quality practice

Mapping approaches to opening up STEM

updated on 08 Nov 2023
4 minutes

David Owen, NCCPE Associate, provides an insight into recent work on diversity and inclusion being led by members of the National Forum for Public Engagement for STEM.

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David Owen, NCCPE Associate, provides an insight into recent work on diversity and inclusion being led by members of the National Forum for Public Engagement for STEM.

There has been a growing focus on the need for greater diversity and inclusion in STEM in recent weeks. From the call on funding bodies to do more to ensure that genetics research isn't biasing white Europeans, the controversy surrounding Prof Alessandro Strumia's presentation at a seminar on gender issues in physics, through to recent celebrations of Ada Lovelace Day, profiling the role of Women in STEM.

Working with members of the National Forum, the NCCPE has recently conducted a mapping exercise to capture the approaches that are employed to make science, technology, engineering and maths more equitable for all.

The paper was developed through conducting a rapid-review of the information available on member’s websites including corporate strategies, action plans and public engagement strategies. It also builds on an earlier mapping exercise to create the ‘five approaches to opening up science paper’, produced in 2016.

It has led to several responses from the Forum. Including:

  • Scoping out a place-based approach to engaging underserved audiences;
  • Conducting a sector survey to help develop a better understanding of the diversity profile of the sector;
  • Initiating a deeper investigation of ways to track and evaluate the change we’re making across the three focal points.

From the review, we have identified three focal points for our collective work in this area. We have described these as:

  • How we work: The approaches that we use to reach out to new audiences and involve them in our work
  • Who we are: The approaches that we use to create a diverse and inclusive work culture and staff / volunteer profile
  • What we know: The insights and explanations that we use to understand our audiences (potential or current) and the experiences of staff in relation to matters pertaining to equality and diversity

Across each of these three focal points, Forum members appear to be universally agreed on some fundamental drivers for addressing diversity and inclusion. These can be summarised briefly as:

  • There is a clear business case. For example:
    • It leads to better Science by developing talent, diversifying perspectives, fostering creativity, and enhancing productivity (The Diversity Dividend?)
    • It leads to better products and services, and enhanced corporate image (Diversity in STEM)
    • It contributes to the economy by reducing the costs of inequality for example in areas such as health, crime (The Cost of Inequality)
  • It helps create a fairer, more equal and more capable society. For example:
    • researchers from under-represented groups are better equipped and more likely to pursue research on the health needs of these groups
    • it addresses issues pertaining to social justice through improving educational and health outcomes
    • it is ‘the right thing to do’

I’ve summarised the areas of shared activity below, and the challenges. 

Focal Point 1: How we work

  1. Targeted investment/resources aimed at fostering more engagement in particular geographical areas with new audiences
  2. Making programmes more accessible
  3. Outreach activity
  4. Working in partnership with other organisations that engage underserved audiences
  5. Participatory methods
  6. Supporting critical reflection, training and professional development, for instance through Implementing Science Capital approaches

Focal Point 2: Who ‘we’ are

  1. Positive recruitment/promotion strategies (i.e. tools and techniques to support recruitment of traditionally under-represented groups)
  2. Responsive measures
  3. Reasonable adjustments (i.e. Buildings, infrastructure, working arrangements)
  4. Influencing policy and other stakeholders
  5. Mentoring, training, coaching, development schemes
  6. Auditing, charters and awards
  7. Organisational change and learning

Focal Point 3: What we know

  1. Prioritising research on under-represented groups
  2. Research into organisations that work with underserved groups
  3. Research into what works
  4. Research into who we are engaging with; and who ‘we’ are (i.e. audience data / staff data)
  5. Learning from other sectors and fields


  • Challenges with measurement
  • Challenges with language, purposes and definitions
  • There are gaps in our knowledge base and existing knowledge that is under-utilised
  • There is limited funding to sustain engagement with communities and partnerships
  • There a deep, stubborn structural barriers which are really difficult to shift
  • Concerted effort is needed to change the 'field' of engagement, that is the setting and systems of STEM

The full paper and examples can be found here. We would really like to know what you think of this work.

  • Is the framing of the 3 focal points helpful?  Do they miss anything significant in terms of the focus of your organisation?
  • Do you agree with the challenges we have identified?  Would you add any?
  • What collective action(s) could /should the Forum take to address these challenges / build on the common activity?  What action(s) would you prioritise and why?