eBase: Evidence-Base; growing the Big Grant Club

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: College of Science and Engineering


There are strong economic and ethical arguments to improve inclusion across engineering and the physical sciences. As it is known that scientific potential does not segregate according to socially constructed lines of identity, and that diversity improves the quality of problem-solving and decision-making, the persistent low levels of diversity at the top of EPS subjects represents a severe loss of research output quality.

The project
In the two-year grant period eBase will define and create the trajectories that enable an individual's participation in larger strategic and centre grants. eBase employs innovative, evidence-based, "system-level" methods that leverage diversity to transform our approach. It represents a wholesale move from the entrenched current culture that will both accelerate the pace of change and up-scale our capabilities, resulting in an overall improvement in the quality of our science and our working experience. eBase is a cross-institution project and will operate as a "boundary" organisation: where its own research, analysis, and interventions, co-created by internal and external partners, will be integrated with knowledge from other initiatives to generate maximum value from the project. It will disseminate the research outputs to wide-ranging stakeholders including the learned societies and industry.

The rationale for our approach is as follows: i) eye-wateringly few EPSRC large grants (>2.5M) are led by female or BME scientists, and to date, these extreme discrepancies have not been fully recognised or challenged; ii) the current system skews access to the significant financial rewards and kudos that large grants bring to recipients and their institutions; iii) focussing on this discrete problem will allow us to gain significant traction on driving institutional change within the two year grant term; iv) this emblematic high-level problem reports the effects of multiple constraints in the system, thus while being focussed, our study will reveal generic malfunctions that have wide-ranging inclusion implications for our institution and beyond.

The eBase team is strongly interdisciplinary pulling together experts in gender and BME studies, systems theory, engineering and the physical sciences, human resources, academic development and policy reform. Our project will roll out three connected strands of work: research, innovation and dissemination. The research component will comprise an unbiased systems-based ethnographic study to identify structural and cultural features that restrict the path to big grant leadership, and to develop better integrated mechanisms to translate and embed our recommendations. The concurrent innovation strand will begin the institutional reform required to improve inclusion governance across the University. We will take a strictly evidence-based approach to inform our strategy for change that aims to facilitate implementation of our research findings. Dissemination of resources will include a peer-reviewed publication, reports, on-line recommendation documentation, and on-line training. The project will be outward facing and will work directly with other HEIs, companies, government scientist networks, UKRI, learned societies, the KTN network, regional and national governments. These external connections are vital as they provide a route to discover new examples of best-practice, to broadly disseminate our findings and to obtain critical feedback. A principal goal of our project will be to engage the wider community in our ambition to move beyond current practices toward a more evidence-based analytical approach that will deepen our understanding of the barriers to inclusion and open innovative support paths to effect change.

Planned Impact

eBase is factored for impact delivery across scales, from individual researchers, to institutions and the wider community. Impact will be realised through the scientific and engineering research sector that will benefit from a fairer, more inclusive research culture.

- Create culture change through evidence-driven, scrutinised interventions which improve the career trajectories of under-represented groups towards senior leadership roles.
- Equip universities, learned societies, funders & industry to make these changes.
- Establish cross-University strategic thinking in the Inclusion Matters conference.
- Influence the inclusion debate through a variety of channels, including social media.

Future Big Grant Leaders:
A principal aim will be to equip researchers with the skills, experience & qualities required to lead large initiatives. The benefits for under-represented groups will be particularly impactful as our study will expose obstructions inherent in the current system which disproportionately disadvantage them, & take steps to remove these constraints. Our vision is that Principal Investigators who are female &/or come from minority groups will benefit from improved understanding of what a fairer chance of success looks like, & the impact of our underpinning study. Early- & mid-career researchers, in particular, stand to gain from this project, which could transform their research ambition and career development.

The University:
Through improved understanding, tools & infrastructure, scientific leaders/managers in Engineering and the Physical Sciences (e.g. Heads of School, Directors of Research) will be better equipped to support & progress people from a wider pool of skills & talents, drawing on a richer set of perspectives. This change in culture will engender more diverse, & possibly more innovative research that fully exploits the range of local expertise. The new operating system will provide senior leaders (e.g. Deans, Vice Principals) with opportunities to make genuine leaps forward & extend the impact from physical sciences to the whole discipline spectrum. The project will provide a platform to deliver inspirational leadership & the tools to effect change across the whole institution.

The Wider Community:
eBase is deliberately outward facing and will generate a range of resources for broad audiences, including a peer-reviewed publication, on-line protocols, and an Inclusive Leadership MOOC. Our proposed Inclusion Matters Grant Holder's symposium will provide a forum for data exchange, to disseminate our findings, and to begin to evolve UK-wide strategies to improve inclusion. Across the sector there is a growing demand to share knowledge & resources to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts. Our aim is to move toward more efficient & effective ways of operating through a coordinated network.
Through working with HEI's, KTN, UKRI, government agencies & learned societies, we will substantially expand our reach & influence. Inclusion is central to the values of wide-ranging institutions yet their ambitions are often thwarted by existing systems & established hierarchies. This project is our institution's chance to rethink our approaches & bring about genuine & meaningful change. We will share our insights, successes & challenges enthusiastically through our partners & wider networks. This eBase initiative also presents an unprecedented opportunity to work with two of our learned society partners to realign the Juno award process so it can continue to motivate effective and enduring inclusion change in the future.

The Public:
Data, tools & resources will be accessible via the University website. Project team members will work with a regional public engagement centre to disseminate project developments and raise awareness of our training resources. Breakthroughs will be advertised through the press office and a range of social media channels.


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