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A model for how research funders can work with diversity and internationalisation

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A model for how research funders can work with diversity and internationalisation Jakob Feldtfos Christensen, Director of DIVERSIunity and Lachlan Smith, Co-director of Cloud-Chamber Logos of DIVERSIUNITY and scientifyRESEARCH research funding database Photos of Jakob and Lachlan at right

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the importance of diversity in research. For decades, the focus has been on gender, but today, a broader understanding of diversity is developing. The researchers remain the focus of policies and initiatives, but this has been slowly shifting to encompass the importance of diversity in the research itself. It is widely recognised now that representation matters and that good research considers the diversity of the real world.

Why is working with diversity and internationalisation a challenge for funders?

Despite this new understanding, many funders stick only to gender when considering diversity, with many having no specific demands of applicants, considering issues of diversity as being dealt with as part of ‘excellence’ arguments presented by researchers in grant applications. And we get why. A number of reasons make it complicated:

  1. Diversity is complex when we go beyond gender and start talking about sexual orientation, race, physical ability, mental ability, neurodiversity, religion, national culture, ethnicity, age, etc.
  2. As internationalisation and associated collaborations are the new normal, and there are very different approaches to some of these personal characteristics (fx sexual orientation) globally, what does one do?
  3. Some of these topics are increasingly politicised, even within the research community, and so it can appear easier not to engage and, therefore, not to act.

This means that the choices and options available become overwhelming. Where does one begin, and where does one end?

But by not acting research funders are leaving minority groups both in research and the research community to fight on their own. Doing nothing sends a worrying signal to minority groups in the research community and broader society.  

That is not to say that diversity has to be everything, everywhere, all at once. Creating more diverse and inclusive research environments and processes can be developed through step-by-step processes. Trying to do it all at once can easily paralyse us. This is why we have developed the model below to support funders approach questions of diversity with confidence.

How can funders take diversity and internasionalisation into consideration?

We suggest that funders start by establishing a goal based on their values, taking account of the drivers or incentives in their funding schemes while considering how any changes will impact wider dynamics in the research ecosystem. Building this base enables the funder to start a continuous improvement process, where different steps can work as decision-making tools for assessing whether initiatives should be in specific types of grants, be on the diversity of the grantees or the research, data collection or impact. Finally, the model asks funders to think through how these decisions require revisiting application processes, how grants are assessed and evaluated, and the training required to implement it all. Once you have completed the process and made changes, you can go through the process again and make new changes, eating the infamous elephant one bite at a time.

While the process in practice will be more complex and must be aligned with broader policies and aims as a funder, it is a starting point that will help open and broaden the conversation. Once all the ideas are out there after the first round, go round the model a second time to make decisions, and think through the consequences of decisions made early in the model for some of the later steps in the model. For example, will decisions on types of grant types or choice of personal characteristics to focus on have consequences for the data collected. As such the model can first be used for inspiration and decision making and secondly be used to think through the consequences of these decisions in the other fields going round the model.

A model for how funders can work with diversity and internationalization At Center: GOALS VALUES INCENTIVES DYNAMICS Around the words centered in the circle is a numbered wheel: 1 Grant Type 2 Personal Characteristics 3 Grantees 4 Research 5 Data 6 Impact 7 Evaluation and Training From DIVERSIUNITY

Why did we develop the diversity funding model?

We developed the model because, talking with different actors in the research ecosystem, made it clear that everybody seemed full of good intentions, but most didn’t know where to start. Everybody seems to be fumbling in the dark. Does this model solve it all? No, but as so much change is driven by research funding, this supports funders in getting started, thus making research environments more inclusive and funding research that acknowledges the diverse complexities that make up the world.

We are putting the model out there for funders to use – but we would love to support you, be part of the process and help you make the most of the model, too. Change is best achieved together.


We would like to thank the authors, Jakob Feldtfos Christensen, Director of DIVERSIunity and Lachlan Smith, Co-director of Cloud-Chamber. Together they co-host The Diversity In Research Podcast.

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