a very live and active piece of work for UKRI that integrates into our wider cultural programme,” O’Leary added.

Research Professional News is the official media partner for Arma 2021.