Power, equity and research

Group of diverse people standing together

By Eva Kagiri-Kalanzi, Head of Partnerships & Communities
29 June 2023

It’s been six months since I joined Scientia Scripta and wrote that reflective article ‘The art of repivoting – where has the time gone?

It’s been a good six months. I’ve experienced moments of inspiration and been challenged to do new things. Coming from a background of implementing projects and programmes, I’ve rarely been involved in evaluating their impact. As we’ve been building up our impact business stream, I’ve gained an appreciation for what that means in different kinds of projects, from research and innovation to public engagement initiatives. The linkage between our impact work and our mission to ‘democratise science and innovation, for good’ has seemed purposeful and couldn’t be better aligned.

It’s been equally interesting to apply this holistic lens across our three business streams. Alongside impact, we’ve been expanding our work on ethical engagement. Last year I had the opportunity to work on a good practice document on equitable partnerships – Four Approaches to Supporting Equitable Research Partnerships – with colleagues from UKCDR and ESSENCE on Health Research. It was an insightful process which I continue to draw on in other pieces of work. In the context of international research collaboration with Low-and Middle-Income countries, power plays a big role in how academics and institutions cooperate, whose voice is heard and included in research production and communication processes. Largely influenced by financial flows in research funding, the value attributed to LMIC partner contributions adds to the equity complexity.

Power and its influence on equity in research is not contextualised to HIC–LMIC collaboration. In our work on ethical engagement, we challenge research organisations and academics to bring citizens and under-represented voices into research processes. It is about changing how academics engage and work with community groups, the public and non-traditional audiences. We advocate for and offer support on adopting co-creation and co-development as the go to approach in research projects.

With the ongoing discussions on ethical AI, I’ve been especially proud to see our involvement in the PEAs in Pods project. Funded by the EPSRC and led by Prof. Keeley Crockett, aspires to change the AI research governance systems across three universities, with a long-term intention to roll out training and mentoring at national scale. The project is working with three types of traditionally marginalised communities including a community of place; a community of circumstance and an impacted community (people impacted by homelessness).

We recognise that shifting power balance is not always straightforward. While there is definitely a large selection of resources that have been developed on equity, inclusion, and community and public engagement in R&I, projects tend to be unique, taking place in environments that occupy different spaces in society (or globally) and having different characteristics. We have developed various training packages on ethical engagement, which includes content and processes that research groups and partner organisations can adapt to their own settings and specific initiatives.

But it’s not the adaptability of the training that stands out, it is the empowerment of communities, individuals and academics to challenge and change current systems that the training provides.


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