A starting guide to EDI for public engagement professionals

We have set out a number of principles and provocations to guide public engagement professionals with embedding Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) into their work.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is a complex area that is always evolving, and we are all learning to develop ourselves and our engagement practice. This document provides both principles for you to consider in your work and provocations to ask yourself throughout your career including when developing projects. 

This guide is neither exhaustive nor complete, but we hope it will provide a helpful starting point in your efforts to create a more inclusive engagement practice. It has been developed in consultation with the NCCPE Inclusion working group, made up of engagement professionals who have experience in EDI, with further input from delegates at the 2021 Engage Conference.  

We are always open to learning and feedback, and welcome your contributions as part of our ongoing work. To facilitate this, the current principles and provocations below are also available as a Padlet board. Please feel free to add your ideas and suggestions to the board. The NCCPE will review this periodically, and amend the principles in light of the suggestions made. 

Add your suggestions to the Padlet board 

What do we mean by inclusion?

Inclusion is not about creating individual experiences that suit everyone. Inclusion is about being thoughtful in your work, seeking to expand who is included, being open to change and constructive criticism, conveying honesty and openness around limitations and reflecting on how those limitations may be addressed in the future.

It is important to note that exclusion can occur both intentionally and unintentionally. Intentional exclusion may be necessary in certain circumstances, such as for the engagement of specific, targeted groups. However, unintentional exclusion occurs when not enough attention has been given to the limits of the space, creating blind-spots that may negatively impact the ability of certain participants to access it.

Therefore, it is crucial to carefully define the borders of this space, and to pay close attention to who might potentially be left on the other side. It is also worth considering whether there are intentional exclusions in your organisation that are not acknowledged. Questioning why these exist might lead to a more critical investigation of such exclusions and how they might be appropriately addressed. 

Inequity is the exclusion of access for some to opportunities, because of the systems we uphold and that we contribute to either consciously or unconsciously.

Key principles of practice

Taking responsibility

Everyone has a role to play in creating a more diverse and inclusive society and workplace. We need to educate ourselves, to understand better the contexts we are working in. We need to be open to challenge, and to change our approach to develop more inclusive practices.

Systemic change 

We also need to recognise that systems of oppression such as racism, ableism and patriarchy are by definition structural in nature and require systematic and institutional change. Public engagement professionals are often asked to put a sticking plaster over the systemic issues in the system by adopting inclusive engagement practice. Develop your allyship, and work with others to challenge systemic issues.

Freedom of speech and equity of voices

Freedom of speech - and specifically the equity of voices - is a core principle of public engagement, but so is not doing harm to individuals or their rights.

Acknowledge our positionality and privilege 

Higher Education Institutions are privileged spaces in terms of power and their historical roots in white colonial, patriarchal, heterosexual, cisgender and ableist structures. It’s important to recognise these power dynamics in public engagement work and the relative privilege afforded you by working within these spaces. It is important to ensure you don’t replicate these inequities (even if you are from a marginalised group). You can acknowledge and use this privilege to platform others, and also to enable change from within.

There is no neutral 

There is no neutral position in public engagement or higher education if we acknowledge that structural inequalities exist. Therefore “Not being political” is a political and privileged position, and research (and public engagement) does not operate in a vacuum. We need to ensure that our work is designed in a way that is sensitive to these contexts.

Equity over Equality 

Equality is providing the same opportunities or outcomes for all regardless of barriers or different starting points. Equity is providing everyone with what they need to succeed. As PEPs, we strive to provide equity rather than equality in our work with communities, stakeholders and researchers.

Recognising complexity 

We need to recognise that inequality based on different characteristics intersect with one another, and to consider this when designing our engagement work.

Being prepared to do the leg work 

Whilst it is ok to ask, be aware of who is doing the heavy lifting to help you develop your practice. Where possible, educate yourself using the resources already available to you, seek training opportunities and, where needed, pay people to support you in developing these aspects of your project and approach. As you develop your work, be prepared to reflect on your learning, and to use this to inform your practice.

Avoid drive-by engagement 

Build long-term relationships with organisations you are working with, to support long-term engagement between the partners and across your institution. Consider an exit strategy for when the project ends and how you might maintain or dissolve that relationship in a positive and considered way. Make sure everyone has access to any outputs from the work you have done together.

Avoid generalising 

The groups we engage with are all made up of individuals who have a range of different perspectives and experiences. Try to avoid broad generalisations about specific communities. This includes in the language you use. If you are unsure of a particular term, ask the group how they would prefer to be referred to.


The below provocations are to help guide you as you develop your project, event, or even just start a collaboration with a community partner. It can be useful to have this conversation as a team to get different opinions and to look at things from different viewpoints. If you are not sure about the answer to a question, there is a strong community of public engagement professionals who can support you, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask! 

Have you considered… Who you are working with:

  • Are you running this in accessible space?
    While this is the most considered ‘inclusion criteria’ it is still poorly considered. Many event spaces are ‘wheelchair accessible’ but have a cap on the number of wheelchairs for fire safety regulations and this can create issues for patient focused events. Not all wheelchair access is accessible to all types and sizes of wheelchair. Accessibility also goes beyond the physical space. Have you considered the time at which an event is run, the cost of travelling to the event, language or hearing barriers, or the space in regards to people’s beliefs (hosting an event in a church, even if it is no longer in use as a religious space)?
  • Does this space have any deterrents to certain groups?
    Try to think beyond physical deterrents such as stairs or ramps, but also consider aspects such as the geographical location - are there good transport links and parking? Is this area a regular space for the group you are trying to engage? Try to move in their spaces rather than expecting them to move into your space. 

  • Are you using the term ‘safe space’ when talking about the space you’re curating? If so, have you reflected on what is meant by this, or what attendees might interpret from this?
    Safe space is often used as a catch-all term, but might not mean the same thing to everyone. For example, is it a space in which people can articulate views being challenged, or a space in which certain topics or opinions can’t be discussed for the benefit of certain attendees? Or something else entirely? Try to outline what you mean by this instead of using the term ‘safe space’. Who is involved in implementing the safe space? What protocols and rules do you have in place, and have these been shared and agreed?

  • Have you considered the language and terminology you’ll be using in the space, and is it congruent with the way you have promoted the event beforehand? 
    Who might be excluded by the way you are talking? This also quite literally applies to other forms of language comprehension. For example, some delegates might need sign language, or you might be engaging with a community with varying degrees of fluency. You should also consider whether you have a space in which the voices of people with different relationships to language can be heard.

  • Are you making assumptions for what is ‘good engagement’?
    We often apply our own assumptions to what we interpret as signs of engagement and build these into our evaluation and expectations! Different cultures and people who are neurodiverse are just two examples of where your expectations for good engagement may not match theirs. Know your audience and try to build in more robust methods for measuring level of engagement. 

Have you considered… How you are working:

  • Have you budgeted for accessibility? People’s time? Can you do less, but better/more accessible?
    Accessibility takes time and consideration! Think about it at the beginning of your project, and come back to it in all your project check ins. Ensure the budget is accounted for and consider the time input needed to ensure it is truly accessible to all. Have you considered working with accessibility experts? It is important to recognise your own limitations, and bring in relevant expertise to help you.

  • Are you paying people for their time?
    If you are, that’s brilliant! However, do consider accessibility of this - such as the forms they need to complete and the processing time. Can you help them complete the form or simplify the form in some way? Additionally, people who receive benefits may not be allowed to claim payment as this will affect their payments. Can you offer support in another way? Perhaps you can provide a food box or useful gift instead?

  • Are you charging for the event?
    Be clear about if and how you charge for events, and what this will mean for who is able to participate. Be clear and transparent about charges from the start, and where possible offer options for those for whom the cost would be a barrier to participation. 

  • Are you engaging online or in-person?
    Each format will have different issues around accessibility. Are you certain that the online space or resources you are using are accessible. For example, have you considered issues around audio and visual factors, or around digital poverty and literacy?

  • Managing difference
    How will you balance competing needs of different groups. For example, there may be some groups that appreciate music and interactivity, whilst other groups find this overwhelming. How will you consider the purposes of the activities, and consider who you are including and why? How will you manage conflict if groups engaged have different values from one another?

  • What ethical principles are you working to, and are they appropriate? 
    How are you exploring ideas about ethical practice? Whose ideas are you drawing on? Are you working together with your partners to consider what ethical practice means in this context?

Have you considered… How you are learning:

  • Calling out, calling in, and calling forward
    We need to be active bystanders, and be prepared to call out practices that are exclusionary. We can do this by recognising we are all in different places, and are all learning. Therefore we should attempt to call in, supporting people to adapt their language and approach as necessary. We also need to ensure that there is clear accountability, that ensures that poor practice isn’t perpetuated, but changed.  
  • How are you evaluating your work, and for what purposes?
    How might your evaluation process leave room for, and encourage, feedback on the inclusivity of an event or project? How will you ensure you learn from the evaluation to improve your practice? What demographics are you measuring, and why? How are you collecting and using this information? Whose voices are being heard through the evaluation? Is your evaluation practice inclusive?  

  • How do you build in reflective time and checks for other perspectives? 
    This takes time! So make sure you build this in and commit to taking the time. How do you build in space for accountability and learning - finding ways to “call in’ when mistakes are made? Can the use of critical friends help? And likewise being active bystanders and allies for others that you work with? What’s your long term plan for developing reflective practices and relationships?

  • How are you changing?
    A commitment to inclusive practice is an invitation to change. Take time to consider what you are learning - about yourself, about others, about the systemic issues that lead to exclusion. How is this changing what you do, and how you act? What have you stopped doing?  

  • How is good practice about inclusion being shared across your organisation?
    Are the lessons being learnt affecting how your organisation works? How are you seeking to share your experiences to develop collective practice?


This guide was developed by the NCCPE Inclusion working group: Lewis Hou, Carinne Piekema, Cassie Hugill, Helene Doerflinger, Charlotte Thorley, Sophie Duncan, Jack Kerrigan, and Emma Griffin with input from delegates at the NCCPE Engage Conference. It is an evolving set of principles and we welcome contributions.

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